Jonathan Rea Interview during Laguna Seca World Superbike
Jonathan Rea’s dominance in the Wold Superbike Championship hit a new milestone this year.
After claiming his third consecutive title, the 31-year-old Northern Irishman surpassed WSBK legend Carl Fogarty by collecting 60 career race wins after claiming the race-one win at Brno.
In the initial stages of the 2018 WSBK season, rumors were swirling as to Rea’s future. Many speculated that he’d be making the transition to MotoGP. However, Jonathan signed on with the factory Kawasaki Racing Team, where he’ll be piloting his ZX-10RR for another two-seasons.
During round 8 of the FIM WSBK Championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, we caught up with Rea to see how things are shaping up, and where he plans on going from here.
Ultimate Motorcycling: Thanks for sitting down with us. It’s been a pretty momentous season for you. You got a lot of new records under your belt. You just surpassed Carl Fogarty, you did the 60. What’s next?
Jonathan Rea: Just try to keep winning, that’s the most difficult thing – winning. But winning the races brings championships, so just try to maintain my focus on each individual run, trying to maximize it, but obviously the end target is to try to win as many championships as possible. I’m really excited to stay two more years here with Kawasaki; the bike, the team fits me perfect. And just trying to keep winning, trying to stay healthy, and that’s the biggest targets.
UM: There was some apprehension coming into this year because of the rule changes. Nobody knew how it was going to affect the bikes. Now that we’re midway through the season, what’s going on with those changes, and how have you guys redeveloped the Kawasaki ZX-10RR to make it work?
Rea: To be honest we haven’t had any upgrades since the beginning of testing. When Kawasaki arrived, when the new regulations arrived, Kawasaki was already working to kind of preempt what was gonna happen. In the first winter test we already got the bike and we made many laps. The biggest improvement we found from the beginning early races is that we had to change the chassis balance quite a lot. Also, Pirelli brought a new generation tire that’s bigger; it’s a bigger profile in the rear. So, we’re just working out the most critical thing with the new regulations. It’s not the RPM limit; I mean we still make very good power.
It’s the gearbox – trying to perfect the gearbox for each and every track we go to, of course with more rpm you have more margin to hold longer gears – to hold the gear longer. When we don’t have that, we have to use a longer, finer gearing and that’s the biggest compromise. That’s why you see at some circuits we can be strong, some circuits maybe not as strong as the past, because the regulations say we can only have one fixed gearbox for the year. So the only sort of tool we have to play with are the final gearing sprockets and that’s I think the biggest influence of results.
UM: You know, you mentioned something that some of our readers might be really interested in, in terms of geometry and balance so where is that shifted? Are you moving away from front-heavy, kind of?
Rea: The track changes our approach, really changes – but generally, last year the bike was working very good in all areas. With this bike, we need to focus on riding more on the limit. We don’t have top power like we had because the bike’s not revving – revs means power. So, with that in mind, we’ve been working very closely with Showa, they’ve been developing a lot trying to bring new ideas, new material ’cause if we can go faster in the straight, a lot of times we’re faster overall.
How can we go faster? Well we can brake later, be more stable, use more corner speed, but to do that we need the chassis to work. So, just from track to track it’s always a compromise between stability and agility, trying to get the bike stopped but also keeping corner speed and having the bike turn naturally.
So that’s really the biggest change. For example, today it’s probably worked on the balance of the bike, the winter test is where we’ll be very critical with set up and try to understand the fine details, and then from track to track we pretty much just try to find a balance of the bike. After we find the balance then we work a little bit with the spring rate if we need some more margin; it depends what the track requests really.
This track is quite stop and go. We need a lot of stability to stop the bike. Circuits like Brno, the last race we were at, are more corner speed tracks, more agility so you kinda focus more on a set up in that direction.
I’m just lucky we have a good information bank at Kawasaki and a good crew chief with Pere (Riba) who understands all this; generally I can give him my feedback and walk out of the box and come in 10 minutes before the next session and he has the plan done and he knows, and I trust that.
UM: So, with some of these changes, has that forced you to take more risks in getting those initial passes out of the way and be more aggressive?
Rea: Yeah, of course. I mean, the passing thing is more critical because the problem now is I don’t feel like other manufacturers have caught up so much, it feels like Kawasaki’s taken a backward step, which is difficult to accept because we have a bike that has much more potential than we’re allowed to use.
