While he may have raised a few eyebrows with his route to the World Superbike Championship, Jonathan Rea has since emerged as one of Great Britain’s foremost motorcycling hopes.
A life-long Honda rider, while it isn’t surprising that Rea has landed at the manufacturer’s favoured WSBK outfit, the rapidity of his progress suggests the 25-year-old has a long future ahead of him.
Taking just six seasons of professional motorcycle racing to reach World Superbikes, Rea began his career in motocross and was destined to pursue this as his path before being persuaded to attempt circuit racing.
Adapting quickly, he entered the 2003 National 125GP Championship at the age of 16 where he was classified a respectable 15th from a quality field of riders.
Progress came quickly though and having made the leap into the British Supersport Championship in 2004, where a handful of promising results were undone by an accident at Knockhill that ruled him out for the remainder of the year, he found himself British Superbike rider in 2005.
His ascension was being engineered by sponsors Red Bull, who placed Rea in their own team in 2004 before extending the partnership into 2005 and into the premier BSB class.
Still only 18 years-old, Rea endured a fact-finding season in 2005. Riding a factory-spec Fireblade, Rea’s eventual 16th position in the overall standings was more to do with him missing two rounds at Oulton Park and Snetterton than a lack of pace. Indeed, a surprise pole position at Mondello Park caught plenty of attention, while two further front row starts earmarked the youngster as one to keep an eye on in the future.
Although it didn’t lead to any top six finishes – a seventh at Mondello Park would be his best for the year -, he had done enough to persuade Red Bull to maintain its backing for another season and Rea rewarded the drinks company’s investment by proving a more consistent frontrunner in 2006.
He started the year well, recording a career-best finish of fifth in the opening race, and he was classified a strong sixth after the opening five rounds. He would remain in and around this position for the majority of the year, Rea climbing onto the podium for the first time at Knockhill, while he was on course for a similar result at Mallory Park before crashing.
It meant he went into the final round with a shout at fourth in the overall standings and he duly prevailed over Shane Byrne and Karl Harris.
Crucially for Rea, his beating of Harris on the factory HM Plant Honda prompted the manufacturer to promote him to its factory team for 2007 alongside newly crowned champion Ryuichi Kiyonari.
He was quick from the off, but despite managing six podiums in the first ten races, Rea was still yet to get on top of the rostrum, and with Gregorio Lavilla and Ryuichi Kiyonari racking up the victories, Rea looked to be out of title contention.
However, a mid-season turnaround saw Rea score his maiden win at Mondello Park, kick-starting a run of form that would see finish inside the top two in eight of the next eleven races. Launching him into contention with Kiyonari as the season drew to a close, Rea’s late charge wasn’t quite enough to get him on terms with the Japanese rider and he would be forced to settle for the runners-up spot, 26 points adrift.
Eager to stick with Honda, but not favouring a fourth season in British Superbikes, Rea found himself unable to get amongst the World Superbike fraternity after Ten Kate chose Kiyonari, Carlos Checa and Kenan Sofuoglu for 2008.
Nonetheless, Rea was offered a contract by the Dutch team, albeit in the Supersport category, complete with a clause stipulating a guaranteed promotion to Superbikes should he perform to expectations.
Teamed with former champion Andrew Pitt, Rea faced immediate competition from within his own camp, but, after a slow start, he rose to the occasion admirably, finishing on the podium at Assen before recording his first win at Brno.
Further triumphs at Donington Park and Vallelunga followed allowing Rea to work his way into title contention with Pitt, but after being involved in another competitor’s accident at Magny-Cours, he was forced to concede defeat.
The team’s 1-2 finish in the standings created a headache for manager Ronald ten Kate, however, with both Pitt and Rea assuming they had done enough to warrant a move to World Superbikes in 2009.
Eventually, Rea’s ‘rising star’ status got him the nod over Pitt and he was signed to team up again with Kiyonari, as well as former MotoGP rider Checa in 2009. He immediately rewarded their faith with a superb run to fourth position on his WSBK debut at the 2008 Portimao season finale, Ten Kate having decided to give its new signing a ‘trial run’.
