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…
Jonny, you finished runner-up in British Superbikes in 2007; you've got a bit of a different challenge in 2008, haven't you?
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!
How much of a step-up is the competition going to be on the world stage do you think?
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.
You mentioned Hannspree Ten Kate Honda being one of the best teams; obviously a certain James Toseland raced with them too, didn't he..?
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.
How have you settled into the team so far, and how have preparations gone over the winter months?
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.
As you say, the competition is going to be close as well; who do you see as being your principal rivals this year?
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.