Since joining the British Superbike Championship in 2005, Ireland’s Jonathan Rea has only raced aboard Honda CBR machinery.
He raced CBR1000RR Fireblades from 2005-2007, achieving five wins. He then joined World Supersport, achieving three wins aboard CBR600RR machinery. From 2009 through 2014, he competed in World Superbike aboard Fireblades once again, achieving 15 wins.
Throughout those years, he was awarded Irish Motorcyclists of the Year in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
But after 10 years competing aboard a Honda, the 27-year-old Rea joins the Kawasaki Racing Team. This news arrived late in the 2014 World Superbike Championship, Rea slated to compete alongside the 2013 World SBK Champ Tom Sykes in 2015.
Rea performed well on the Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja in WSBK winter testing, and is ready to take on new challenges. Following is an interview with Rea as he discusses his ambitions with Kawasaki for 2015 SBK and beyond.
Q: How do you feel about joining Kawasaki’s WSB team and what made you want to ride the Ninja ZX-10R?
Jonathan Rea: I have been trying for many years to win the championship and it has never happened. I sat down during the year, with the people most close to me, and we knew that if I wanted to achieve a world championship I could not just cross my fingers and try again. I had to make a change to expect a different outcome. In the last three seasons Kawasaki has had a very competitive bike. Also with the new rules for 2015 it was important to be in line with a factory team that would develop the bike through the year.
Q: How long have you know you would ride for Kawasaki in 2015?
JR: The deal happened very early. It was hard to contain my excitement at the deal so early because we could not talk about it for a long, long time. The deal was quite straightforward in itself so there was not too much selling of the point on either side. It was a case of we both want to do this so let’s get the deal done.
Q: What about the Ninja ZX-10R now you have had a chance to ride it in testing?
JR: My first impressions are positive. It is very user friendly and easy to ride. The power is very linear on the bike. We are scratching the surface now with development. The 2015 technical rules in WSBK are quite different from before so in some ways we are starting at a zero point. I know Kawasaki is working very hard in Japan to bring new parts.
Q: And the KRT squad, what about them?
JR: With the team round me I feel really good. The atmosphere in the box is cool. They are looking after me really well. Not just at the circuit but also outside the circuit. There is a lot of emphasis on taking care of an athlete, for example. That brings a new meaning to being part of a family. I am really excited to represent Kawasaki as a factory rider, and also to be part of this successful team, so I am excited.
Q: Third place in the Championship in 2014, which was your best ever final ranking. Are you still improving and have more to find inside?
JR: I think there is still a lot of technique I need to work on. Mentally, right now I am ready to win but in the recent past few years; for a world championship the package has not been exactly how I would like it to be ready to challenge for the world title. Maybe when I first joined the world championship the package was ready, but I wasn’t. But I feel now that I am ready. We need to get the best out of the bike and we will see.
Q: Do you think the 2015 rules have already led to a drop in top end power of the four-cylinder machines?
JR: The new rules are more basic, more in line with the standard Ninja ZX-10R that the customer can buy from a shop. That is good but it also means some limitations for us in terms of a race machine. The beauty of me joining the team now is that I have no previous experience to have negative or positive thoughts about. I am starting from a base that is the 2015 base and I’m working from there. I am sure some other manufacturers may be more competitive than last year, some maybe less. We just have to see that balance. Already in the first test it looks like we have some stiff competition from Ducati and the rules have been swinging towards them at the minute. But I fully expect we will be there and have a package capable of winning.
Q: Fourteen rounds planned this year instead of the 12 that finally took place last year. Is this going to be better for you?
JR: It makes no difference really because I just take things weekend by weekend. I am really excited by going to Thailand, however, and I like going to new places. We went to Sepang this year, which was also new for WSBK. Yes, 14 rounds are much better because the issue this year was that the championship started in February and ended in November. So with 13 races the gaps between some of them were far too big and with the final 12 it got even worse. If we can keep racing regularly and present the exciting action that characterizes WSBK in people’s front rooms and at the circuits more often, then that is the best-case scenario.