Rea takes his place on top of the racing world
BALLYCLARE'S Jonathan Rea was always destined to be a world champion. The polite and unassuming star had the ingredients for success even at the age of four, when he first found out what a motorbike was.
He decided then he wanted to follow in the family tradition of success in the world of motorcycle racing, something which began with his grandfather Johnny Rea, who was instrumental in turning the late, great Joey Dunlop into a world champion, with his machinery playing a huge role in Dunlop’s career.
Jonathan Rea’s father was also a multiple Irish champion in short circuit and road racing in the late-80s and early-90s and he had his son at his side at places like Nutts Corner and Aghadowey, where the youngster learned the skills that he would put to good use when he first started racing in the motocross ranks.
Rea was instantly successful and his parents soon knew that their son was a very special talent. Already a rising star on the off-road scene, he would soon realise that his dreams lay on the tarmac and moved into the Red Bull Rookies ranks in 125 racing, where he was head and shoulders above the rest.
The county Antrim teenager burst onto the British Supersport 600 scene at a time when the competition was at its strongest and his exploits under the Red Bull banner soon saw him move up to the Superbike sphere, where he became the first Irish rider to claim a pole position at Mondello Park.
Moving to the well-established HM Plant Honda team, Rea continued to take podiums and wins, but the title of British champion proved elusive. That didn’t stop Dutch team Ten Kate snapping Rea up to spearhead their World Superbike push in 2005.
After spending several years with Ten Kate, claiming several race wins, Rea stepped in for the injured Casey Stoner in the World MotoGP Championship with the Repsol Honda outfit, putting in two fantastic, point-scoring rides to prove himself at the highest level.
At the end of last year, Rea took the plunge and signed for the Factory Kawasaki team, where he felt he would have the best shot of World Championship glory.
And this year his dreams came true as Rea claimed 12 wins from 22 races on his way to being crowned global champion, while also delivering a first manufacturers’ to Kawasaki title in the world series.
Rea admitted it would take a while for the fulfilment of a lifelong dream to sink in.
“It’s an amazing moment for me in my career,” said the 28-year-old.
“I started schoolboy motorcross when I was six, spending time at the race circuits with my father and growing up in a racing environment. I always dreamed of being world champion, to the point where I raced round and round my house on my bicycle commentating on my racing, pretending to be world champion.
“To be here and have this moment is incredible. It was a lot of hard work from myself, a lot of sacrifices and dedication from my family. Most of all this wouldn’t have been possible without Kawasaki.
“Right now it hasn’t sunk in. When my mechanics were putting the #1 sticker on my bike on the slowdown lap it felt really strange. I’m just so grateful for this opportunity.”
On the slowdown lap of race one at Imola on Sunday, Rea made three stops to change helmets. Two of the helmets he put on were those of the last riders from Northern Ireland to claim World Championships, Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid.
“I’m very proud to come from Northern Ireland. So many fans from there came here this weekend,” he said.
“In the T11 grandstand there was a big Northern Ireland flag. The last world champions from there were Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid in 1986. When I grew up Joey was an inspiration to me. My grandfather was also involved in his career. So in the best moment in my career I wanted to pay respects to the two champions before me.
“I want to thank Brian Reid for giving me the helmet. Also the Dunlop family, namely Gary, who spent a long time finding the actual helmet from 1986. It was a real honour to wear both of them.”
Rea has achieved his goals and he will create new targets for 2016. The Ballyclare man might just decide to take on the challenge of MotoGP, the ultimate goal.
He could win that also, no doubt about it. The man is unique.