An exclusive interview with two-time and defending World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea on his preparations for 2017, the atmosphere within the Kawasaki Racing Team squad and hunting an unprecedented third consecutive World Superbike riders' title
Hi Jonathan, without having seen the results of the tests I'm thinking that you are Phillip Island ready?

Jonathan Rea:
Lap times weren't a priority at all, we just worked with the one tyre really. We had a couple of development tyres we had the option to use and a new qualifier.

We were really focusing on the electronics and some new chassis parts including a new rear shock from Showa.

I was also working closely with and establishing a relationship with my new electronics engineer Davide. My previous electronics man is still a KRT employee but now works in the background overseeing all riders which is a good move because we've increased the brainpower in the garage.
Is there really much difference between the 2017 bike and the 2016?

Jonathan Rea:
For us, we've got a bit more engine performance and with the regulation changes we can't use the split throttle bodies any more.

We're using a single motor which means that all 4 butterflies are working at once and of the changes that probably has the greatest influence on the bike. Aside from that we've some upgrades to the electronics and suspension parts from Showa.
One thing I've always noticed when you talk is that you seem to spend more time getting familiar with the technical details of the bike than I notice with many other riders, would you agree?

Jonathan Rea:
Honestly, I don't have a huge understanding of the mechanics of bikes and exactly what happens within shocks and so forth. I do understand the feeling of the bike though and I'm quite organised in my head as to which feeling relates to what and in particular to what we're testing, why we're testing it and what we're looking for.

But the important thing is that I've got such an amazing crew around me, especially Pere Riba, my crew chief, my three mechanics and my data guy. I just feel that I can put full trust in them and that I can deliver my comments to them and they'll make things better.

For me, outing by outing the bike's always better. I try not to get too deep with what I want from the bike technically I just describe the feeling, the results on track, what I don't like about something and what I need to happen and they deliver the results. I just try to be calm and organized in my brain to deliver clear feedback but technically I don't feel I have a deep understanding about for example how an engine works.
How much of the incredible performance we saw straight away in 2015 was due to having an immediate good fit with Pere and the crew?

Jonathan Rea:
Yeah, Pere is incredible, He's created a really effective group of guys, it's almost like a small infrastructure within the team, all the mechanics have such a strong bond and work so well together and the communication is excellent. There is so much respect between each and every one.

At the end of the day we have a team manager but it's Pere who's managing our side and the mechanics really respect him. The atmosphere and mood is great and the morale is high.

We always ask on the final night of a race or a test to be excused from hospitality because we like to go and have a meal together, we're a tightly knit crew.

We've also holidayed together. They've come to my house in the Isle of Man as a group to watch the TT. The group's amazing and it's not a rider and crew chief relationship like I've had in the past, it's a genuine relationship.
So perhaps that kind of relationship is giving you the trust you need to perform?

Jonathan Rea:
Yeah absolutely. This sport's so tough, there's so much sacrifice, training, riding on the limit and danger but if you have a good atmosphere in the garage and trust those around you it makes it a lot easier to take those risks and make those sacrifices.

Now that I've got my wife and two kids they also travel to a lot of the races with me and I consider them to be a huge part of that team and atmosphere as well. It's always nice because when I leave the garage and go back to my family I know that the people in the garage are still doing their maximum whether I'm there or not. After all we're basically all in this dream together and they want to be world champion the same if not more than me.

It's that togetherness that makes everything worthwhile. It can be glamorous and it looks exciting on TV but in reality we spend a lot of time away from home and reality in hotels and airports so the fact that we have that family feeling and therefore can have fun doing it makes it all meaningful.
Did you have to work harder to become champion in 2016 when compared to you doing a Marc Marquez in 2015?

Jonathan Rea:
I had to work a lot harder because the bike didn't fit me as well as the 15 bike. The 15 bike after so many years of development by KRT was a pretty polished package whereas the 16 bike was completely new from the ground up and it had gone away a bit from my true riding style. I had to adapt myself pretty quick.

Luckily we were clever to understand that at the beginning and that was again all to do with Pere quickly understanding my feedback and feelings. Step by step we arrived and were able to be very constant and manage the championship in the right way. It was definitely a hard year because we were learning a lot and making some mistakes as in trying new things which didn't always go right.

But now we've got a huge amount of data and understanding about the bike so 17 should be a lot smoother.
Did the fact that you had to grind it out make the championship more satisfying?

Jonathan Rea:
I think it was more satisfying for many reasons.

At the end of last year my wife gave birth to our second child Tyler and he was quite a tough child at the beginning because he had some problems with his stomach. We were spending a lot of time at the doctors and everything. He's healthy and fine but that atmosphere put a lot of pressure on us at the start.

Last year there was a lot going on mentally from home, worry about my son and also the work on track developing the new bike. We were also having some issues like the one where I was finding neutrals quite a lot in the races. So putting those all together it was a very stressful year and to still come out with the championship felt particularly good.
Has the gearbox issue now been corrected?

Jonathan Rea:
It's not perfect for me to be honest but we're definitely finding solutions to my problems last year. We're working with Kawasaki to make it better.
Did you notice an increased attack from Tom?