Heading into 2009, while Checa and Kiyonari had been tipped for title challenges, with Rea charged with providing suitable support, it was in fact the Northern Irishman who assumed the status of team leader over the course of the year.
The ’09 specification CBR1000RR proved a handful during the opening rounds however, and despite some eye-catching qualifying efforts on Rea’s part, it took until the twelfth race of the year for him to climb onto the podium for the first time.
It was a pivotal result though, with Rea gaining in confidence to finish third at the following Miller Motorsport Park round, before prevailing in a thrilling exchange with Michel Fabrizio and Noriyuki Haga to claim a hard fought first win in Misano.
Catapulting Rea up the championship order, another win at the Nurburgring – which was somewhat tainted by a controversial clash with Haga – had him on course to finish the season fourth overall. While he would eventually be demoted to fifth by a late Max Biaggi charge, Rea had demolished his more experienced team-mates (who found themselves out of work as a result) and cemented his reputation as a reckoned force.
Unsurprisingly, Rea entered the 2010 season as one of the tips for the title, but while he was amongst those to dominant the pace during testing, his season got off to a somewhat average start, the Ulsterman reaching the podium just once during the first six races.
A superb double win from pole position at Assen marked a new career high for Rea and helped push him into the title challenge, but a double DNF a week later at Monza would wipe out any of the ground he had clawed back. Struggling to find a consistent set-up on the temperamental CBR1000RR, a mid-season lull would officially end Rea’s dreams of getting amongst Biaggi and Haslam.
A breakthrough on the bike at Brno prompted a flurry of good results during the latter third of the season, Rea winning again in the Czech Republic and in Germany to put himself on course for third in the standings. However, a fall at the penultimate Imola round would go on to sideline him for three of the final four races, enabling Checa to demote him to fourth overall.
With the bike getting the lion’s share of the blame for Rea’s erratic form, it wasn’t surprising when Rea admitted he was looking elsewhere for 2011, thus potentially reneging on a two-year deal. However, he eventually committed to Ten Kate, insisting continuity was the best foundation to launch a title challenge.
Together with new title backing from iconic sponsors Castrol, Rea came into 2011 with renewed confidence of a belated title challenge. However, pre-season injuries forced Rea to start the season on the back foot, and though he was back to winning ways at Assen, it was the peak of an otherwise nondescript start to the year.
Worse was the follow when a high-speed accident left Rea nursing a broken wrist, necessitating a four-round spell on the sidelines, but his return to action for the final four events, which included a win at Imola and two pole positions, was indicative of what he could still do on a relatively dated bike.
Renewing for 2012, Rea’s fourth consecutive season with Honda in World Superbikes began solidly with another win at Assen, while a second victory at Donington Park and podiums at Miller and Misano briefly manoeuvred him into outside title contention.
However, those aspirations faded when niggling errors set in, including falls at Brno, Moscow and Nurburgring, dropping him to fifth in the standings by the end of the year.
World Superbikes aside, Rea did catch the headlines by winning the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race – only the second European rider to do so in a decade -, while he also made a respectable MotoGP debut in place of Casey Stoner at Repsol Honda. Raising speculation of a MotoGP switch for 2013, Rea eventually put pen to paper on another renewal with Honda in WSBK.Career Highlights:2013:
Rea maintains his long-standing ties with Honda by extending his contract into 20132012:
World Superbike Championship, Honda WSBK, 5th (2 wins) 2011:
World Superbike Championship (18 races), Castrol Honda, 8th (2 wins)2010:
World Superbike Championship, Ten Kate Honda, 4th (4 wins) 2009:
World Superbike Championship, Ten Kate Honda, 5th (2 wins) 2008:
World Supersport Championship, Ten Kate Honda, 2nd (3 wins) 2007:
British Superbike Championship, HM Plant Honda, 2nd (5 wins) 2006:
British Superbike Championship, Red Bull Honda, 4th2005:
British Superbike Championship, Red Bull Honda, 16th2004:
British Supersport Championship, Red Bull Honda, 19th2003:
National 125GP Championship, Honda, 15th