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Q&A: Jonny Rea - EXCLUSIVE

18 February 2008

by Russell Atkins

2007 British Superbike title challenger Jonny Rea may have just missed out on the laurels at the end of the campaign, but the Ulsterman nevertheless impressed enough to land himself a World Supersport ride in 2008.

What's more, that ride is with Hannspree Ten Kate Honda – the same outfit that helped propel a certain James Toseland to World Superbike glory last season, and with a contract in his pocket that says he too will be a WSBK competitor in 2009, Rea is clearly hoping to tread the same path. The 20-year-old chatted to Crash.net Radio ahead of the fast-approaching WSS curtain-raiser in Qatar this weekend…

Q:
Jonny, you finished runner-up in British Superbikes in 2007; you've got a bit of a different challenge in 2008, haven't you?

Jonny Rea:
Sure, yeah; I've signed for the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda team for the World Supersport Championship in 2008, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's a new challenge for me, being in a new team and a new championship with a new bike and new tyres as well. I'm proper motivated for this season, and I feel fit and well too. I'm stoked; I'm really happy and I can't wait to get to Qatar!

Q:
How much of a step-up is the competition going to be on the world stage do you think?

JR:
I don't know about a step-up to be honest – the British Superbike Championship was really strong, but I think WSS is known as the axe-murderers because the guys are just crazy! Last year there were four guys – myself, Kiyo [Kiyonari], Greg [Lavilla] and Leon [Haslam] – who could win races, but I think this year in World Supersport there are going to be five, six or seven guys who can maybe win races. That's going to be interesting, but I know I'm with one of the best teams and one that has a lot of information and data from previous years, so we'll see what happens.

Q:
You mentioned Hannspree Ten Kate Honda being one of the best teams; obviously a certain James Toseland raced with them too, didn't he..?

JR:
Sure, yeah; he was their World Superbike leader last year and the year before, and I've signed a three-year deal with the team for one year in Supersport followed by two years in Superbikes. That means effectively that in 2009 I'll be in the place that James vacated and I can't wait for that, but this year I'm not even thinking about Superbikes – all my efforts are really going into the Supersport championship, and like I say I'm really motivated and positive about that.

Q:
How have you settled into the team so far, and how have preparations gone over the winter months?

JR:
To be honest, there was no settling-in period. The guys are really good guys, and it's like a proper family-run team. I've missed having that closeness of not just some of the people in the team; last year I had a really awesome team, but there were only some of the guys I was close to, whereas in this team everyone is close, right from the hospitality to suspension guys to tyre guys to mechanics and the team owners. I feel like I've just fit in well and they're looking after my needs and trying to nurture me as a rider, as opposed to trying to win races, and if you don't win just leaving you alone and having a song and dance about it.

Testing has gone really well too. We had three days at Phillip Island; I was on the pace from day one and we finished up the test second-quickest. The one thing I struggled with was the out-and-out race times; I felt that over a race distance I was fine, it's just that we don't use qualifying tyres and I was trying to get my head around giving it one full lap on a race tyre for a lap time. I think that should come anyway, though, and when we get to Qatar for the first race I'll give it a bit more.

Q:
As you say, the competition is going to be close as well; who do you see as being your principal rivals this year?

JR:
There are going to be loads of them, for example my team-mate Andrew Pitt, who is an ex-world champion. Broc Parkes has come into the season running as well with a good package, and I'm sure (Fabien) Foret will be up there, as will Craig Jones, and when Tommy Hill gets back on his feet I'm sure he'll be there as well.

My team-mate Andrew is a really good guy; we've struck it off really well and have a good relationship both professionally and socially, so hopefully our rivalry will bring out the best in us both and drive the whole team forward.

Q:
As you say, with yourself, Tommy Hill, Chris Walker and Craig Jones, there's going to be a strong British contingent in WSS this season. Are you going to miss racing in front of British crowds all year do you think?

JR:
Yeah, sure I'm going to miss that, but equally I'm really excited about seeing the rest of the world and some of the really good circuits that the world championship races on. We'll come back to Brands Hatch and Donington Park though, and I think the Brands Hatch World Superbikes round is the biggest event for the circuit. It's going to be cool to ride in front of a sell-out crowd there as the support event for World Superbikes, and it's going to be even better for the British fans with myself, Jonesy, Tommy and Chris to support. It's only going to benefit me as well.

Q:
Do you think the fact you're going to be away so much will make it perhaps more special to come back and race in front of your home fans?

JR:
Yeah, I think so. I'm leaving a series where I was really happy – the championship was good, the teams were good, everything was good about it – but this year I'm just taking it to the next level, and to come back to what I've left behind is going to be quite special. For sure there will be a lot more friendly faces about and people that I know, and a lot more Ulster flags up in the crowd at Donington and Brands than there will be at Qatar. I can't wait to get back.

Q:
So laying your cards on the table now and looking to Qatar, have you set yourself any particular objectives for the opening round and, beyond that, the rest of the season?

JR:
Like all the names I mentioned earlier, my ambition is to win the championship. Historically looking at the Supersport championship, it's not about winning the first race or winning lots of races, because as I say a lot of the guys are like axe-murderers; they crash quite a lot, so I think it's important to get the scores on the board from race one and see where we end up. I'll be happy enough coming away from Qatar in a nice top five position, and then moving onto Phillip island and trying to build some momentum throughout the season.


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