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Jonathan Rea gets the thumbs up as one of world's best Superbike riders

By Paul Lindsay

Published 01/11/2016

Just champion: Jonathan Rea after retaining his World Superbike title in Qatar at the weekend
Just champion: Jonathan Rea after retaining his World Superbike title in Qatar at the weekend

For those of us directly involved with the sport of motorcycling, the belief always was that Jonathan Rea was destined to, one day, be World champion. Now that the Isle of Man-based Ulster ace has claimed back-to-back World Superbike titles, the question is - how many can he go on and claim before he eventually decides to hang up his leathers?

One man who is better qualified than most to answer that question is Rea's former team-mate at Ten Kate Honda, Andrew Pitt. The Australian is himself a double World champion, having taken World Supersport titles in 2001 and 2008.

Despite being retired from full-time competition, the 40-year-old Italian-based Aussie remains in the thick of the action, working as a crew chief and advisor within the Puccetti Racing Team, who have just won the World Supersport crown with five-time champion Kenan Sofuoglu.

Pitt, team-mate to Rea back in 2008 in the Ulsterman's first season in the World Championship, said: "When we were team-mates he was still young and just having fun and learning his way around the world."

Pitt would go on to become World champion that same year but a young and inexperienced Rea pushed him all the way, with the duo finishing first and second in the title race.

"I won't say he didn't take it seriously in those early days," said Pitt. "But it was more just having a good time and enjoying riding bikes.

"He still loves riding motorbikes and that is what makes him tick, but he has become more refined and the rough edges have been tidied up. He has now become one of the most complete riders in the world," was Pitt's complimentary summing up of his former rival and now close friend.

In those early days, the Australian also gave the more physically rounded Rea advice on finances, investments and also his diet, which I know personally didn't go down too well at the time with the young, carefree Ballyclare ace, who would openly admit to finishing off a packet of Hobnob biscuits with the obligatory cup of tea.

But with time comes experience, and in those early years when he was maybe set on finding his own path, this new friend - who also happened to be a straight-talking Aussie with a propensity for strict discipline in all aspects of his racing life - turned out to be a great role model for the youngster.

Rea also credits Pitt for encouraging him to set up base in the Isle of Man, which has now become home during the racing season, as it has done for British MotoGP star Cal Crutchlow.

"It probably helped me run away from a few problems at home at that time," said Rea.

"Andrew was living in the Isle of Man and had just won the World Supersport Championship and was loving life - I suppose he sort of sold me the dream," he said.

"Since then both my kids have been born there and it's where we are based as a family, so it was good advice from Andrew."

In 2009 Rea got the nod over Pitt for the Superbike seat at Ten Kate Honda, which was to be his debut year in the World Superbike Championship.

At the time the decision did leave a bitter taste for the Australian - who believes he had been promised a similar opportunity having won the Supersport world title - but it didn't affect their friendship.

Paying tribute to Rea, who Pitt believes should have left Honda sooner rather than spending six years in the hot-seat, he said: "Jonathan has become a two-time World Superbike Champion, simply because he is the most complete rider out there."

Further explaining himself, the Australian, who now mentors fellow Antipodean Jason O'Halloran in the British Superbike Championship, added: "He never makes mistakes and works so hard at getting the most out of his bike and set-up for the end of the race.

"In his two years at Kawasaki he hasn't had a non-finish through a mistake of his own. The only time he hasn't finished a race is through a mechanical problem.

"That is an incredible record over two full seasons," said Pitt.

The debate will always rage as to why Rea never got a solid opportunity in MotoGP - motorcycling's premier class - despite a number of hollow promises from his former employers.

Pitt gave us his take on the debate.

"I have no doubt if politics didn't dictate our world in motorcycle racing, Jonathan would be a front runner and regular podium guy in MotoGP," said Pitt candidly.

"Sadly for too many years he had to wait in line behind other riders who were not going to improve, but kept their place through sponsors' input and having the correct passports," he added.

Ready to celebrate his 30th birthday early in the New Year, Rea has already admitted that his future remains in the World Superbikes, where he will now look to be the first rider to win three WSB titles in a row.

Belfast Telegraph

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