As the clock ticks down toward the beginning of his title defence, reigning World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea spoke to Crash.net at the KRT Kawasaki team launch in Barcelona about motivation, adapting to the new ZX-10R and his main rivals for the year ahead.

Crash.net:
At the end of last season you said developing the new ZX-10R would be a big motivation for 2016. Is that where you've been finding it ahead of the new season?

Jonathan Rea:
A little bit. I think the biggest motivation and how I've thought about things in the winter it to stay at the front. 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. That's where I'm getting my motivation from right now because at the end of the day they're the guys that I have to beat. 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, that's where I'm getting my motivation from now. 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.

Crash.net:
At the close of a recent test in Jerez you said this bike is more suited to one kind of riding style. Have you been forced to change the way you ride?

Jonathan Rea:
The bike is quite different. 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. We can't forget that as good as the bike was previously in '12, '13 and '14, in 2015 we broke circuit records and race records at almost every circuit we went to. That's with a bike that has standard pistons and regulations that are lower. The base of the last bike was much stronger but I honestly believe that with this bike the potential is there.

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. There are so many items to test! We did a lot on brakes at Jerez and we maybe lost too much time focussing on that, back-to-back.

Crash.net:
As you were testing Nissin brakes, which you used earlier in your career, with Brembo, the make you ran in 2015, at a test at the end of last year...

Jonathan Rea:
Yeah. In the end we haven't really sat down to polish the package and we haven't fitted everything together yet. I haven't had my favourite swingarm in the bike. Once we have that and put qualifiers in the bike, and understand our real potential for lap times, when we go to Australia, which is demanding for tyres, we'll understand where we stack up like that. It's just testing. It's exciting because we're working with something new and fresh and we have to reinvent the base setting because it's a different bike, different character, different chassis. The chassis changes, with our rules that are limited to what we can adjust with the chassis, with the new bike we've got more parameters to change the front of the bike. The front behaves in a different way, it's steering better. It's much more adjustable, let's say. We've just been going through that and going through the motions with it all.

In Jerez in November we were so fast, also on the race run. I was so happy. Then we turned up to Jerez in January and the track was a bit green. There wasn't so much rubber on the ground. It was a lot cooler. The track was maybe a half second slower for us guys. We were still competitive. I think Chaz left there pretty strong with race rubber and we were there just after. 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.

Crash.net:
The testing times have been very impressive considering this is a new machine. Do you feel there is still a lot more to come from the new ZX-10R?

Jonathan Rea:
No, of course there isn't loads more to come. I think the base, philosophy and character of the bike is how it is. We just need to fine tune things. I think in Jerez we put a qualifying tyre in to make a [1m] 39s lap. That was when we felt the package, the grip was good. Maybe the grip was so good that it masked some small areas that we were weak in. We're working on that. It's hard to quantify in Superbike racing, with our tyres, with the bikes and chassis and how they behave. When you move from track to track with different temperatures and conditions, it's more about being reactive. We have a base setting that the bike works very well with but it's always about manipulating that base setting from track to track to get the bike ready for a race weekend. It's not like when we go to Jerez and bung in the base setting from last season, we'll have a base setting and then be reactive to how cool it is, how much grip is on the ground. It makes a big difference for us.

Crash.net:
Is there one area of set-up that you'll be focussing on fine tuning in Australia?

Jonathan Rea:
The test in Australia we're going to focus on engine character and ride-ability with electronics. We'll go through that. The guys have had a lot of time now. They've been on the dyno this week. That's what we'll focus on over them two days and we'll try and put a race run in as well to understand where we are. Australia is a different character for us, it's one of the more challenging tracks for tyres.

Crash.net:
You were always quick to heap praise on your crew in 2015. Will your technical team remain unchanged for 2016?

Jonathan Rea:
My tyre guy has changed. Pere Villanova, my old guy, has gone to work for Showa. We have a new guy Pau [Ramoneda] who has come from a racing background. He's fitted in really well personally. As a personality he's a really cool guy. I mean, the bond we have, it's cool. It's work, a stressful environment. When things aren't going right you have to push harder. It's down to confidence and risk. I've never felt it with these guys. For my birthday I was at Pere's [Riba, Jonathan's crew chief] house and they had made me a cake. It's like a family. I'm really lucky to have that. I've had that with individuals in a team in the past but never a team feeling. We'll always get together and have a good time.

