It's green for go as Jonathan Rea has World in focus in Superbike title challenge
In just three weeks' time, Manx-based Ballyclare lad Jonathan Rea will embark on the next stage of his World Superbike career, decked out in the green and white livery of the official Kawasaki Racing Team.
The current World Superbike number three has been hot property for a number of seasons, but until 2015 none of the leading manufacturers could tempt him away from Honda, where he spent eight seasons.
This year he lines up alongside 2013 world champion Tom Sykes in the KRT squad and with Kawasaki's ZX-10R a proven race and championship-winning machine, Rea will expect, and be expected, to challenge for this year's title, as he openly admitted.
"Of course there is pressure this year as the team operates at a very high level and I have the ex-world champion as my team-mate. I haven't got number one status in the team as yet, so that fills me full of motivation," said Rea, currently in Barcelona where he will be based for the next 10 days.
Speaking of his title aspirations and the benefits of the Kawasaki over the Honda, he explained: "This year should give me my best chance to date to challenge for the world championship on the Kawasaki. I had to be much more physical on the Honda to get the best out of it and achieve a similar lap time, whereas the Kawasaki is more user friendly.
"In saying that, the bike has been developed to suit Tom's radical riding style and I need to be able to adapt. Then, in time, hopefully we can turn it into my bike as with my style I believe we can improve the lap time even more," added Rea.
The Motorland Aragon test, which preceded his trip home for the motorcycle awards in Belfast, was wiped out by the weather, with Rea (pictured) spending day one showing off his motocrossing skills to his new Kawasaki Racing Team crew.
Thankfully this week's test at Jerez - the penultimate outing before the 2015 World Superbike series commences at Phillip Island on February 22 - offered up some valuable track time in reasonable temperatures, with Rea well in the ballpark before his trip back Down Under to join his wife Tatia and son Jake.
After dipping under the track lap record and finishing third fastest overall, Rea explained: "It was a good test for us and more so because we got dry track time. We were able to evaluate lots of things and found out that the bike is working in quite a big window.
"We found a big step forward with the engine management and electronics on the afternoon of the second day and I was able to improve my lap time quite a bit. That filled me full of joy and confidence.
"I was able to do a race simulation at this test and I think we have the right tools in the garage to keep working and be in good shape when the lights go out at Phillip Island."
The late, great Joey Dunlop MBE, OBE was a hero and inspiration to Rea during his formative years, and the Ulsterman was delighted to hear that the legendary road racer was voted Northern Ireland's Greatest Ever Sports Star at Monday night's Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.
"Joey put Northern Ireland on the map and it's great that he hasn't been forgotten and picked up this award by beating the likes of (George) Best and (Rory) McIlroy," said Rea.
"I know it's a sports award, but Joey was as well respected as a humanitarian and that will have gained him just as much respect locally."