Rea is first to suc­cess­fully de­fend WSB ti­tle since Foggy

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - IN QATAR WSB RE­PORTER GOR­DON RITCHIE

The 2016 World Superbike cham­pi­onship has been all about UK tal­ent. Whether it’s York­shire, North­ern Ire­land, or Wales sup­ply- ing the rider – the fight was con­sis­tently fierce. But it was Johnny Rea who tri­umphed, be­fore con­spir­ing to rob Chaz Davies of sec­ond place in favour of team-mate Tom Sykes.

Jonathan Rea be­came the first rider to suc­cess­fully de­fend his World Superbike crown since Carl Fog­a­rty, 17 years ago, at this week­end’s series fi­nale in Qatar.

Tak­ing a 48-point ad­van­tage into the week­end, Rea was al­most cer­tain to be­come cham­pion in Satur­day’s open­ing race. While he was un­able to over­come on-form Chaz Davies, sec­ond place saw him ex­tend his cham­pi­onship lead over team-mate Tom Sykes to an in­sur­mount­able 51 points.

The series vic­tory makes Rea just the fourth rider in his­tory to win back-to­back WSB ti­tles, join­ing Carl Fog­a­rty, Doug Polen and Fred Merkel, fol­low­ing through on a feat that even other mul­ti­ple world cham­pi­ons Troy Bayliss, Colin Ed­wards, Troy Corser and James Tose­land couldn’t achieve.

But while he has etched his place in the WSB his­tory books, Rea said it is too early at this stage for the real ex­tent of his achieve­ment to sink in.

“When I watched the Dorna so­cial me­dia video with some of the high­lights of the sea­son, it re­ally be­gan to sink in,” he said. “I have had amaz­ing mes­sages from fam­ily, friends and fans. Af­ter you win one cham­pi­onship, you are so de­ter­mined and driven to try and do it again. I do not think it will re­ally sink in un­til maybe the end of my ca­reer, when I face more dif­fi­cult mo­ments, to look back and re­ally see what I have achieved.”

He did not have an easy 2016 by any ac­count. Health is­sues for his son in the early sea­son, plus a bike that was lack­ing power com­pared to last year, and which was far from ideal for his smooth, high-speed cor­ner­ing style, all played a part. Rea and his crew were mak­ing set-up changes all year, yet he still led the cham­pi­onship from the first race to the last.

Through it all, Rea has dis­played an amaz­ing knack of win­ning at ev­ery avail­able op­por­tu­nity. Equally, when Davies, Sykes and even Nicky Hay­den beat him to the big prizes on any given race day, his ma­tu­rity al­lowed him to push for the next best re­sult. With his beloved crew chief, Pere Riba, and his ‘Team 65’ staff around him, they worked on a week­end strat­egy at each round with race day as the sole fo­cus through­out.

“The thing I have learned in this cham­pi­onship is that on the days when you can win you have to win and make it count,” he ex­plained. “On the days you can’t win you have to ac­cept that to­day you can’t win – but you have to fin­ish. That has been the case with us this year, es­pe­cially with the new bike. At times it has been very frus­trat­ing, es­pe­cially when I was find­ing a lot of prob­lems with the gear­box in the mid part of the sea­son. At Don­ing­ton, Imola, Thai­land and Aragon it cost us some points, but we finished the races and that is what made it count.”

This sea­son, de­spite his fi­nal ad­van­tage of 51 points, was def­i­nitely tougher than his de­but year with Kawasaki, in 2015.

“Last year we op­er­ated in­side such a small win­dow of set-up it was in­cred­i­ble,” Rea con­tin­ued. “That win­dow worked ev­ery­where, in hot or cold con­di­tions, at high and low-grip tracks. This year we have had to be quite ex­per­i­men­tal look­ing for the way for­ward. It is part of de­vel­op­ment and it is a new bike and we are try­ing to find the lim­its of the bike, try­ing to find what way to go. At times it has been frus­trat­ing but with a long win­ter test pro­gramme we can re­ally un­der­stand the bike. Now Kawasaki have a year’s worth of data, they have more time to re­act to our main pri­or­i­ties, to im­prove. That will set us off in a much bet­ter way for 2017.”

Even be­fore the 2016 sea­son had ended, the fo­cus of both Rea and his crew had al­ready turned to 2017. From race two at Jerez, the Kawasaki team stopped us­ing the split throt­tle bodies that are set to be banned next year.

Rea’s sec­ond ti­tle win se­cures him a space along­side WSB he­roes Bayliss, Fog­a­rty, Corser and Tose­land as mul­ti­ple cham­pi­onship win­ners, and he’s not set to stop there, hav­ing ex­tended his Kawasaki con­tract for a fur­ther two years. Only Bayliss and Fog­a­rty have won more than two ti­tles – with three and four re­spec­tively – but given Rea’s cur­rent form, he could po­ten­tially eclipse both.

‘I don’t think this will re­ally sink in un­til the end of my ca­reer’ JONATHAN REA

North­ern Ire­land’s finest takes ti­tle

Wales’ Chaz Davies was de­nied sec­ond

Jonathan Rea gave ev­ery­thing un­der Lo­sailõs flood­lights

51-point win­ning mar­gin af­ter Qatar ce­mented Reaõs place among WSBÕS great­est

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