He could be the guy: Jonathan Rea tips young rider as next big World Superbike success
Jonathan Rea is the man to beat in World Superbike. That's not exactly news, given that it's been the case since Rea won his first world title back in 2015.
However, the Ballyclare rider knows he has a fight on his hands to keep it that way by extending his winning streak.
Rea has tipped 26-year-old Yamaha rider Michael Van der Mark to become his next major challenger.
The Dutchman won his first ever races in the series when he topped both outings at the UK round in May. He bagged eight other podium finishes, leading to a third place finish in the championship, behind Rea and his regular rival Chaz Davies.
In an interview with World Superbike, Rea hinted that he's expecting more fierce competition from the duo in 2019: "In a career that I've faced incredible competition from factories like Ducati, Yamaha, Honda, Aprilla, BMW, it has definitely not been easy. The biggest rivalry I've had has been with Chaz. Luckily for us, it's gone in our favour more than theirs but on his day, he's one of the fastest guys out there.
"Sometimes he beats us flat out and we have no answers. You think 'how are we going to come back from that?' Then next week it's our turn.
"Now with the resurgence of Yamaha, we can see Michael's really stepped up. I think he's going to be the next guy in Superbike who's going to step up and could be the guy. We'll have to wait and see."
Rea also heaped praise on the whole team at Kawasaki, who he credits with setting up his four successive world titles.
"I know I wouldn't like to compete against not just me, but the team," he said. "They work to a really high level. I hope to be here for the next two seasons again and we'll see.
"Winning becomes an obsession. It's the same inside the team. People talk about the bike or me but that's such a small part. The winning formula is the team. I come into work and put my ass on the line but it's fun because I've got a great group of guys with me. The relationship with the team and my family is important.
"I'm really lucky to have that, not just in work but in life. The synergy we have is really good and I'm 100% sure that's the reason we've been so successul."
The 2019 World Superbike championship begins in Australia on February 22-24.
Belfast Telegraph Digital