Footy fan Jonathan Rea hopes for double joy at Misano
Reigning World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea holds a handsome 56-point advantage, as the second half of the season gets under way this weekend in Italy. Round eight of the 13-round championship takes place at the Misano Marco Simoncelli Circuit, the scene of the Ulsterman's debut WSB success in 2009.
Having spent a week at his adopted home in the Isle of Man, enjoying the TT Races and spending time with family, friends and colleagues, the father of two is now looking forward to getting back to business in Italy this weekend.
"Misano is a circuit that I really enjoy riding and it has special memories for me, because I won my first-ever World Superbike race there," said Rea, who also has fond memories of his first year of competition at the Rimini venue with Kawasaki just 12 months ago, which proved an important part of the world championship winning season jigsaw.
"Yeah I do, as last year we finished second to Tom [Sykes] in the opening race, before going on to take the win in race two - so it was a successful round for me and for Kawasaki," explained the proud Ulsterman who, like the rest of Northern Ireland is currently following his country in the European Championships.
"I watched the opening game at home in the Isle of Man and was disappointed to see Northern Ireland lose, but hopefully they can use this experience to face the next game stronger," said Rea, who then went on the say: "But like everyone else I was proud to see them qualifying, which is a great achievement in itself for such a small country. Hopefully we can get something out of this second game tomorrow night.
"I'll be looking to get the motorhome TV tuned it out here at Misano!"
Rea was included in a motivational video for the Northern Ireland team, narrated by Rory McIlroy. Rea's 2015 world title has certainly increased the sport's brand awareness and, despite everyone talking about the curse of the No 1 plate, the Ballyclare lad is defending his crown valiantly.
Since that debut World Superbike win in 2009, Rea has racked up a further 34 career victories in the World Superbike Championship; 14 of which came last season en route to his maiden global success.
Consistency is the key to any championship success and Rea would be the first to admit that. So far this season his win rate hasn't been quite so prolific, but with 14 podiums from as many starts on a new bike that is getting better round-by-round, he can now jump into the second half of the season with renewed enthusiasm.
"I'm starting to get a better understanding of the 2016 bike, so I'm looking forward to the second half of the season," said Rea, who heads to America after Misano for round eight at Laguna Seca on July 10.
After that there's an eight week hiatus, before the final four-round run-in, which takes in Germany, France and Spain, before concluding in Qatar on October 29-30.
Having led the series from the opening day in Australia, and topped the championship standings ever since that early appointment Down Under on February 28, some might say, Rea is already well on his way to defending his crown.
Pragmatic and analytic as always, Rea reflected openly on the previous round at Donington Park - his adopted home race in the UK - which, ironically, has never been one of his strongest rounds on the calendar throughout his WSB career.
"We didn't get a race win at Donington, but I do feel like I rode strongly," he added. "We had a productive two-day test in Jerez after that, where we were able to test various things for the future. But, more importantly, we confirmed that the direction we have been going in at Sepang and Donington with bike set-up, seems to be the right way."
And while his Kawasaki Racing team-mate Tom Sykes took both wins at Donington Park, which moved the 2013 champion into second place in this season's title hunt, Rea is looking ahead with optimism.
"I think we can be confident that we have found a good base setting with the 2016 Ninja ZX-10R. So I am going to Misano to try to win both races, because it has been a few rounds now since I have stood on the top step of the podium," said Rea confidently.