Rea is first to successfully defend WSB title since Foggy
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
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