I don't want my world title bubble to burst: Jonathan Rea ready to keep winning after emotional homecoming
Record-breaking five-in-a-row World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea arrived back home at Belfast International Airport yesterday to a superstar's welcome.
He was greeted by family, friends, schoolchildren, media and dignitaries, including Olympic gold medal winner, Lady Mary Peters.
With this title success, 32-year-old Rea became the undisputed king of World Superbikes, but it wasn't easy in 2019 and at one stage he must have been thinking this wasn't going to be his year.
"The way Alvaro (Bautista) and the new Ducati performed in the early rounds certainly caught our attention. Round four at Assen was tough because it was a circuit that I expected to be strong at, but we got beaten pretty badly. Mentally, that was the toughest weekend for me personally," he admitted.
"Jerez wasn't great either, probably the most frustrating moment when, due to a small braking error on my part, I knocked Alex Lowes into the gravel, took the penalties and the title challenge was evaporating."
However, Rea turned things around, and when asked if one thing could explain how he managed to nail his fifth consecutive World Championship, he said: "Experience. I've faced difficult moments in my career before, so learning from those lessons and continually working and keeping a consistent effort has got me to where I am today, and of course the support of Kawasaki, the team and my family."
So, how does it feel to be arguably the greatest World Superbike rider in its 31-year history?
"It's surreal. I never, ever thought that I would achieve what I have. I always dreamed about winning one but, realistically, the odds of winning five were long," he added.
Can he continue breaking records or does he ever think what it would be like not to win the next one?
"I think about that all the time, in fact that's what keeps me motivated to keep working hard. I'm in this incredible bubble and I don't want it to burst. It's the most incredible feeling and I don't want it to end," he said.
The title of Rea's book is Dream. Believe. Achieve, a motto that got him through the tough times this season and, as his crew chief Pere Riba said mid-season: "Jonathan is the best rider and best mentality in the paddock - he will win this title. All he wants to do is win."
How right those words proved to be, as Rea claimed the title with two rounds to spare at Magny-Cours in France last Sunday.
Rea is still the benchmark all his rivals have to aim at, as the accolades keep flowing for one of Northern Ireland's top sports stars.
You would think he deserves a rest, but not Rea. It will be a few days at home with wife Tatia and kids Jake and Tyler before he jets off for the 12th and penultimate round of the Championship in Argentina between October 11-13.
- Meanwhile, with the Bennetts British Superbike Championship reaching its penultimate round at Donington Park this weekend, there is speculation that Glenn Irwin, who recently parted company with Tyco BMW after a short tenure, may be on his way to Honda.
Currently Xavi Fores and Glenn's brother Andrew hold the seats with Honda, but with the Spaniard looking set to return to the World Superbike scene in 2020 - and Glenn's desire to make his TT debut and continue his North West 200 career - it would seem like a good opportunity for both Honda and Irwin to team up.