As the Donington Park World Superbike round dawns upon us, and everyone reflects upon the devastating news we received about Nicky Hayden, we took some time to chat with championship leader Jonathan Rea about his thoughts for the weekend… and beyond.
What are your plans for the weekends racing? Any specific strategies?
We have no real strategy for the weekend and we approach every race weekend the same. When we arrive here we’re always talking about where we’ve been with the bike in the past and where we’ve been in recent races and then making a plan of test items for Friday. Generally, I’ve always planned a race simulation for Friday afternoons to understand our competitiveness and consistency, and then it’s just about trying to do as best as I can in Superpole.
By sitting down with the team and crew we can understand how competitive we are compared to the others with our chronological analysis and then make a plan for the race from there. We’ll have a technical meeting later on and do a track walk with the guys, and then make a plan for FP1. We can’t start the weekend with any defined plan, we have to just build up our speed and rhythm, test some items then a race simulation in the afternoon and we can understand where we are.
“I feel like I’ve probably missed the boat on a full factory [MotoGP] ride.”
At the Jerez test, you set a 1:38.7 and the fastest GP bike of Bautista set a 1:38.9. So the question on everyone’s lips is, if given the chance would you make the move to MotoGP? (@mclennp on Twitter & Dustin Langston on Facebook)
It really depends on the opportunity. I’ve been offered the chance in the past but with teams that finish in the mid-pack and to the rear. For me, and at this moment in my career it’s not exciting. I feel like I’ve probably missed the boat on a full factory ride, but you can never say never.
That said, I’m enjoying life in SBK. I’m with the Kawasaki Racing Team who are without a doubt one of the best teams in the paddock and I’m working with an incredible bunch of personalities and good people and SBK for me feels like home. I’ve been here since 2008 and I don’t really see myself moving – it’d have to be one hell of an opportunity to make me want to move away. I’m comfortable here and enjoying the opportunity to win races with good bikes and that’s what it’s about for me – the winning feeling.
If you were offered the chance, would you race the roads? (@dhhwas on Twitter & Paul Mills on Facebook)
No no, I get that question a lot and I love these events – my family holidays when I was young with my mum and dad were based around it and we went there all the time, but it’s not for me really. I don’t have that desire to go out and do it, but I do love the events. I’ll be testing this week in Misano after Donington and rushing back home to the Isle of Man to enjoy the TT race week.
So you’ve never even been tempted?
I get a parade lap at the Northwest 200, the TT and the Ulster GP but I spend my time waving to the fans and just enjoying the experience. I get my adrenaline from riding my bike at 110% around the best circuits in the world!
I make up a part of the rider’s safety commission here in World Superbikes and they’re complaining about barriers that are tens of metres away and
these guys are brushing ARMCO barriers and trees so it’s a bit of a contradiction to go there!
But I really respect the guys who do it and I’m a huge fan of their skills and never miss it whether it’s following it online or actually being at the event.
What was your first bike? Do you have a road bike now and if so, what are you riding? (@skyrmish on Instagram)
My first bike was a Italjet 50 which was like a mini motocross bike which I got when I was almost 3. Now I mostly ride off-road on a KX450 and in my spare time I have a CB500 café racer that I restore and I’m also restoring a Z750 with a friend.
But one interesting fact that your readers might not know about me is that I don’t have my motorcycle license. Right now I’ve got the application on my iPhone and I’m studying for the theory part. The idea is for me to enjoy riding and that buzz of riding on the road. I’ve got a ZX10 too but it’s set up in track specifications that I ride at home for fun in Jurby motor park, but I’ll be on café racers that I can ride with friends with open faced helmets to enjoy the weather!
“I don’t know any sport in the world where you penalise people for doing a good job.”
Something that has got everybody talking and that everyone has an opinion on is the reverse grid format. At the start of the season it felt like a good idea but now not so much. What are your thoughts?
I never agreed that it was a good idea, I stood firmly against it. I didn’t force my opinion on the media but for me we had to understand whether we were racing for sport or for entertainment. From the entertainment side of course it’s maybe…funny or more exciting but I don’t know because I’m not on that side.
From the sporting side it’s not fair. I don’t know any sport in the world where you penalise people for doing a good job. Should you ask Usain Bolt to start 10 metres behind Gatlin in the 100m sprint? No, because the definition of fair isn’t what’s happening and the definition of sport isn’t what’s happening now. Aside from Aragon when Alex Lowes was in the front of the race for a longer time, it hasn’t changed the results at all and it hasn’t changed the dynamic of the race results either.