Crash.net:
While Yamaha and BMW have real potential and Nicky Hayden has come across from MotoGP, are you still looking at Tom and Chaz Davies as your main title rivals?

Jonathan Rea:
I think on paper them guys have to be the strongest two. The rest have huge potential. Van der Mark, as a rookie, was able to put that bike on the podium. Nicky with his CV would make you think he should come in and do a better job straight away. Who knows where that's going to be. I expect Nicky to be on the podium, like van der Mark was, or better. He should be. Yamaha, it's clear that they have a really good bike. Domestically and in endurance racing it has been very good. They have two very good riders. How competitive they're going to be, we'll have to see at each round. But I know at Kawasaki here we have the best package as a whole: bike, engine, electronics, and personnel. Even from the management side no detail is left untouched. I know I'm in good hands. It's down to me and Tom to work it out. Chaz's end of season last year, you would be silly to count him out as a real serious contender. They're the two guys that I expect to be there every weekend. But I'm just trying to concentrate on myself. The others are going to do what they're going to do. I can only mentally affect my performance so it's better if I just concentrate on me.

Crash.net:
With you and Tom potentially fighting for the title, are we likely to see tensions heightened in the Kawasaki garage through the year?

Jonathan Rea:
I'm not sure about tension. I think we really need to keep respect for each other. That's the most important thing. I've been lucky. I've never had too many team-mates in the past that have been really difficult. Sure, Tom's a little bit of a different situation because we're both so strong. He's won races this year [2015], I've won races. He's beaten me in a straight up fight. I've beaten him in a straight up fight. Of course the atmosphere is different than I've had before. We're different people. I don't know. If we have to fight over 28 races bar-to-bar it's not going to be great. I think every great rivalry, be it in car racing or GPs or Superbike in past years, it's so difficult to maintain a friendship at that level. There's so much on the line, so much sacrifice. I mean, I've got respect for him, for what he's done in the past. He's clearly one of the top riders. I just try and focus on me. If there are problems I hope I'm not the guy that's causing them, I'll just worry about myself and if I do that what happens, happens.

Crash.net:
What is your opinion on the new race format for 2016, which will see a race held on Saturday and Sunday?

Jonathan Rea:
Honestly it's a bit better, depending on whether you have split days for weather. When you have a one o'clock race you're guaranteed a medium-to-high temperature. But when you have a race at 10.30 in the morning, with differences in tyres, it's so difficult to understand. The air temperature might change by five degrees but the track temperature can change from 15 to 20 degrees. When we set the bike up for that afternoon temperature we had to second guess whether the tyre would work for the morning temperature. It takes that out. But then it throws uncertainty in there because you can have Saturday rain, Sunday dry. It's a little more stressful on Friday with three hour-long sessions. Then on Saturday with Superpole being so early and straight into a race. Sunday looks quite easy! Just roll out of bed, a little bit of warm-up and then one race. That seems quite laid back. For me it doesn't make a difference. I enjoy the two races but I think maybe the only losers out of it are the guys that can't travel to race weekends for two days. From a TV package point of view I think we can reach a wider audience if we're on channels at lunch times on a Saturday and Sunday when people are generally at home and not lying in a bed with a hangover.

Crash.net:
Also, I see you chose to run the number '1' plate for this year. Was that a straightforward decision?

Jonathan Rea:
I did think about it but I don't have any multi-million dollar merchandise deal so for that reason I wasn't tied to 65. It's a number that I like. I ran my championship number '4' one year in World Superbike and in BSB as well. But you can't choose number 1. You have to earn it. I feel like the season we did last year, we really earned it. I'll wear it with pride but it brings with it a level of pressure because every time I walk into the garage I know that we set the bar high last year. When you look at that bike maybe you start over thinking things. But I hope not to be in that position.

 

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