Jonathan Rea has conceded that the Honda CBR1000RR has been a frustratingly inconsistent and unpredictable beast over the past two seasons of the World Superbike Championship, but one in which he always saw more than a hint of sparkle – and now that the imperfections have been 'polished up' and with Castrol back on-board as title sponsor, he expects the erstwhile 'rough diamond' to glisten in 2011.
The renewal of one of motorcycling's most iconic partnerships was officialised earlier this week with the launch of ten Kate's 2011 effort at the Castrol Technology Centre in Berkshire [see separate story – click here
], and Rea confesses that seeing his newly-liveried bike in the flesh as it were for the first time was quite an emotional moment.
“It's made to be, isn't it?” the Ulsterman mused in an interview with Crash.net
, almost misty-eyed at the prospect of competing for one of the most famous names in the sport. “It's almost like 'why have they been missing?' but now they're back, it's just like filling old boots. I remember rushing home from a motocross race when I was a schoolboy to watch that final race [at Imola] when Colin Edwards won the world championship in 2002 – so for me, on a personal level, it's great because of my memories from back then.
“I was lucky enough that we were in the studio all of the previous day doing pictures, so I got a bit of a sneak-peek. Honestly, it was so, so cool to be in my new leather suit for the first time and to see the bike. It brings it all back; there's a lot of history attached to it, and I'm really looking forward to seeing some of the first pictures that are produced when riding as well. [Honda and Castrol] share the same goals, and with the technology that Castrol have, they can really help our machine to develop. I'm looking forward to the collaboration.”
Indeed, the recently-crowned Irish Motorcyclist of the Year's sole target in 2011 is to repeat Edwards' remarkable success, and he is convinced that between them, Castrol and Honda possess sufficient fighting qualities to enable him to do so. Refusing to spend too much time contemplating the opposition – save for revealing that he expects there to be no real surprise packages this year – Rea also has no hesitation that he will be fully fighting-fit again in time for the Phillip Island curtain-raiser at the end of next month following an injury-plagued 2010.
As to the bike, whilst the CBR1000RR seemed to lurch from lightning-quick to inexplicably unwieldy from one weekend to the next last year – alarmingly, with no obvious explanation – a late-season breakthrough has given the 23-year-old hope for better things, and having finished fifth in his rookie WSBK campaign in 2009 and fourth in 2010, even if he is not willing to admit it himself, you get the impression that nothing less than the crown will satisfy Jonathan Rea in 2011.
“That would be a secret, wouldn't it!” he quipped, when asked about changes that have been made over the winter. “We've advanced quite a lot of things; we've got further testing as well this weekend to try and rule out what we're not going to be using this year and what we are. We haven't decided exactly what spec we're going to be running with everything.
“I did 15-odd laps in Portugal [in November] where we were pretty fast in the wet, so we put our feet up for the rest of the second day. I rode at Sepang [in MotoGP] for three-and-a-half days; that was good to get back on the bike, but my injury still wasn't perfect, so this weekend will be a good test to see where I am physically. My physio is great and my doctors have been pushing me forward so fitness-wise, I'm in a good way, but mobility-wise, my wrist still isn't great so we'll see how that goes.
“Obviously, when you look around, there are four or five or six guys aiming to win the championship. I'm one of them, but it's a hard championship and there are many fast riders. There are too many to list, but I just want to concentrate on what I'm doing. I don't underestimate any of my rivals, and every year when you try and name them, you always get somebody wrong or there's a dark horse that shines through.
“You can't be so naïve to think that it comes easy, because there are so many fast guys. It's pretty single-minded just to put yourself out on a limb and say 'we're going to win the championship', but that's got to be our goal. For sure, I want to improve on my fourth position (from 2010); I want to win – but you can't really foresee what's going to happen.
“I hope to be able to learn from the mistakes I've made in the past. I think I did well in 2010 to eradicate some of the 2009 issues, and now this year when we're having a bad day, I hope to be able to not put myself down so much and to get over it. I'm going to try really hard to keep myself clean and see what happens.
“I feel like I have the speed, but all the other guys and other manufacturers will lift their level as well. We need to be careful we don't fall behind, but I'm in a great team, we figured our problems out last year and I hope we can do the same again this year.
“I just hope to be able to battle at the front every single weekend and make it count. I'm really looking forward to the first round, to the lights going out and actually getting a race under my belt and to see how it all plays out. Coming into last year, I remember describing the bike as a rough diamond – and we've polished it up. It's a pretty good package now, I'm feeling really good on it and I can't wait to get going!”