In Imola I was a little bit scared coming from the 3rd row because it gets really backed up in those first two chicanes. In the first start of race two I got a great start and Chaz not so much, but in the second restart I found it more difficult to get to the front, so it really depends on how you get through the traffic. There’ll be harder tracks – I’m sure Laguna Seca will be super hard to get through and also Misano when it gets backed up in the Stadium section, so we’ll see but it’s the same for everyone and I do understand both sides of the argument, but for me I’m not a fan.
What do you think could be done to change things up a bit?
I don’t know, I get a lot of questions about that and more recently it has become the talk of the paddock – how to make other teams and riders more competitive. It’s a tough one, because I’ve been in the flip side of it where we haven’t been as competitive as others, and I don’t think anything should change because I’m winning and it’s fine for me!
I do understand that it would be nicer if more people were involved but it’s hard to compete against Kawasaki and Ducati. They’re putting all their resources and budget behind Superbike and taking it seriously, but companies like Yamaha and Honda are only playing with the championship in a small way.
It’s difficult… How do you penalise Kawasaki and Ducati for taking the championship seriously? Is it right to make a team that spends a fifth of their budget as competitive? Right now, it’s the most critical because the best guys are on the best bikes and that makes the gap even bigger. Sometimes when I was at Honda, I felt like the stars would align and it could make the difference and I could win races. Aprilia used to be involved at a factory level and it was the same then – they were always competitive.
It’s hard to beat that factory support system and right now I am lucky and blessed to have it, but I’ve no answers on how to make it more level! I’m sure there’ll be something done about it in the months to come because right now it’s not good for the guys who are struggling.
We hear a lot about how you help Kyle Ryde in WorldSSP. What do you do to help – spotting, mentoring?
There’s no time in my weekend to go out and spot for him to be honest! With Kyle it’s quite easy. It was two years ago at Donington when he did a wildcard from British Supersport and I mentioned to him behind the paddock show that if he ever needed any help, just let me know.
I pushed really hard and made it my business to try and get him into this paddock because the 2015 British SSP was super competitive with lots of fast kids, and for me his career was only going to progress if he got to the world level. Unfortunately last year we were sold up the river with a team that had huge ambitions but no substance, and after four rounds they decided to stop racing.
Together with his father, we looked around and whilst we were in Sepang I put a deal together with the Schmidt Racing team to finish the year. We have a saying in Ireland which is “all fur coat and no knickers” and there wasn’t a lot of structure there. I really believed in his ability and I worked really hard with Kawasaki and Puccetti in the off-season to try and make this deal work and for him to be Kenan Sofuoglu’s team mate.
I spent hours on the phone to Manuel Puccetti in Australia and we managed to put a deal together, so I guess from that point of view I’m really helping him to find opportunities to race, helping him to secure funding and budget, and investing loads of money of my own into Kyle. I see a lot of similarities in Kyle – he’s got a lot of raw ability and talent but he’s a rough diamond and there’s so many areas he needs to improve as a rider and as an athlete, and hopefully I can guide him to not make the wrong decisions. I enjoy it, even when I’m trying to race a world championship, look after my kids and wife trackside and help Kyle – it doesn’t really leave a lot of room for anything else!
It’s nice to see when he does well because I feel a small part of that success.
“Maybe after racing I can get involved in the sport council to try and bring a world class racing facility to Northern Ireland.”
The Circuit of Wales is hanging in the balance at the moment. In your opinion, would it be worth investing into a short circuit in Ireland where motorcycle racing is so much more prominent than it is over here?
I think it was always hard for CoW to build something from nothing and to compete with iconic tracks like Silverstone and Donington. It was always a pie in the sky idea for me and I never really got involved with it.
It’d be great to see something in Ireland but sadly for me it’s more road race related – there’s not a lot of budget spent on circuit racing at home so what you find is most young kids have to come to the British championship to be competitive. Maybe after racing I can get involved in the sport council to try and bring a world class racing facility to Northern Ireland. We do have some really good circuits there – Modello Park used to be a British championship circuit, Bishops Court is definitely worthy of a British championship…it’s as worthy as somewhere like Knockhill and it’s a lot better than some of the current British championship tracks. It would be nice to get involved with some sort of biking initiative back home to bring a world class facility to NI or Ireland as a whole.
Will you be encouraging your kids to race? (@mclennp on Twitter)
Not encouraging or discouraging I guess, it’s my job as their father to support their dream. They’ve grown up around bikes and they’ve shown interest in them, my little boy wanted a bike and they both ride around her on balance bikes and Jake’s now riding an electric trials bike at home, it’s whatever they want to do whether it’s football, tennis, rugby, motorbikes, painting and decorating…
Whatever it is, it’s my job to encourage them.