The Autodrom Most in the Czech Republic will host the Prosecco DOC Czech Round this weekend, and Jonathan Rea and his Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK Ninja ZX-10RR are ready. Now in a three-way tussle for the 2022 WorldSBK Championship, a mere 43 points separate title Alvaro Bautista (246 points), Rea (229 points) and reigning champion Toprak Razgatlioglu (203 points).
Now armed with a new two-year contract with the Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK, Rea and company are all in on a run at a seventh FIM Gold Medal.
Q: You’ve talked about the number one on your bike being a bit heavy in 2021. It is now 2022 and you’re the hunter as opposed to the hunted. Is that good for you?
JONATHAN REA: Yeah, it’s nice because I know that number one plate is heavy and it’s nice to go into the season with less hype and less PR and marketing events. It’s nice but it is also a big distraction, as well. I think because of our struggles last year, we weren’t as competitive as we’d like to be, it all really fired everybody up. It was a very quiet but productive off-season and we came out swinging at the first round and were very strong. The last two rounds I’ve just struggled a little bit, but we are still right there. There is a lot left to play for and we’re right there in the fight.
Q: You recently signed another two-year deal with the Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK team. What made you re-sign, and what keeps you motivated this far into your career?
JR: It’s not about fighting, it’s more like winning is a drug and it is so addictive. When it doesn’t happen, it either makes you or breaks you. I think all of this has really renewed my motivation and the team’s motivation, as well. You know we’ve been the benchmark team for so long. It’s a nice challenge when you have you have to step-up your game. I had a long hard think at home with what I really wanted to do with basically myself, but also with mt family and everything. I feel like my best days are still in front of me. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do
Q: While you were sorting out your contract with the Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK, did you consider MotoGP? There were rumors that you might have entertained a few offers.
JR: No. No, there were no opportunities there, you know? It’s a very closed shop. I mean, if I’m not going to get a ride as a six-times world champion, I’m not going to get one. Superbike is my home. I love this team and I love everyone around the sport: the sponsors, the people, the manufacturers. They’ve given me a lot. It was more about just understanding my motivation to continue and Kawasaki’s steps to approve and then just formalizing everything.
Q: It’s awesome you’re so passionate about the World Superbike Championship. You’re synonymous with the championship.
JR: Yeah, I hope so. As I said, I feel like the best days are still in front of me. Of course, I don’t feel like there is much to prove anymore. I feel like I’m well respected and I’m happy with what I’ve achieved. It was my childhood dream to be a world champion and I ticked that box, so everything else is just trying to get the best out of myself and to enjoy my racing and to keep developing the bike and making Kawasaki the best sportbike out there. That’s still motivating and that’s why we keep working on that.
Q: That’s a great point you make. You are heavily involved in racing, researching and developing the racing motorcycle that will ultimately show up on the Kawasaki showroom dealer floor as a production bike aren’t you?
JR: Our bikes are derived from production bikes, so of course there is a lot of money spent on developing the bikes. At the beginning of its life cycle, it starts out as a bike that the customer can buy. It’s really nice that over the years I’ve been able to see things filter down to production – electronic aids and engine development, for example. Kawasaki has brought out some new models in the timeframe that I’ve been with them since 2015, and it’s really cool that Kawasaki is a proactive manufacturer. I’m very proud to be a part of their family.
Q: After you guys got your deal sorted out, your team manager Guim Roda recently said in the media: “We can never rest on our laurels of successful past, so we will have a hard job to cover Jonathan’s expectations. We are ready for that. We guarantee it will be a real show for at least two more years.” That’s got to be pretty confidence-inspiring for you.
JR: And it’s also a reason why I love the team so much. They really believe in me and when times get tough, I never feel the pressure or that they’re looking at me to make the difference. I feel like we’re really all on the same team and fighting the same battle all of the time. Of course being together so long, we know all the ins-and-outs. It’s like a married couple, you know? We push each other’s buttons to help each other and that’s where the team is at right now with me and it’s really, really lucky to find that, to be honest. In racing it’s super-glamorous and nice, but behind all of that is a business at the end of the day, and my team do the best that they can to shelter me from that side and they let it be fun. They let me enjoy my passion and try to do the best that I can.
Q: Do you still love all of this?
JR: Yeah, I do, especially with more competition coming. In previous years we really set the level in Superbike and I feel like it is my duty to keep the level high and to keep Superbike competitive. New kids coming through, they’ve got to ride hard to win. I still feel really fresh in my brain and my body is good, but all the guys I grew up racing with are now moving on, like Chaz Davies, Cal Crutchlow, Leon Haslam and others. All of these guys are gone, pretty much. It’s a new crop of younger riders coming. But yeah, I’m just being as competitive as I can be and I want to make sure I keep the level really high in Superbike.