Jonathan Rea had to wait for seven years to win his maiden World Superbike championship (WSBK) title. A switch in 2015 to Kawasaki from Honda, where he had won 15 races but had failed to crack the championship, has done wonders for the Northern Irish rider’s career.
Having finally realised his dream of winning the WSBK title in 2015, Rea has not looked back since. He repeated the feat in 2016, becoming the first champion of this millennium to win a back-to-back title.
This season has been no different for Rea. In fact, he has gone out and decimated the field to become the first rider to clinch three successive Superbike titles.
Rea, 30, seems to be only getting better with age. The Ulsterman has been at his dominant best this season, as he wrapped up the title in September in Magny Cours, France, with two and a half rounds to go.
He didn’t slow down after his historic feat, as he scored a double in Jerez, Spain, claiming his 14th win of 2017 and 52nd of his career. That took him level with three-time world champion Troy Bayliss and just seven behind Carl Fogarty’s record of 59. The win also sealed the manufacturers’ championship for Kawasaki.
Now in Doha for the last round of the WSBK season, which will be held at Losail International Circuit tomorrow and Saturday, Rea has one more record in his sights. The Kawasaki rider will need to take a double win in Qatar this weekend if he is to beat Colin Edwards’ long-standing 15-year-old points’ record of 552 set by the American in 2002.
Rea currently sits on 506 points and he has been on the podium in every race he has finished this season.
On the eve of the last round of WSBK championship, Rea looked relaxed as he sat down for an interview at the Ritz-Carlton yesterday. A modest and a complete family man, Rea, who hops from one circuit to other with his wife and two young sons, credited his total domination of WSBK to being consistent and said he has been living a dream the last three years.
“In the last three seasons, the opening three races of the calendar have suited my style of racing. So after two-three races, I have had a small gap in the championship. And I have been the most consistent too,” Rea said yesterday.
“Of course the other guys have been really fast, like Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies. But Chaz especially has made many mistakes throughout the year. Tom has had a problem with injury and some other issues. For me consistency has been the key, not building a good lead at the start. I don’t know maybe next season I will have a lot more pressure, we have to see. But these last three years are like a dream because the bike and the team have been working really good. Next year maybe it will be someone else’s turn. So we have to be ready to face difficult moments,” Rea added.
With the challenge of winning the title off his shoulders, Rea said he will go out and enjoy his ride under the floodlights of the Losail circuit this weekend. Should he manage to take away a perfect 50 points tomorrow and Saturday, Rea would set a new all-time points scoring record in WSBK.
“After I won the championship in France three weeks ago, last weekend in Spain I had a double win. So for me it’s less pressure. I can really enjoy the race and not worry about the points,” the champion explained.
“It’s difficult all the year to try and manage and think about the championship. Now I’m free of all that. I can be 100 percent. If I make a mistake or crash, it’s not a big problem. So this is how I raced in Spain and it was really nice. I hope to do that in Qatar too,” he said.
In recent times, there have been talks of Rea switching to the more popular and glamorous world of MotoGP. The Northern Irishman has had a brush with MotoGP in 2012, when he replaced the injured Casey Stoner for the Honda team. He finished 8th and 7th in two races, before returning to World Superbike duties.
Rea dismissed a move to MotoGP next year, since he is contracted with Kawasaki till 2018. But said he has kept his options open for a switch to MotoGP, adding he would only do so at the right opportunity and with a good manufacturer.
“Superbike has been incredible for me since 2009. I’m only thinking about next season. Also it would be nice to have an opportunity to go to MotoGP with a top bike. I have no interest to go there with some satellite machine or private bike,” he said.
“I am sure with a really good bike, I can do a very good job. Unfortunately, Kawasaki are racing only in Superbike. But I feel at home. They have given me a great opportunity and I feel really valued there. In 2019 and 2020, I have no idea what I will do,” he said.
One was tempted to ask if there had been any feelers from the top MotoGP teams.
“I am sure all the teams understand the situation I am in. I am one of the top riders right now in the world. They know the situation. Next season 90 percent of riders in MotoGP and Superbike are under contract. So during the middle of the season there will be lot of talking between teams, management and riders. Until then no one knows. It’s too early to say anything,” he said.
Rea, however, was quick to add that he was very happy at Kawasaki, calling the team a family. “I am very happy where I am. That winning feeling every weekend with Kawasaki is incredible no matter what championship it is, whether it is crossing the line here in the Qatari Superbike race or whether in MotoGP. The winning feeling wants to keep you wanting more,” he said.
Rea was also surprised how far he has come in his WSBK career, having started slow.
“I am surprised because in the last race I equalled Troy Bayliss’ record. And for me Troy was a legend, one of my heroes. So I never thought I would be in the same bracket. When somebody said it, I was quite surprised. When you are living in the moment, enjoying your work, it’s hard to take stock of situation. Maybe in 10 years’ time I can look back and understand what I have achieved,” he said.
Before rushing off to join his family in the swimming pool, Rea opened up on his life away from racing, and said it was rewarding to share his success with his wife and two young sons.
“I’m really happy because I am one of the last guys going to race circuits with my family, my wife and two kids. And we do all of it together, travelling and other things. It’s really difficult. If anyone has kids, they will understand how difficult it will be,” said Rea, who as a child was exposed to racing as his father was a road racer, specialising in Isle of Man TT race.
“It’s really rewarding as well because when you win, it’s not just for yourself but also for your family. These are the best moments of my career and to share it with my family is really nice. So that’s something I can look back on in the future and really be happy that we did all together.”
Paddock entertainment set to light up Qatar experience
There is plenty of entertainment in store for the fans heading to the Qatar Round of the Superbike World Championship at the Losail International Circuit this weekend. Other than getting to watch three-time world champion Jonathan Rea of Kawasaki Racing Team make history on track, there is even more to keep one excited off track.
With every ticket purchased, there is free access into the paddock, which gives a chance of meeting the riders out and about in between sessions. One even can make it a family affair as children under the age of 11 can gain free access, with free parking available at the circuit.
As the paddock is open to everyone, there will be plenty to do inside the travelling WorldSBK village over the weekend. From today till Sunday, one will be able to enjoy some chill out time in the Arabic tent. Show your support for your favourite rider, or even the WorldSBK series as a whole with the official merchandising tents, which one can sport while cheering on the riders on track.
There is also a motorbike exhibition or a ride in the Red Bull Car Simulators to fuel that need for speed.
The star of the 2017 show will no doubt be the paddock show stage, which will be full of action from tonight till Saturday evening.
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