Jonathan Rea relishing Eugene Laverty's return to World Superbikes
Reigning World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea is ready to welcome fellow Ulsterman Eugene Laverty back into the WSB fold in 2017, after yesterday's exclusive announcement in the Belfast Telegraph that the latter - currently in MotoGP with Aspar Ducati - will be joining Milwaukee Aprilia next season.
But before then, Rea's main focus is on retaining the title that he won with his factory Kawasaki Racing Team last season.
Speaking from his adopted home on the Isle of Man, Rea said: "With Eugene back in Word Superbike on an Aprilia next season and Yamaha strengthening their effort (having signed Michael van der Mark to join Alex Lowes) and a new partnership at Honda (with Stefan Bradl joining Nicky Hayden), it's good for the championship," said Rea.
"It's really exciting news to hear that Eugene will be joining us again in World Superbike. When he left he was a top rider, but it was clear at that point he was not on a competitive bike.
"He has a high work ethic and lots of natural ability, so it makes sense for him to come back and fight for a championship.
"Eugene is one of the good guys in the sport. He has no big attitude, like some we deal with. He's a good human being and a fast motorbike rider. I'm looking forward to racing with him again."
Kawasaki-mounted Rea currently leads this year's World Superbike championship campaign by some 46 points with just four rounds remaining.
The series is currently on hold for the lengthy summer break, following round nine at Laguna Seca in America on July 10 - a weekend that ended the 29-year-old's streak of 17 consecutive podiums when he retired with a non-finish in the second race.
And with round 10 in Germany not set to take place until September 18, Rea has found a novel way of keeping himself bike fit, having purchased a Superstock specification ZX-10R Kawasaki.
"I'm really hungry for it and want to retain my title," explained the Manx-based Ulsterman. "Despite not having raced since the Laguna round in July, I haven't had much of a summer break.
"I started the year a bit sick after the opening two fly-away rounds, so I've used this time away from racing to drop a few kilos in weight and get really sharp for the run-in.
"The next two races (the Lausitzring on September 18 and Magny Cours on October 2) are the most important.
"The target is to beat Tom (Sykes, World title challenger) in the next four races and arrive at Jerez more than 50 points in the lead, then manage it from there."
Having clinched the title at Jerez last season, Rea is obviously planning on repeating the feat this time around.
"It would be nice to do it at Jerez again," he said, not really thinking that he is also on the brink of becoming the first rider to win back-to-back titles since Blackburn's Carl Fogarty - a four-time WSB champion - achieved the feat in 1998 and 1999 for Ducati.
"I've not really thought about it like that. The main focus is simply on winning the championship, and while I take it one year at a time, it will be nice if we can clinch back-to-back titles.
"Both Kawasaki and my team have set the benchmark high, but we are always looking for different ways to improve."