Jonathan Rea is “under no illusions” that his main rivals have learnt from his dominant championship year and will pose a more substantial threat going into the 2016 World Superbike season.
In his first year in Kawasaki colours, Rea swept to a resounding title triumph, notching up 14 race wins and an astonishing 23 podium finishes from 26 races. Only an agonising DNF in the season finale in Qatar prevented him from bettering the record points haul for a single World Superbike season.
As a result, the subsequent off-season has been busy. Along with becoming a father for the second time, Rea's attention has been focussed on developing Kawasaki's new ZX-10R throughout the off-season, and has seen principle rivals Chaz Davies and team-mate Tom Sykes show championship potential pedigree.
It is this competition that has spurred Rea on, as he bids to become the first rider since Carl Fogarty in 1999 to successfully defend a World Superbike crown.
“I think the biggest motivation and how I've thought about things in the winter it to stay at the front,” said Rea after his KRT Kawasaki team's launch in Barcelona. “To stay at the front, I know how strong my rivals are around me. I've been thinking about my rivals and analysing them and how they go about their weekends and trying to be better.
“I know that I'm on one of the best machines and it's my job and my technical crew's job to make that bike good for every circuit over the three or four sessions we have before Superpole. That's where our job comes in.
“I'm so motivated because I just know how hard it's going to be. I'm under no illusions. It's not like last year was a fluke but it just happened. I want to try and forget about last year and because I respect my rivals so much. I know they'll have learned from our season and they'll come back stronger than they were in 2015. So I need to come back with fight.”
While Rea and Sykes set a fearsome pace at a test in Jerez in November, the Northern Irishman was unable to replicate that speed when he returned to the circuit at the close of January.
What was more notable than his fastest time being 0.9s off Sykes' best was his comment that the new machine “has been developed more for another riding style.” Rea believes that, although the machine is more suited to a point-and-squirt technique, he is still finding a balance that doesn't negate his own strengths.
“The bike is quite different,” continued the 29-year old, who is still confident of his own speed when racing begins at the close of February. “I was here one year so the development of the bike has been happening through riders like Tom [Sykes], [Joan] Lascorz, [Loris] Baz. This bike was not born last year, it was born many years ago. The bike has been developed for them guys, from their comments. And they've done a great job because the bike is at a higher level.
“But as a race bike it's asking me now to ride a bit in the style of Tom. You know, like brake much deeper, stop the bike and then fire it out, which is good. It's his style. He's won championships. But I also have my style, which I'm trying not to lose a little bit.
“It's just about trying to find the right balance of how much I get sucked into riding the bike how it's asked to be ridden or trying to implement a little bit of care, like looking after the tyre, turning well, corner speed and attributes that made me strong in 2015.
“In testing it hasn't been about polishing the package; it's been about trying this swingarm, trying that shock, trying these forks, trying that engine character, or that setting with electronics.
"But what happens when the lights go out is completely different to now. The excitement in January, even for myself, the team launch, bikes, colours, lap times, testing … it's all so exciting but the main thing is when the lights go out. When that happens I think we can be in a good position.”
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