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EXCLUSIVE Jonathan Rea - Q&A

3 April 2013

By Christian Tiburtius

An exclusive interview with ten-time WSBK race winner Jonathan Rea, in which the Pata Honda star reflects on his career so far, life on and off track, last year's MotoGP debut and more...

Crash.net:
How did you get into racing?

Jonathan Rea:
When I was two years old, a family holiday for me was going to the Isle of Man TT or the North West 200 to watch my father race. So I've grown up around bikes and it was a natural progression to start in Motocross.

I got a taste for winning very early on. I won the British Motocross championship in '97 when I was only 10 or 11. From that point the competitive nature in me has taken over and I just love the taste of victory and achieving goals. But you need that drive because, most riders don't like to admit it, but riding at the pace that we do is not always the most rewarding thing because it can be pretty scary.

Another rewarding thing for me is chasing that perfect lap, putting the sectors together. It gives you great mental satisfaction.

For me the winning feeling doesn't last very long, but while you've got it, when you get back you see that you've not just made yourself happy, you've also made your team happy and made a difference to a lot of people's lives. That mood carries and is infectious and when you get that taste, you just want more and more. It's pretty addictive.

Crash.net:
You mentioned your father, what role does he play?

Jonathan Rea:
He won the Junior [now Supersport] TT in 89. He's a competitive guy. But he was never the typical, pushy schoolboy motocross father, so when we went to the circuits it was primarily because of fun. Having said that though, we were there together to win championships.

Like I said, he wasn't a typical schoolboy motocross father where I got screamed at, but his experience allowed him to improve my riding. He taught me to constantly work on improving myself.

My dad's always in the background, he probably comes to 60 -70% of my races. He just makes sure everything's going fine and enjoys seeing me do well. He tends not to be in the garage because racing technology has moved on since his day.

When we're at a racetrack we don't really have a father/son relationship, it's business. You need to be surrounded by business-like people who aren't afraid to tell me what you're doing wrong. He's there for me mentally when I'm having a bad day. Your family sees the best and worst of you, they're there for you when you're lying in a hospital bed or coming through your injuries.

I love having him there and it's great for him to see what my career has turned into from when we used to rock up in a Transit.

Crash.net:
What have been your worst injuries?

Jonathan Rea:
In 2004 I broke my femur really badly. We had the doctors saying that I could never race again. My trainer didn't listen to them and the rehab program he put together after 3 operations meant that I've got no negative effects now.

I've also got quite bad knees from motocross which were a real pain in the ass when I had to ride the Suzuka 8 hour race, my knees were crying in pain after 45 minutes and when you're doing four 1-hour stints, it's a tough race to get through

Crash.net:
And when you're lying there in hospital, did you ever consider giving up?

Jonathan Rea:
No, I never think about it in hospital because that's when you're at your lowest and it's time to show the strength of character you've got.

It's tough when the results aren't coming and you feel like you are giving it everything though. There was a point in 2011 when I wasn't enjoying riding and I once swore to myself that if I wasn't enjoying things it was time to get out. I didn't though because I have more goals to achieve and I believe in my ability.

That was a low point, but I came back and pretty much dominated the Imola round. It gave me a great sense of achievement to have fought my way back from that low to getting that winning feeling again.

Crash.net:
Is it true that initially after motocross you said that circuit racing was too boring for you?

Jonathan Rea:
I think that's just a journalist's phrase that's been held onto for a long time now. It's just from a conversation I was having with Michael Laverty at the NW200 before going to circuits. I just asked him what he found so interesting about circuit racing, but lo and behold, two years later I was hooked.

It was the mental side of circuit racing that really got me, putting sectors together and being inch perfect. In motocross, even at the top level, you can just wing it a little. Missing apexes doesn't necessarily ruin a lap.

On a circuit though it's 1/10th of a second win or lose. You can't fall asleep in a race and then put three laps effort in to make up the time, you have to be inch perfect the whole race. It's a real mental challenge to make the bike the best racing machine you possibly can with the crew around you. In cycling, the athlete makes up the vast majority of the performance, but in our sport the athlete makes up the final 30% so you've got to play your part fully.

