While some may have questioned the wisdom of consigning himself to a season of World Supersport racing in 2008, Jonathan Rea knew exactly what he was doing when he committed himself to Ten Kate Honda.
Although seemingly a more natural Superbike racer, a year at Supersport level allowed Rea to gain the experience necessary to launch a convincing campaign in 2009 that otherwise defied his newcomer status. Indeed, if it wasn't for Ben Spies re-writing the rookie rulebook up ahead, Rea's debut World Superbike would be considered one of the year's big stories…
Nonetheless, Rea was still a revelation in his own right this year. You only have to look at Shane Byrne and Tom Sykes to recognise how much of an impact a learning year on the fringes can do for your chances if you're willing to play the waiting game.
Perhaps the most significant thing about Rea's season was his ability to overshadow Carlos Checa and Ryuichi Kiyonari, two riders with vastly more experience than the younger Northern Irishman. Even when the Ten Kate Honda was proving troublesome at the start of the year, Rea was always its assumed lead rider.
It meant he was in a good position when the CBR1000RR, armed with shiny new Ohlins suspension, began to come good in the second-half of the year. His debut win at Misano was a particularly delightful moment for Rea, not least because he did it by prevailing in an elbow-to-elbow exchange with Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio.
Although he wasn't quite as consistent so as to suggest that he would have been a title contender had the Ten Kate Honda been competitive from the start, he was certainly close to the leaders by the season's end.
While there were bleaker moments – his collision with Haga at the Nurburgring courted controversy, while a wild weekend at Imola prompted a few choice words from rivals -, Rea did enough in the final half of the year to suggest he is as quick as the best out there.
Provided Ten Kate don't lose that momentum, 2010 could be Rea's year.
Ten Kate Racing
1st (Misano, Nurburgring)
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2008:
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2009:
- Leon Haslam
- Michel Fabrizio
- Regis Laconi
- Jakub Smrz
- Troy Corser
- Shane Byrne