Johnny Rea has become Northern Ireland’s first motorcycle world champ since Joey Dunlop’s F1 championship and Brian Reid’s double TT F2 titles in 1986 – and he achieved it two rounds before the end of the WSBK season! In his post race celebrations in Jerez, Rea paid tribute to Reid and Dunlop by wearing their helmets. In Joey’s case, it was his actual helmet from 1986 that his son Gary had sent JR – the families are that well connected.
Rea has become only the fifth Brit to lift the WSBK Championship joining Carl Fogarty (4 titles / Ducati), James Toesland (2 titles / Honda & Ducati), Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) and Neil Hodgson (Ducati). For anyone who has followed Rea’s career since he was a young lad competing in motocross, the only surprise to his success is that it perhaps didn’t happen earlier – but more on that later.
Johnny Rea was born into racing – first sitting on a motorbike at the age of three and before he was on a pushbike. His Dad won a TT and Irish National races during his road racing career in the 70s whilst his grandfather was one of Joey Dunlop’s sponsors – (Rea Racing). It was therefore inevitable that Jonathan was always going to be around the racing paddock in comparison to sitting at a chess board or doing a few hours of piano practice every evening.
Like so many racers, he started learning his craft from the age of six in schoolboy motocross. His parents made the huge sacrifice in financial and time terms travelling to weekend meetings all over the UK to allow their son to hone his skills. In a fascinating 1997 interview with BBC NI commentator Stephen Watson, a young 10 year old Rea talks about his love for MX having just been crowned the British, Irish and Ulster MX champion racing a 60 cc bike. This very earnest and serious minded youngster, displays huge ambition and quiet determination but he’s not in the least precocious. Rather, the qualities that remain an inherent part of his adult personality are evident for all to see. Rea remains to this day humble and down-to-earth and is greatly liked by the media, sponsors, peers and fans alike.
At the age of 16, (2003) he switched his attentions to track racing winning a place on the Red Bull Rookies programme and started racing in a 125cc selection event for a British Championship place. He served his rookie years with Honda and showed unwavering loyalty to the manufacturer for the best part of a decade – (initially with Red Bull then with Dutch team Ten Kate Honda), coming second in the 2007 British Superbike Championship and runner up again in the following years World Supersport Championship. Rea did get an opportunity to stand in for Casey Stoner when the Australian was injured back in 2012. He acquitted himself well but for some reason, Honda never offered him a Moto GP seat when positions arose. So, he has concentrated his attentions on the World Superbike scene and has openly stated that he feels it’s a more open, friendly environment.
The switch to Kawasaki for this season has proved to be an absolute revelation. His form and dominance throughout the season has been remarkable with fourteen wins, seven seconds and two third places from 26 race starts – a new WSBK record that had formerly been held by Troy Bayliss. His two fourth places at Jerez to win the title was, at that juncture, the first time that he hadn’t been on the podium all season. He stood on the podium in every race for the first 10 rounds / 20 races.
Following Jerez, he reasserted his dominance coming straight back to take a double victory at Magny-Cours in France. That left the final round in Qatar and an opportunity to establish a new WSBK outright points record. Unfortunately, as a result of coming second in race one and having a first DNF of the season in race two, Rea fell short of taking the record by only four points meaning that Colin Edwards’s total of 552 points set in 2002 remained intact.
It was a slightly frustrating end to an otherwise exceptional year for Johnny Rea. However, being the consummate professional that he is, he’ll now be focused on only one thing: working and training even harder over the winter months to be in the best possible shape to return next year on the new Kawasaki ZX-10R to attempt to retain his WSBK title.