With five consecutive FIM World Superbike Championships, Jonathan Rea has become the most decorated and WorldSBK riders ever. Rea’s 2019 did not come cheap, as the flying Alvaro Bautista and the potent Ducati Panigale V4 R came out swinging, but the Northern Irishman and the entire Kawasaki Racing Team kept their wits, spooled up a mid-season charge, and cleared off.
“It’s a reason to keep getting up in the morning, because right now we’re the World Champions and we’re going to keep working to stay on top,” said Rea from his home 20 miles north of Belfast. “It is a mechanical-driven-sport, but people still make the difference. When you to work with a top team and you put good people around you, and not just your mechanic or your crew chief or electronics guy, but every single person involved, they are there to do a job ,and they are there to have your back. It is just an amazing atmosphere. The dynamic in the team… I have never come across a team this good.”
The Spanish-based Kawasaki works team will need to be good if and when the production-based racing circus heads back out into the world to begin competing once again in 2020. Rival Ducati is ready, having drafted Scott Redding, as are fortified factory outfits from Yamaha, Honda and BMW.
“The state of the U.K. is that we are pretty much in lockdown mode, where you’re only supposed to leave your house for essentials and food or to go to the doctor or just to seek medical advice,” he said. “So I am just doing my best.
“We are really fortunate. I have got a big property with a lot of land, so we can get outside quite a lot, and I’ve got a home gym so I can keep my training going. It is just the monotony of the same thing every day. I have got two young kids, six and four, and it’s pretty busy, even on top of the training and all of that. To keep up with their energy level all day is pretty hard. That is probably the hardest thing – homeschooling them and making sure they’re OK.
“To be honest, I felt like I enjoyed this break a little bit at the beginning because throughout my career, the only time you really have a break is through injury. Even during the off-season, it is pretty full-on with PR events and testing and training. And injuries are always full of rehab and physio appointments and doctors, so this is the one time in my racing career where I have been able to take a deep breath and kind of reflect on what’s been. I have enjoyed time at home with my family and I’ve been channeling my energy that way, as opposed to getting pissed off at the situation. I just want to be on the bike. We are on week number four of lockdown and I’m really starting to miss my bike, so I can’t wait to get back to the track.
The 2020 WorldSBK Championship did make one stop before the coronavirus sent everyone fleeing for home, and for Rea and his world title defense, it was a positive weekend in Philip Island, Australia.
“Yeah, we had a great Australia,” he said. “Better than ever. I felt very strong in all the races. I got hit by Tom Sykes in race one and that put me on the grass. Coming back through and trying to make up positions quickly because I was riding with slower riders, I caught the lead group out front quite quick and I was trying go around the outside of a rider in a place where it was pretty bumpy, and I asked too much of my front tire and went down. It was one of the first mistakes in a race that I’ve made in a long time, so I was pretty happy to win the next race, the qualifying race on Sunday (Rea’s 89th career WSBK triumph) and to battle for the win in race three.
“In race three I got beat by my teammate Alex Lowes. I felt like I did a lot of work at the front, but I just got caught at the wrong moment. I had all my ducks in line and I had a great rear tire for the end, and for the last laps. I got pushed wide and a rider got through and acted as a bit of a block for a few corners. From there I just out my head down and got my fastest lap on the last lap, so compared to other years, it was a really good weekend. I made a huge step with my riding and also with the setup of the bike, so I just can’t wait to get back to more normal tracks and find that flow that I had found at the mid-part of last year. Last year I really started to find my groove and at the end we were pretty strong. Australia was a great event.”
The result in Australia followed an off-season where Rea found himself at the center of speculation over whether he was preparing to call time on his storied career.
“Man, that’s the thing,” he said. “There was something that got taken out of context in me talking about retirement a while ago, but it’s not like that. Right now I can’t see retirement. I’m in the midst of talking about my future and possible opportunities in the next few years. I think any talk about retirement has to go on pause, because I’m more motivated than ever and I feel like I’m really in the prime of my career from a riding point of view. I’m also enjoying working on the technical aspect of racing with my team, and trying to improve the bike.
“The team and I, we’re in constant daily contact even now through WhatsApp and video calls. They’re just a bunch of good people, and when I go out and compete, I put everything in their hands and trust them 100 percent with the bike every time I ride it. From a technical aspect, I have no reason to doubt them because they’re super-clever. They put everything on the line to make it work, and I’m the guy that gets to finish it off.
“We’re really lucky to have each other because we’ve had incredible success over these last five seasons and we’ll share that forever. I mean, I’ve had the same crew for the last five years. Pere Riba, my crew chief, and all the guys on the team, they’re the only people that really understand what we’ve gone through in life, so it’s pretty nice to have them as really close friends. All these memories make us even stronger.”
Like a brotherhood?
“Yeah, that’s exactly what it is.”