Crash.net:
You've raced in 600s and 1000s, which size do you think is better for racing?

Jonathan Rea:
From the rider's point of view, for sure the 1000 because the rider has a lot more technical input. You can change more on them to make them a better racing machine.

In Supersport because of the tight rules it's a more level playing field, you can't make great changes on the bike. It does generate better and closer racing for the spectator, but for me trying to create the perfect racing machine is the interesting challenge because it exercises your brain as well as your ability.

I am one of those riders who spends a lot of time with their crew developing the bike, I'm very involved in the technical side of things. I can spend whole evenings with my data guy working through problems, I like to understand what's going on. And at the moment the bike needs to improve a lot.

My crew chief Chris Pike's worked with me all through my BSB career and WSBK and he's a world of experience. He knows when I need a kick in the ass and when I need a cuddle!

Crash.net:
Is it true you turned down a Xerox Ducati ride when first going into WSBK?

Jonathan Rea:
At the time I had someone acting on my behalf and I had that option in front of me and we just needed to sign. But there were a couple of details holding me back.

In the meanwhile my father and I went to Ten Kate and immediately felt part of the family, it was the first time in their careers that they had committed to a rider so long term. I was only 19 and felt it better to have a learning year not in the spotlight and I won races in my first year of WSS.

Crash.net:
One of those wins was at Brands on the tragic day when your friend Craig Jones died wasn't it?

Jonathan Rea:
I spent a great deal of time with Craig, I lived with him and his girlfriend in 2005. As a rider, it was horrific. You see red flags and are told there's been a bad accident.

From the outside, racing's a job, but in WSBK riders tend to get together in each other's motorhomes a lot and Craig, Tommy [Hill] and myself used to often get together, that night the atmosphere without him was surreal and grim. I've never experienced that before and never want to again.

Crash.net:
How would you describe the Ten Kate team?

Jonathan Rea:
For me they're a family. That means that when I'm on track, I can trust that they've done their part to the best of their ability. They're very passionate and I appreciate and value every member of the team. When we win, the feeling's amazing, but when we lose, we lose together. It kind of makes the highs higher and the lows lower because of that bond.

Crash.net:
What's your perspective on the first 2013 WSBK round at Phillip Island?

Jonathan Rea:
It was the first round and we came away from it much better than I thought we would. Coming out as joint fifth in the championship was something I couldn't have imagined during testing.

After the race I realised what a lot of work we've got to do with the electronics and how many mine fields you come up against when developing a new system. The electronics were knocking my confidence and looking at the race afterwards it was clear that I wasn't riding comfortably, I was struggling to trust the electronic system.

My problem was getting the power down when opening the throttle and how the traction control was being applied coming out of the corner. The traction control was working far too much and killing too much power. In one 30 metre stretch of track coming out of a corner two guys passed me when I had fresh tyres and had the most grip, that shouldn't happen. The electronics were getting in the way rather than helping.

We've now got five days testing to work on it before the next race. We've got to get the electronics sorted before working on the chassis.

Crash.net:
Leading on from that, the general opinion amongst fans is that there are too many electronics on race bikes...

Jonathan Rea:
Basically I agree, but electronics are also part of the challenge of creating a fast bike and they help consistency, tyre life and safety, so there are positives.

For me they kill the show a bit. I caught the good old days on the HM Plant Honda where we were just using basic anti spin and the bike needed more rider input, I enjoy that side of things.

Crash.net:
How is it going with Leon [Haslam]?

Jonathan Rea:
It's a healthy relationship in the garage. We're on the same wavelength, both speak English and get on well away from the track. Also, he's fast which is good for the team and we can develop the bike together.

Without a doubt he's the fastest and most competitive team-mate I've had since Andrew Pitt in 2008. I'm sure there's a lot we can learn from each other.

Crash.net:
What did you think of your experience in MotoGP, replacing Casey Stoner while he as injured last year?

