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World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea: How the man from Ballyclare became the best on planet

By Paul Lindsay

Published 21/09/2015

Class act: New world champion Jonathan Rea takes the plaudits from his legion of fans
Class act: New world champion Jonathan Rea takes the plaudits from his legion of fans

Jonathan Rea's grandfather John Rea - sponsor to the late great Joey Dunlop and many other leading road racing stars in the 1970s and '80s - was convinced his grandson would one day be world champion.

It's just a pity that the man who took Joey Dunlop to his first Isle of Man TT victory back in 1977, is not around to join in the current celebrations. Jonathan was just six years old and embarking on his junior motocross career when his grandfather past away, but what a journey it has been since then for Rea and his family.

Mentored by his father Johnny, who is best known for his Junior Isle of Man TT win back in 1989, Jonathan was always given an honest summing up of his performances on track from an early age.

"I was winning British Junior Motocross races when I was 10 or 11, so I got a taste of winning early on in my racing career," explained the new World Superbike champion. "There's always been a lot of mental satisfaction from trying to make that perfect lap and the satisfaction of winning doesn't last very long, but it's infectious and the more you get it, the more you want it."

In 2003, Rea switched from dirt to tarmac after being picked by energy drink giants Red Bull to ride in their Rookie's programme as part of the 125cc British Championship alongside fellow Ulsterman Eugene Laverty.

In 2004, Rea moved to the British Supersport class, again with Red Bull Honda but a mechanical fault at Knockhill in Scotland almost ended his career with a nasty leg injury. He was forced to sit out the remainder of the season but came back in 2005, much to the surprise of some, in the British Superbike Championship as an 18-year-old rookie.

World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea on top of world as he joins elite of Ulster racing  

Sixteenth place in the championship standing and a best result of ninth place at Oulton Park and Knockhill didn't exactly set the world on fire. But his pole position at Mondello Park proved the Ballyclare lad had both the speed and the ability, and the following two seasons would prove just that.

In 2006, Rea's consistency and a number of podiums saw him finish fourth in the championship standings - and pick up the Young Player of the Year gong from Robert Dunlop at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

It was enough for respected Honda boss Neil Tuxworth to hand the youngster an opportunity in the official Honda team, to ride alongside reigning championship Ryuichi Kiyonari the following season. Sadly for the British Superbike Championship it would be the last time its fans would see Rea on their respective grids.

Five wins from 15 podiums saw Rea take second place in the BSB standings on his HM Plant Honda, behind eventual champion Kiyonari. It was enough for the Dutch Ten Kate Honda team to chase his signature.

Many felt it was the wrong move for Rea, with some calling the World Supersport class a 'step down' for the talented Ulsterman, but he saw it as a platform for major success.

Now a close friend, Rea was team-mate to Aussie Andrew Pitt in the Ten Kate Honda camp for the 2008 World Supersport Championship.

Pitt's typically unfiltered Aussie approach often rubbed the Co Antrim lad up the wrong way, when he delivered both racing a dietary advice to the more rounded Ulsterman back then.

Second place behind Pitt in his rookie season at world level, left the Ten Kate team with the difficult decision of offering the 22-year-old Ulsterman a Superbike berth ahead of the Aussie.

It didn't go down well with Pitt, but Rea justified their decision by finishing fifth in the 2009 championship standings with his debut WSB win coming at Misano. He also jumped on the top step in Germany.

In the following five seasons Rea showed championship winning credentials, but a mixture of injuries, mechanical gremlins and the bare faced fact that Honda's Fireblade was now too long in the tooth, would eventually see him join Kawasaki for 2015.

And the rest as they say, is history…

World Superbike standings

1. Jonathan Rea 478

2. Chaz Davies 353

3. Tom Sykes 331

4. Leon Haslam 286

5. Jordi Torres 210

6. Sylvain Guintolli 175

7. Michael van der Mark 145

8. Matteo Baiocco 125

9. Davide Giugliano 119

10. Alex Lowes 118

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