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Jonathan Rea

 

This weekend saw Jonathan Rea write his name in the annals world superbike history as the first rider to score three consecutive championship titles.

 

The 30-year-old from Ballymena, tied up the 2017 title with a stunning lights-to-flag victory at a rainy Magny Cours on Saturday, although he was lucky to avoid serious injury in Sunday’s race at the French Formula One circuit when friend and fellow Northern Irishman Eugene Laverty fell in front of him. Carole Nash-backed Rea clipped Laverty’s stricken Aprilia, and although he was able to stay on board, he was forced to retire after damaging his rear footrest and brake lever.

 

With the championship won, the Ulsterman could have been forgiven for kicking back and opening a beer, but it’s a mark of the man’s determination to win that he was genuinely upset to miss out on the opportunity to fight for a 51st career win.

 

“I’m frustrated as I had the pace,” he said. “My foot’s sore and I’ve got a swollen toe but the reason that we retired was that the right hand rear set was ripped off. We fixed the damage but lost two laps in the pits and decided to retire. I’m sad to end the weekend on a low, especially after the high of yesterday, because we still have targets for the rest of the season.”

 

Rea’s target is now another entry into the record books, the most points scored in a single season. That is currently held by Colin Edwards, who scored 552 points in his epic title win 15 years ago, and Rea now needs to win all four remaining races if he is to wrestle that honour from the American.

 

Saturday’s win was extra special for Rea as it was the first time he had secured a title as a race winner. He added: “The last two years I’ve won it without winning the race and, particularly the first one in 2015, winning when I didn’t even make the podium, it was a bit hollow. Last year in Qatar, Chaz beat me flat out in the race and that also took the shine off it, so yesterday was the perfect opportunity to make the race mine, in the wet. I made the decision on the line that I was going to give it 100% and try to go away because I know that I could capitalise in the early laps and then manage the lead.”

 

Rea’s win, ably backed up by 2013 champion Tom Sykes, also helped Kawasaki retain the manufacturer’s title with the rider keen to acknowledge the support from both the Japanese manufacturer and the Barcelona-based Provec squad that run his factory-backed team.

 

“Kawasaki are incredible,” he added. “I came here and won my first race in 2015. We developed the bike together, within various technical changes that have happened in the championship and I feel really at home within this team, especially with the group of guys I have around me in the garage. I spend so much time with them. We travel together, at the race track and during winter testing. Every time I go to Barcelona to see my doctor, for medical checkups, I hang out with them and they are my second family. I am equally as proud for them as I am myself, because I know how much effort they put in.”

 

The former youth motocrosser was earmarked for stardom at an early age, being selected by energy drinks company Red Bull to be part of their first ever ‘Rookies’ programme in 2003. After impressing in the 125cc British championships, Red Bull and Honda took him through the ranks of British supersport and superbikes, before switching to the world superbike paddock with the Ten Kate Honda team. After a successful debut in world supersport in 2008 (finishing second) he would go on to spend six seasons racing the fast-but-not-quite-competitive Fireblade, winning at least one race each season but never really having a consistent enough package to challenge for the title.

 

The big breakthough came in 2015, when he broke his ties with Honda and Red Bull to sign for Kawasaki. Already considered one of the best bikes on the grid, Jonathan and his team turned it into the bike to beat in the world championship. Winning his first race for Team Green, he has utterly dominated the series over the past three seasons, winning 34 races on the ZX-10R and never placing lower than fourth in the races he has finished.

 

These achievements mean that he’s statistically the third best world superbike racer of all time, behind Carl Fogarty (59 wins and four titles) and Troy Bayliss (52 wins and three titles). With Rea committed to Kawasaki and the championship for 2018, it would take a brave race fan to bet against Rea overtaking Foggy as the Greatest Of All Time, but for now Rea says that’s not dominating his attention yet.

 

“I’m easily motivated,” he adds. “There’s no better feeling than crossing the line first. It’s so addictive and to win yesterday’s race, my 50th victory and the championship was one of my best ever. I’ll remember it forever.

 

“I’m just focussed on winning races and any championships are a consequence of that. My dream as a kid, my motivation, was to win a world championship and I did that a few years ago. Motivation changes over time. Last year was about developing the new bike and this year was about trying to beat my rivals. When I’m putting in the hard yards in training over the winter is when I’ll know exactly where my biggest motivation is coming from for next year. I find that in the deepest darkest of days, when you are turning yourself inside out, that you understand what makes you tick. Right now the motivation is to keep doing well until the end of the season, and then getting excited about 2018.”

 

Unlike Foggy who, by his own admission, needed to be Mr. Nasty to race at his best, Jonathan remains one of the nicest guys in racing. He’s a devoted family man who has put his money where his mouth is by helping out young racers on both motocross and tarmac. He is the third generation of one of Northern Ireland’s most famous racing families. Father Johnny was a top road racer in the 1980s, while grandfather (also John) sponsored the legendary Joey Dunlop, who won his first TT on the Rea Racing Yamaha TZ750.

 

Rea the junior’s third world title also coincides with the announcement of a new international race circuit in the province, with planning permission for the 2.2 mile Lake Torrent circuit in County Tyrone was passed last month and Rea says that this is great news for motor sport in the province, adding: “It’s incredible, especially for young kids in Northern Ireland. Of course, it’s early days for such a massive project, but the news that they’ve broken ground is already very positive. To make it in sport, kids in Northern Ireland normally have to travel the Irish Sea most weekends to ride on proper facilities and against strong competition. It’s coming at a great time in my career. When it’s built, and I am trying to think about new ventures it would be exciting for me to get involved with and try and help bring young riders through, and to have a world class facility would be perfect.”

 

Rea also fully endorses the new British Talent Cup, which is starting in 2018. “You can go racing with your parents and some friends out of the back of a van, but you are going to learn a lot of the pitfalls, as well as the lessons,” he says. “These initiatives are surrounded by professionals and they can teach you the equivalent of five or six years of doing it by yourself in a single season year.

 

“It’s also a fact that this sport is so, so expensive to do yourself. So when someone else is fitting the bill for you it takes a huge pressure of your own riding and also the stresses and strains it places on the family. I’ve seen that first hand by helping out some riders and seeing how hard it is to find money. These young rookie programmes are a great opportunity for our young riders.”

 

While Rea could well overhaul Foggy’s world superbike records in 2018, don’t expect to see him take King Carl’s crown as King of the Jungle anytime soon. “I wouldn’t even have the time to do anything like that,” he says, laughing at the thought of spending a month in a jungle with some minor celebrities. “I’d love to do Masterchef one day though. I’m a big fan of cooking programmes, so maybe…”

 

But for now reality TV’s loss is bike racing’s gain. With the triple champion at the absolute top of his game, we’re expecting Jonathan Rea to continue cooking up a storm in world superbikes for many years to come.

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