Jonathan Rea:
I enjoyed every minute of it, but it was always at the back of my mind that my main job was in WSBK and I think that Ronald would have murdered me if I'd come back injured. I just tried to be like a sponge and learn as much as I could.

For sure I rode very conservatively. I was often doing sums in my head about how much the various parts of the bike cost and I probably treated it with too much respect. My target was to not get beat by the CRTs and I achieved that quite comfortably and mixed it with the prototypes.

Crash.net:
Is it possible for a SBK rider to totally lose the Superbike riding style for MotoGP?

Jonathan Rea:
I think the rider can always adapt. Also various styles work, you don't necessarily have to have a MotoGP style, it depends on the bike.

The thing that I found difficulty getting my head around was the lean angle you had to carry, the amount of lean angle you can get on those tyres is incredible. When I came back to WSBK, my crew chief had to constantly remind me to get off the side of the tyre.

Crash.net:
Have you had any offers to ride in MotoGP?

Jonathan Rea:
I've had some, but none with the right package to progress my career. It's also quite a strange championship at the moment with the CRTs. I couldn't motivate myself without being able to achieve reasonable goals.

In Superbike the field is more level and many riders have a chance to shine. Also with Dorna taking over Superbikes, it's a big change and we need to wait until we know about any changes or new rules.

Crash.net:
You're often seen helping out at the TT, can you ever see yourself riding it?

Jonathan Rea:
I have a lot of friends there, mainly Keith Amor and John McGuinness. Also I live on the Isle of Man so it's just at the end of the road for me. I think I'm not cut out to be a street racer, for me circuits are scary enough without having lamp posts and brick walls next to them. It's a special place but it's not on my agenda.

But one of my all-time heroes is Joey Dunlop and my grandfather was one of his first sponsors, I met the great man a few times.

Crash.net:
How does your recent marriage to Tatia fit in with your racing?

Jonathan Rea:
Good! We live together and travel together. I would be a bit lost without her input in my racing career. I'm a bit useless when it comes to traveling and she looks after all those kind of things. She's also in Event management and is helping to organise the TT this year. Racing is quite a lonely life if you do it alone, I just couldn't imagine going through the hotels and airports without her now.

Crash.net:
What is the worst state that you have lined up on a grid in?

Jonathan Rea:
Probably last year race two at Assen. I had crashed in the wet race 1 and taken the top of my finger off. When I got my glove on for the sighting lap it was clear that it was way too painful.

I told the guys on the grid that everything was fine but I actually jumped off the bike and ran to a bicycle and peddled like mad to the clinic to have some local anaesthetic injections put in the finger.

I made it back to the grid OK but my heart rate was off the scale. It worked out in the end though because I won the race and then the hand didn't feel so bad.

Crash.net:
How often do you get recognised and do you enjoy fame?

Jonathan Rea:
Sometimes Tatia will say 'That guy just did a double take on you there', it's quite strange. I'm really quite a shy person, but being known can make life easier when contacting people.

For instance I could use my influence to run JAR, my own British Motocross team, which I would never have been able to do without being successful in my career. I'm really proud of the fact that me and my brother Richard can help some young kids get into it.

But sometimes when I go to events I rub shoulders with really famous people like Mark Webber and know where I really stand!

Crash.net:
How did your association with Red Bull start?

Jonathan Rea:
I won a competition to drink the most amount of Red Bull in a day!

No, they gave me my start in racing. I was never a bankrolled rider and couldn't afford to go the BSB route and Red Bull had the rookies team back in 2003 and gave me the opportunity which started me in the sport.

Crash.net:
In race one in Silverstone 2012 where you slid on your side past the finish, James Whitham thought that you continued holding the bars of the sliding bike to stop it flipping, is that true?

Jonathan Rea:
Do you know what, I have no idea, but it wasn't exactly that. I don't know what was going through my head at the time, though holding onto the bike has got me out of a number of pickles in the past. I think it's just a natural rider's reaction

Crash.net:
Thanks a lot Jonathan.

Jonathan Rea:
No drama.


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