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What Now for Jonathan Rea?
The new World Superbike Champion has nothing left to prove on production machinery but he seems destined to see out his career in WSB as the MotoGP paddock continues to turn a blind eye to his undoubted skills.
Outstanding results for Rea:
To say Jonathan Rea dominated this year’s World Superbike Championship is a gross understatement. The factory Honda rider took the title with two rounds to spare after amassing an unassailable lead of 125 points over closest challenger, Chaz Davies. Rea won 12 races and took six second places and two third spots. His worst results of the entire season were two fourths at Jerez and that was only because he was focused on sealing the championship without taking any unnecessary risks.
Defending his title:
Normally, this kind of domination would be more than enough to see a rider fast-tracked into MotoGP. After winning the 2009 WSB title, American Ben Spies was immediately upgraded to a Tech 3 MotoGP ride the following season. Sadly that’s not an option for Rea who will remain in WSB with Kawasaki in 2016 to defend his title. Yet what is there left to prove on production machinery? Rea has not only won the ultimate prize in that department, he won it with ease, yet still the keys to the MotoGP paddock are denied him.
Don’t forget 2012!
It’s often forgotten that Rea had two outings in MotoGP when he stood in for the injured Casey Stoner at Repsol Honda in 2012. He took an astonishing 8th place in his first ever MotoGP race at Misano and backed that up with an even better ride to seventh place at Aragon.
Not good enough results for a factory Honda you say? Then consider this: when Repsol Honda test rider Hiroshi Aoyama stood in for Dani Pedrosa earlier this year, the best he could manage was 11th – and Aoyama is a former 250cc word champion who knows the RC213V inside out.
Instructed not to crash:
Rea’s results were even more impressive given that he was under strict orders from Honda not to crash Stoner’s machine. If you’re not pushing the envelope in MotoGP, you’re not going to get results, but Rea still managed to impress even though he was unable to take any chances.
But it all came to nothing, even though he clearly impressed Respol Honda team principal, Livio Suppo.
“The two races he did as Casey’s replacement were not easy at all”
Suppo said at the time…
“He was constantly switching between MotoGP and World Superbikes, so he was on different bikes and different tyres every other week and he did a good job. It would be nice to see him in MotoGP.”
Kawasaki say no to MotoGP:
Yet the Northern Irishman was never offered a competitive ride and his chance with Honda evaporated when he signed for Kawasaki this year. Kawasaki does not compete in MotoGP so there’s simply no structure in place to promote Rea to MotoGP with the same manufacturer.
Rea could certainly never be accused of being disloyal in jumping ships from Honda to Kawasaki After all, he had spent his entire ten-year top flight racing career with Honda in British Superbikes, World Supersport and World Superbikes and continued to campaign the CBR1000RR Fireblade long after it lost its competitive edge, in the hope that he would eventually be rewarded for his efforts. He wasn’t.
Rea performing miracles:
Rea’s skills flattered the ageing Fireblade in WSB. Although the bike hasn’t been a serious title contender for years (the last time a Fireblade won the world title was with James Toseland in 2007), Rea still managed to pull out the odd miraculous race win and podium on the bike right up until 2014 while his team-mates always struggled to get anywhere near the podium.
That Kawasaki ZX-10R:
If anyone ever doubted that it was Rea’s riding that was making the difference, he proved the point as soon as he threw a leg over a truly competitive motorcycle: Rea and the Kawasaki ZX-10R utterly destroyed the field from the first tests of 2015 and all the way through the WSB season.
So why not a MotoGP ride?
But it still hasn’t been enough to secure Rea a MotoGP ride. So is it his passport that’s at fault? It’s certainly hard to imagine that a Spanish or Italian rider showing the same level of domination in WSB would not have snapped up by a top MotoGP team.
Is it his age?
Rea is now 28 but with Valentino Rossi currently leading the world championship at 36 years of age, he’s proved that riders in their 30s can still be fully competitive. Or has Rea simply spent so much time in the World Superbike paddock that he’s now considered a Superbike-only rider?
A similar thing happened to Carl Fogarty, the most successful WSB rider ever with four world titles. Although he too had the odd wild card outing in GPs (and also performed exceptionally well, finishing fourth at the British GP in 1993), he became so associated with Superbikes that he never got the chance at a full season on a competitive bike in Gps.
“My philosophy is to enjoy my racing.”
It seems that with Rea, like Fogarty, is destined to see out the rest of his career in World Superbikes meaning we’ll never get to find out just how good he really is. But Rea, for one, doesn’t seem upset with his lot…
“If you look at most of the faces in MotoGP, everyone is so serious and they don’t seem to be enjoying it” He told the Belfast Telegraph. “My philosophy is to enjoy my racing.”
It’s not all about the racing:
A family man at heart, Rea seems totally content in the more family-friendly environment of the WSB paddock. And maybe the challenge of trying to win more WSB titles than Carl Fogarty will be enough of a challenge to keep him motivated for the foreseeable future. Not every top rider gets a chance to race in MotoGP, but if the limited seats there were allocated on talent alone, rather than on politics and passports, then surely Rea would have earned his a thousand times over.
What are your thoughts on Rea? What should he do next? Share your comments below…
Stuart Barker is a freelance motorcycle journalist and author. A former MCN reporter and features writer, he is now editor of the Official Isle of Man TT and Classic TT programmes and has contributed to most major UK motorcycling titles including MCN, Bike, Ride, Superbike, Two Wheels Only, Fast Bikes, Classic Bike and Classic Racer. His books include biographies of Barry Sheene, Steve Hislop, Niall Mackenzie, David Jefferies and Evel Knievel as well as a centennial history of the TT races.