Saturday’s 1st of December’s edition of the “Gazzetta dello Sport” gives an entire page to Jonathan Rea; the Cannibal who has been holding the World Superbike Championship in his hands for 4 years. Kawasaki’s star rider was the quickest during last week’s tests in Jerez (here you can find the raking and recorded times). Interview by Mario Salvini.
Four years ago, Jonathan Rea showed up for the first time riding a Kawasaki in the World Superbike Championship. Since then, 103 races went by and he won 56 of them. Compared to him, Lewis Hamilton and Marc Marquez are downscaled to minor threats. Everything is so easy, isn’t it? “That’s just how it looks like. The thing is, I know how to take Kawasaki to its limits”.
Actually, there are two Kawasakis…
“The rider always makes the difference. But having a skilled team you can trust any time is fundamental. I invest so much in myself, and I work hard with my coaches because I have one great fear: losing.”
Are you more scared of losing or of taking things for granted?
«Of losing. Because I never take anything for granted. I’m addicted to victory. Winning different titles is nice, but it’s just the obvious consequence. When you are on top at the very last turn, that is the best feeling in the world».
Your new book recently came out: “Dream. Believe. Achieve.”…
«One year ago I became really famous in the UK. I was 2nd in the BBC sportsman of the year ranking, just behind Mo Farah, and ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Harry Kane. I was invited to the Queen’s birthday and I was given the title of Officer of the British Empire. I thought to myself: “This could be the highest point my career will touch, its time to recount it”. I didn’t even have to think about the title of the book, it just came out: “Dream, believe, achieve”. This has been my mantra for years. These are the three words I live by».
You tell us how you were bullied in school…
«Yes, maybe because I came from the countryside and when I moved during my second year I didn’t have any friend. I have always been a good student. I was scared sometimes, but nothing serious».
And then you started riding…
«Well, I started before being 3 years old. And I started racing at 6. My father, John, used to race the TT (on the Island of Man, and he won in 1989, n.d.r.). And my grandfather, John, with our transportation agency (Rea Distribution, n.d.r.) was the main sponsor of Joey Dunlop…».
Have you ever thought about TT?
«No. I like it, and I think it’s fun, and I admire the riders who do this. But it’s a kind of competition I’m not really interested in».
In your book, you also talk about death…
«I tell the story of Chris and Craig Jones (homonymous but not related n.d.r.). They were my friends and they both died on the track. Craig in 2008, during the Supersport: when he fell, I was 1st and he was 3rd. The week before we were camping together in Misano. When something like this happens, you don’t want to believe it, and you just wish you could forget about it. But you can’t, because then at the funeral you realize those guys are not just some riders. They are someone’s children, brothers, and nephews».
Does a rider think “This will never happen to me”?
«Yes of course. You know it’s dangerous, but you don’t think about it when you are racing. Maybe it happens on a Thursday when you are walking around the Circuit and start telling to yourself: “Maybe, that wall is a little too close…But then you get on your bike and everything stops. If not, I couldn’t do my job. Of course, now that I have a family is harder».
Talking about that, everything started back in 2009, the day of your first victory, in Misano.
«I was racing with Honda. Tatia (she is Australian, 7 years older than him, n.d.r.) worked for Kawasaki. We already knew each other, and we were friends. Before the race, I asked her if we could be more than friends. She said yes. And I won. Now we have two kids (Jake is 5 and Tyler is 3, n.d.r.) and last August we moved from the Island of Man to Northern Ireland».
In Templepatrick. Brexit could bring national borders back into existance…
«I don’t know enough to really understand what those borders mean. I remember when they used to be militarized checkpoints. I hope they won’t do that again. I grew up in the countryside and I only heard about bombings and violence from the news. For me, religion was all about bikes. We all know there are many religions in the world, and despite being a Protestant most of my friends are catholics».
The Belfast Telegraph wrote that you are like George Best in Northern Ireland…
«He is an icon. I’m just lucky that in Ireland motorbike championships are loved more than in the UK. Sport unites people, and I’m proud of keeping people together like the national rugby team (there is only one national rugby team in Ireland, not like soccer, n.d.r.)».
Did you receive an offer from MotoGP for 2019?
«Yes. But I’m staying because Kawasaki’s one was better. The bike and the team that made the offer were not among the most competitive ones».
Are you staying also for breaking the record? Now you have 4 titles like Carl Fogarty.
«No, I’m not staying for statistics. I’m staying for myself».
But you know, it would be nice to see you competing against Marc Marquez.
«How can I race against him without an…incredible bike? He is the best rider in the world because MotoGP is the top Championship. They are the best. I would like to be given the chance to really compete against them, but it didn’t come».
Photo Credit: Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK