Interview With A Champion: Sitting Down With Jonathan Rea

Having claimed an unprecedented third title in a row WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea looks back on an action packed year

Jonathan Rea wrapped up a third world title in 2017 and on the final day of winter testing the Northern Irishman sat down with the us to reveal all.

Having become the first rider in history to win three consecutive WorldSBK titles Rea was honored by the Queen mid-season and made an MBE. Receiving his award in London from Prince William would be the start of a whirlwind tour for the champion. From Jerez to London to Andorra for the FIM Gala, to Japan for Kawasaki duties, the off-season is busier than the WorldSBK season but Rea is grateful for everything he receives.

“It's been incredible and honestly I don't have words to describe how I feel,” said Rea. “It's amazing to be able to go to London and receive my MBE. It's something that I can't believe has happened and it's only starting to sink in what we've been able to achieve together. I was looking back this week and it feels like it's only recently that I was a kid with a dream and wanting to be in the world championship. To have the success of the last three years has been beyond my wildest dreams.”

Team Green performance

That success has owed it to the performance of his Kawasaki squad and the people around. For Rea the ethos and mentality of the team has always been that they are stronger together. Having joined the team in the winter of 2014 he has been able to build a tightly knit unit around him, and even more than the success that he has enjoyed it is the bond between him and his crew that is most important.

“I loved my time with Ten Kate and they were an excellent team that taught me so much about about racing. Those lessons got me ready for jumping on the Kawasaki and being able to have this success. From my first lap with Kawasaki I felt great and that I could win the championship. That was exciting from the start but I never expected to have such a great bond with my mechanics too.

“The marginal gains of working with a team like this are massive. A big part of having success in racing comes from that confidence of working with people that you trust and believe in. I'm riding the best that I ever have and a lot of that comes from being in this situation. I've always felt that it's my job to invest in the relationships with people that you work with. I knew joining here that I had to bond with everyone, and Pere Riba, my crew chief, was very clever in realizing that I needed to have that family atmosphere around me too. Pere really helped to build that atmosphere and I'm lucky that all of the guys are friends. We win together, lose together and have a good time together. I can't speak highly enough for all those guys because I get the glory on race day but they are the guys that do all the hard yards.”

Building bonds

Rea called Riba “the captain of our ship” and with the Spaniard having setup a WhatsApp group called Team 65 in advance of Rea joining, the bonds were formed early. The former WorldSSP racer knows and understands what a rider needs from his bike and from the people around him. For Rea the human element is almost as important as the connection between rider and bike and the trust that he has in his crew is complete. At Magny-Cours the champion-elect crashed on his opening stint in a wet Superpole session, and despite a complete change in settings he still had the confidence in his crew that the bike would be perfect. It was, and he claimed pole position.

“I think that that day was the stand-out weekend of the year for us. We won the championship on Saturday but it was such a tough day. After Friday we felt so confident and we felt that we were ready for race day, but when I woke up on Saturday morning and looked out the window to see a dark sky and rain it makes you think that Friday was a waste of time. I crashed on my first run in Superpole and I landed very heavily on my shoulder. I knew that I had to go back out and set a lap. My confidence in the bike was very high though and I got back to the pits and was able to set a fast time.

“When I think back to that repair job in Superpole the guys changed the wheelbase, the shock and a few other things during that time. The bike was a different setting when I went back out but the camaraderie is so special that everyone is calm and I was ready for Superpole. To win later that day with a big margin was so special for me.”

Where now?

The victory also saw Rea get over the line and claim his third title. With his family around him on the top step of the podium it left many to wonder about what there was left to achieve for the Northern Irishman in WorldSBK.

“It's not about setting goals for the future, it's just about winning. I get my kicks out of winning, and when I first joined it was about trying to win with Kawasaki, last year it was about winning with a new bike, and this year was about finding the motivation to beat Chaz and Tom. At the end of 2016 Chaz was so strong and I went into the winter determined to win. This year the new regulations will motivate me, but over the winter you always find something that drives you to kickstart the season.

“As you get older things change too, and you're not motivated by going to Phillip Island because it's the first race; it's about going to a nice place, eating nice food and seeing family. It's the same with Qatar where I love racing because it's relaxed and it's like a holiday. I've detached myself from the physiological [physical] aspects of racing and it's made me more relaxed when I actually have to go racing. I used to be so highly strung when I was younger that I used to hang on every lap, and my training was so important. I used to wake up in the morning and weigh myself. If I was a little too heavy that dictated what I ate or how I trained. I don't do that any more and I'm glad that I've moved past that, because mentally I'm in a much better place now and I can just enjoy all these moments.”

The good moments have been coming thick and fast for Rea in recent years but public perception is that Rea's dominance has been a negative for WorldSBK. It's a notion makes the 30-year-old bristle, and leaves him to question the motives behind the perception. At a time when records are being broken he offers some comparison to other periods within sport.

“I feel that right now it's my moment. We had the Doohan era or the Rossi era in MotoGP, the Foggy or Bayliss era in WorldSBK or the Tiger Woods era in golf. At the moment it's my time in WorldSBK but I know that it only takes one moment to change that. I know how strong we have to be. I'll face difficulties in the future whether it's injuries or a lack of confidence so I know how important it is to enjoy moments like this.”

Winning is what gives Rea enjoyment and he's keen to ensure the good times continue to roll in 2018.

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