The problem now is we’re racing with machines that have the same potential and the rules are quite balanced for that. It’s a balancing rule, handicapping rule if you like. It means in race two, for example, with the reverse grid – which is strange now that they still use this on every bike as the bikes are quite balanced.
It’s very difficult to come through traffic because for five, six laps the guys riding the other bikes are really fast. So, it’s hard to pick past them because you don’t ride with these guys. Certainly not in race one, you’re not riding with guys who are coming three wide, so it’s really hard to pick the passers to understand without making a mistake or going wide and yeah that’s quite difficult. Race two’s very difficult and challenging.
UM: Understandable. I’d like to go back to Donington Park for a minute. Race One was super exciting but Race Two came around and you had an issue with arm pump. So how does a guy at your level combat stuff like that?
Rea: Well it’s a problem I’ve suffered with quite a lot at Donington, it’s a circuit where it flares up. Sometimes I get some feeling that my arm’s cramping but it’s usually not an issue. But at Donington, it’s become an issue. Two years ago I went for an operation for compartmental syndrome in my arm to relieve the pressure inside. I did all the tests and my muscle sheaths are tight around the muscle so they relieved that, but still I ran into some issues and I don’t know if it was a combination of the weather or the track.
In race two it was bad, I had to try to come from the third row, my bike setup wasn’t perfect, it was very physical to ride at Donington and the nature of the circuit all added up to give me probably the worst feeling I had all season. It’s really difficult when you’re riding with that and knowing that.
I was sad for my team because they gave me a great bike that weekend and I couldn’t do the job. It was hard to watch them the last six laps because at lap 15, I was so confident the race was mine and then it just kept getting worse. Especially changing direction between the curves was really difficult and then watching van der Mark – just tenth by tenth go away and at the end it was a big margin. I had nothing left to fight with and that was a horrible feeling.
UM: I’m sorry to hear that. Let’s shine the light on some positivity. You topped the charts in FP one, how are things going at Laguna Seca so far?
Rea: Yeah, it’s been strong, we’ve been quite strong today compared to the past. I felt quite fast and consistent. Probably the best I felt here. Unfortunately, we had a small tip off in FP three and destroyed the bike so the guys are gonna be busy tonight. It’s just a case of having confidence and overstepping the mark. I arrived a little bit faster in Turn Six, it depends on the map, it’s the one before you go up to the dip. Kind of.
UM: Yeah, under the bridge?
Rea: Yeah under the bridge and left.
So, in there I just yeah, two Ks faster – I just had confidence and was finding the limit, I tried to Marc Marquez it and save in on my knee …but the tires, it was gone and I couldn’t do it. It was frustrating to watch the end of the session from the pits, but better happening today than tomorrow.
UM: Cool. I know you’re a big fan of Motocross. Do you have a set series that you’re stuck on? Or do you just follow whatever you can get while you’re traveling, like Supercross and the outdoor Motocross series?
Rea: To be honest I haven’t watched all the Supercross races this year. And I haven’t watched any of the outdoors. I watched MXGP quite a bit, it’s like a little bit less predictable if you like and the depth of field is much stronger.
But in saying that, the guys at the front of AMA Eli and Marvin are going fast. Motocross in this nation is gonna be insane. But the depth of field in MXGP’s in my opinion is a little bit deeper.
UM: All right let’s go to something a little bit more fun. So, you got to check out the Golden Gate Bridge, how was that?
Rea: It was cool, it was cool. Surreal to have a sort of rolling road closure for you. I tried to do a few wheelies to get a picture doing it but it was so difficult to do it at 45 Ks an hour behind that tracking truck, but yeah it was cool. Props to Laguna and WSBK for actually making that happen. I can imagine it was a pretty big ask. But it was cool, quite surreal actually.
UM: I saw you got inspired by our American rider; Josh Herrin did a couple burn outs which caused a stir.
Rea: Yeah, I think I started it, I started it at a traffic light and then he one upped me by doing loads of rolling burn outs (laughs). But yeah it was cool.
UM: Sounds like a lot of fun. We know you’re busy, so we’ll wrap it up. Thanks for having us, and we appreciate the opportunity. Best of luck this weekend!
Rea: No worries, thanks!
Editor’s note: Rea dominated the round in America, doubling at Laguna Seca to claim a total of 62 career wins. He now has a 320 points, 75 ahead of Ducati Team’s Chaz Davies after eight of 13 rounds.