Jonathan Rea has revealed the fear of defeat is the main motivating factor ahead 2018 as he puts the finishing touches to preparations for a challenge that could result in a record-equalling fourth World Superbike crown.

Coming off his most accomplished season to date, the Northern Irishman readily acknowledges his time as the class’ leading rider could come to an end this year, or next. “I’m really worried about that,” he admitted, just two weeks ahead of the season’s curtain raiser in Australia.

Rea racked up an astonishing 16 victories in 2017, a record points total of 556, and received nationwide acclaim upon claiming his third world crown last September at Magny Cours. Placing as runner-up in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award crowned a memorable year.

Yet the recently turned 31-year old has no illusions that the coming season – his fourth with Kawasaki – could be as decorated as what just passed. “If I replicated what I did last year, I’ll eat my own head,” he quipped, speaking at the KRT Kawasaki squad’s official launch in Granollers, Catalonia.

Instead, the focus is solely on winning, and maintaining his place at the top of the World Superbike ladder. “Certainly I can’t even think of [replicating ‘17] as a target,” said Rea, now 54 times a race winner in the class.

“Motivation is coming from the fear of not being there anymore, not being the guy. I’m really worried about that. My time at the top is going to run out, whether it be this year, next year or the future - but it is going to run out. I’m going to try and enjoy it as much as I can.

“Of course, the target is to win. The motivation is to win. But now it comes from that fear of getting beat. I know how big a difference winning makes to your life. I’ve seen it now. People you meet, people congratulating you, or more recently the BBC Sports Personality of the year, it’s all dreamy stuff if I think of where I come from. So I kind of don’t want that to stop.”

Although testing performances in Spain and Portugal have largely been positive, Kawasaki is anticipating a real challenge in understanding the revised World Superbike regulations that have placed a rev-limit on all machines.

The ZX-10R’s revs have been capped at 14,100, which appears to have had little effect on the speed of Rea and team-mate Tom Sykes over the winter months. However, should either rider dominate the first part of the year, Kawasaki will be forced to slash another 250RPM off its range – a penalty that could be repeated if success continues.

Upon learning of the incoming regulation changes mid-way through ’17, Rea revealed there was a feeling of “doom and gloom” within the team – “a ‘they’re out to get us’ kind of thing” – but KRT’s preparations began right away, meaning the ZX-10R was a match for even the quickest MotoGP machines that were present at Jerez for three days of testing last November.

“Well, I rode the bike at the end of last year and I felt really good with it,” Rea said. “We were able to hit testing with the ball rolling, and I knew what to expect. Of course, in the middle of the season, my team anticipated the rules and we were a little bit pessimistic. We didn’t understand how it would be, really.

“To hit the ground fast at Jerez when everyone was there, and to be faster than we were last year, I was really happy with that. It was good motivation because there was a time during the season when we all thought it was going to be ‘doom and gloom’, a ‘they’re out to get us’ kind of thing. I’m really proud of the team. They’ve done an awesome job.”

The past three years have seen Rea, Sykes and Chaz Davies emerge triumphant in 73 of the 78 World Superbike races - a staggering 93% - contested. Yet early ’18 tests saw a handful of other names pushing toward the front.

Yamaha’s Alex Lowes and Ducati’s Marco Melandri were just behind Rea in at Jerez in late January, while Ten Kate Honda’s Leon Camier was the Northern Irishman’s closest challenger several days later at Portimao.

Does Rea therefore foresee a more diverse range of challengers throughout 2018? “I expect the same guys, to be honest,” he said. “Of course, Chaz, Tom, Melandri… I mean, I expect the Yamaha guys to be strong because I’ve ridden with that bike and it’s a really high level now.

“Also, Eugene [Laverty], I expect him to step up because he’s a really strong rider and with a year under his belt he can maybe get the Aprilia working how he wants.”

“It’s kind of funny. At the start of every season, everyone is convinced it’s their season. I get really excited about that as well. We don’t have to wait long. In two weeks the lights go out and that’s what’s motivating me. I struggle to get motivated in testing. It’s a monotonous job of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘recheck this or that’. But now it’s time to rock and I can’t wait.”