Jonathan Rea has admitted that at the height of Ten Kate Honda's struggles back in the summer, he was 'riding on a knife-edge', unhappy at the team and looking for a way out – but now he insists there is nowhere else he would rather be as he endeavours to clinch the 2011 World Superbike Championship crown.
Rea began the 2010 WSBK campaign as a leading protagonist for glory, but following his sublime double victory at Assen, he notched up a double DNF at Monza only a fortnight later – crashing out in both races, one of his own making, the other simply finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time – and henceforth, his title momentum never truly recovered.
From the next six outings, there would be just a sole podium finish, as the Irishman's summer of discontent took hold and speculation mounted that he was set to jump ship. When it is put to him that some people say the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade is not the easiest of machines to ride, he does not pull his punches.
“Some people I think are right!” Rea quipped, speaking to Crash.net Radio. “I can make it work, because I ride with 100 per cent effort, 100 per cent of the time, but when your confidence is knocked a little bit then you struggle. Other riders just can't seem to gel with it; we've seen instances with my team-mates – [Carlos] Checa leaving and going on to be a dominant force with Ducati, [Leon] Haslam leaving Honda to go on and consistently be winning races and finishing second in races [with Suzuki] and my 2010 team-mate [Max Neukirchner] came from Suzuki winning races to Honda, and he's barely scored points this year.
“It was frustrating for me mid-season to have a bike that I wasn't happy riding – with a chattering motorbike when you're looking for half a second, you're riding on a knife-edge. It's not enjoyable, and I wasn't enjoying riding it. There were some other options out there, but I was tied in a partial contract with the team, and when the date came that the option could be taken up, I did it. Back then I wasn't happy, but the way the season turned out in the end, I'm so happy to be where I am.”
Indeed, over the second half of the campaign, Rea's form – in-line with that of Ten Kate – picked up again, with victories at Brno and the Nürburgring and four further runner-up finishes, all in an ultra-successful six-race stretch. Had he not been forced out of the penultimate round in San Marino as a result of wrist and collarbone injuries sustained in qualifying at Imola, there is little doubt that the 23-year-old would have claimed third in the final riders' standings.
As it was, he wound up fourth – an improvement on his rookie season of 2009, and still by a considerable margin the highest-placed Honda star. As a measure of the Ulsterman's form, you need only look at Neukirchner, who with the same equipment at his disposal concluded proceedings a lowly 18th with but a single top ten finish to his name along the way. In 2011, Rea will have a new team-mate in the shape of BMW refugee Ruben Xaus – and he is confident that with the Spaniard's input, he and Ten Kate can turn the CBR1000RR into a force to be reckoned with.
“I'm quite excited to hear his opinion of the bike,” he acknowledged. “I tend not to really worry about my team-mates on the other side of the garage, but Ruben has a lot of experience so I'm keen to work with him and to take the bike even further.
“The ethos of the championship has been lost a little bit with some companies producing race bikes and then homologating them and making them road bikes – but the Japanese way is always to make a street bike and take it racing. Hopefully, Ruben can bring his experience with electronics to our side – I think we can improve there a lot, and yeah, we'll see.