Whilst acknowledging that as a self-confessed perfectionist, Jonathan Rea will never be satisfied 100 per cent of the time, Ronald ten Kate insists the Ulsterman is currently 'happy as can be' at Castrol Honda - and in Rub?n Xaus, he contends that he has the ideal team-mate now too to enable him to achieve his goals.

To say that Rea was unhappy at Ten Kate at times during 2010 would be an understatement, with the 23-year-old 'riding on a knife-edge' far too often for his liking and finally losing sufficient patience with the frustratingly inconsistent and unpredictable nature of the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade as to look around at alternative options [see separate story - click here].

Ultimately, however, he pledged his continued commitment to the cause for a third consecutive campaign in the World Superbike Championship - to the evident delight of team principal ten Kate. This time around, the Dutchman assures, everything will be in-place for Rea to fulfil his objective of doing battle for the riders' crown.

"To have a guy like Jonny 100 per cent happy all the time is extremely difficult for any team in the world, because he's got very high standards and his ambitions are very, very high," he mused, speaking to Crash.net. "He's also still young, so with [more] experience, let's say a more realistic view on things might be in prospect.

"We have spoken a lot, we've made some changes - not only to the bike, but also to the way we work as a team with him - and that's been going really well. He's now happy as can be and he knows we have full confidence and trust in him, which is important, so I really think we are looking forward to a strong season together."

Alongside Rea will be BMW Motorrad refugee Xaus, a man who has finished as runner-up in the WSBK title chase before and also competed in MotoGP, but who has been written off by some as a spent force following a couple of off-colour campaigns that yielded not so much as a single podium as he struggled to get a handle on the fearsomely-powerful S1000RR. Dismiss the Spaniard at your peril, ten Kate warns.

"I'm very confident he will do well," he underlined. "We looked long and thoroughly at which rider to get on the bike for this year, and we wanted to have a guy with the same approach and same riding style as Jonathan has - fully-committed, quite aggressive and quite hard and quite physical on the bike - to make sure that he could help Jonathan, not so much with the set-up of the bike but with testing individual parts and even tyres throughout the weekend.

"From the first test that we did at Portim?o with Rub?n, for sure it showed that the decision is working out. We can take from the data that he has the same style on the bike, and even in some parts of the track he was already a wee bit quicker than Jonny - though having said that, Jonny was not up to 100 per cent physical strength at that point.

"You could immediately see some sort of bonding going on. Riders don't necessarily have to be friends within a garage - they can just be colleagues - but we don't like to see a wall in-between, and when I saw the relationship developing there and then between Jonny and Rub?n, it was clear to me that it's a very exciting pairing for this year."

That is all well-and-good, but in order to return the iconic Castrol Honda partnership to where it has traditionally belonged - right up at the sharp end of the grid - then Rea and Xaus will need to defeat a field that ten Kate describes as 'bigger and better than ever', and in which he claims there are too many potential race-winners to even begin to list.

"We were just having this discussion last night when we were having dinner with the Castrol boys, and they said 'who could win a race this year?'" he revealed. "There are a lot of potential race-winners there. To think about people who could win the championship, yeah, we believe that will be down to the title-defender Mr. [Max] Biaggi again - he's going to be strong - [Carlos] Checa's going to do well, and then we believe Jonny will be with those two fighting it out for the title.

"The field is once again stronger than ever before. Last year, there was only one manufacturer that could not really be at the forefront, but with the new machine, the green boys (Kawasaki) have definitely made a step closer, I believe. It's going to be even more intense than ever before, with all of the manufacturers up there and on a mission aiming for podiums.

"Despite the fact that the economic crisis has taken sponsors away from the paddock and racing plans are not as big as before, still the field is bigger and better than ever, and that shows the strength of World Superbikes at this moment."



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