Jonathan Rea:
I really feel that he's riding the best he's ever ridden and his lap times are getting faster and faster. I'm sure that me coming into the team has given him huge motivation.

He had been the number one guy at Kawasaki for many years and since I arrived making the bike work with a completely different riding style and winning the championship for two years, I'm sure he's learned a lot from that too.

He's riding as hard as he's ever ridden and in the heat of battle he's got a lot more fight than I've ever seen him have before. I really think that he's one of the strongest guys for the championship again this year. Together with myself and Chaz he was one of the only riders to have dominant form this year.

So yes, I've got a lot of respect for him, he's really fast and also when he puts his head down at the start of a race he rarely makes any mistakes. He's a good team mate because we can both push the development of the bike forward.
...and the atmosphere in the garage is one of healthy competition?

Jonathan Rea:
I don't know how healthy it is but it's certainly very competitive. Both sides of the team work pretty independently to be honest and he's got a very unique and extreme riding style whereas mine's a little more old school so our setups are never too close together. What works for him doesn't work for me and visa versa.

But there is certainly a competitive edge because we have access to the same resources, ride the same machine and it's our crews job to give us the best machine they can and from then on it's up to us.

That's why I think I've currently got the upper hand because I've got amazing guys around me and it's that which gives me a small advantage.
So I'm guessing that with two such different styles there's not a lot of data sharing.

Jonathan Rea:
I mean we have access to each others data but if I'm struggling a little bit it won't help just throwing Tom's settings in there. If I got on his bike when he's going faster it just wouldn't work.

What is useful though is if I'm struggling in certain areas we can overlay the data and I can see where he's a little bit faster than me just by comparing wheel speed. My biggest problem is that I'm carrying too much corner speed and not stopping the bike enough and overlaying his data can help there. Having a fast team mate can sometimes help in that way but just taking settings wholesale definitely doesn't work.
Did it give you satisfaction to be faster than many MotoGP bikes in the tests at the end of last year?

Jonathan Rea:
Not really, I didn't look at it in that way.

What was nice though is that I felt that we started to get a little more respect from that paddock and it got a lot of people talking but it didn't really give me any more confidence or anything like that.

I'm really happy with what I'm doing in WorldSBK, what I'm achieving here and how I'm enjoying my life here so I'm more concerned with getting on with that job and enjoying that success with my team.

It was nice to share the track with those guys though, those bikes make so much noise. It was also interesting to follow them to see where they were stronger or weaker. I think it showed that the bridge between MotoGP and WorldSBK is not as big as some teams seem to think.

Of course from global reach point of view WorldSBK is definitely second tier but when you compare the team's and rider's abilities there's not as big a gulf as some people seem to think.
Do you think that MotoGP managers are perhaps being a bit short sighted in ignoring the WorldSBK paddock?

Jonathan Rea:
I'm sure that if they opened their eyes to not only the level of riders but also to the level of the teams here they'd be impressed. I feel that teams like Kawasaki and Ducati WorldSBK could seamlessly make the switch to MotoGP with no problems. The organisational level and technical capabilities are second to none. It's not just the riders, it's the teams and manufacturer support.
Talking of Kawasaki seamlessly switching to MotoGP, you're not aware of any plans are you?

Jonathan Rea:
I've heard nothing. When I was at the Kawasaki museum recently I was getting quite giddy at the incredible GP bikes on display there, it was an old bike but it still looked pretty cool but I don't think there is any kind of immediate plan. I can't speak on behalf of Kawasaki about this though.
I noticed that you're now managing Kyle Ryde, is management a new direction for you?

Jonathan Rea:
He's actually standing right in front of me here listening.

I don't think that you'd call it a career direction. You can call it what you will but I see it as more of an advisory role and I try to help in a small way from the management side of things.

My priority is obviously my racing but Kyle's a really good kid with a lot of potential so we were able to find a deal for him to go with Puccetti Kawasaki and that's going to give him the opportunity to show his full potential.
How do you feel about the new initiatives in WorldSBK?

Jonathan Rea:
Honestly I have a lot of faith in DORNA. They've done well in MotoGP and I believe they have the best interests of the championship at heart. I'm not na?ve enough to think that everything's rosy at the moment with crowd attendances having dropped in some rounds when compared to 09 when I started in this championship. So I do feel that something needs to change.

We tried the two race format [Saturday race and Sunday race] last year and now we've got the new second race grid rules and we need to try them to see how they go. I know it's a clich? but only time will tell.

If I was asked about it from sporting point of view I wouldn't do it but it's not all about what suits one guy and I'm interested to see how they work out. If it puts more bums on seats then that's great but we'll have to wait and see.
As I asked Chaz, when you're driving a car on the road and it's safe and legal to do so, do you take the racing line?

Jonathan Rea:
Sometimes I do find myself cutting corners a little bit, so yes I would say so. I do find myself entering roundabouts with a wider ark and then clipping the apex.
Thanks a lot Jonathan.

Jonathan Rea:
No worries.



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