I have sacrificed so much of my life for this moment, says world superbike hero Jonathan Rea
Proud credit to his country, Jonathan Rea deserves all the plaudits being heaped upon him after his history-making third successive World Superbike championship success at Magny-Cours on Saturday, doing it in style by winning his 50th WSB race.
When he signed for the Kawasaki Racing Team prior to the 2015 season, Jonathan said: "It's a new bike for me and I'm feeling a little bit of pressure, but if I can get the right feeling with the bike then I think I can do a job."
Prophetic words given that he has won every World championship since. He adapted quickly to the machine and on Saturday wrote his name into the history books when he became the first WSB rider to win the championship in three successive seasons.
Now he is closing in on legend Carl Fogarty's four wins over five seasons by completing a fourth title in a row this time next year, and he could also surpass Fogarty's record 59 race wins to become the most successful Superbike rider of all time.
Ballyclare rider Rea was understandably almost speechless after Saturday's victory saying: "I have no words. I have sacrificed so much in my life, as have my parents and everyone involved to get me to this moment."
It wasn't all plain sailing for the 30-year-old over the weekend - he suffered a crash in a wet Superpole session on Saturday before gathering up his Kawasaki and going on to set pole.
However in the damp 21-lap race that followed, he powered away from the start and emphatically stamped his authority on the race with a lights to flag victory, 16.316 seconds ahead of Marco Melandri, who had Tom Sykes, with a strong ride on his return from a nasty finger and wrist injury, just 0.3 seconds behind him in third.
Rea punched the air with delight as he crossed the finish line and on his slow-down lap set off the now traditional track invasion by his Ulster flag-waving fans, celebrating the historic moment when they could say, 'I was there when Jonathan won his third world championship'.
Back in the paddock, Rea added: "To win one championship, then two and now to go three in a row and make history, I am absolutely buzzing. My thanks have to go to every single member of the team and everyone from Kawasaki back in Japan.
"Most of all I want to thank my wife and kids, who sacrifice so much. To win this race today was so special.
"To win the race that clinched the championship is not something I have done before, so that was important, as I wanted to win from the top step of the podium. We got the job done in real tricky conditions and winning my 50th WSB race was a nice bonus."
As we all know motorcycle racing can be a fickle sport and how quickly things can turn around.
In yesterday's second race, Rea was right out of luck. Starting from ninth on the grid he didn't manage his normal lightning start and was boxed in during the early corners of the opening lap, which was a real bulldozing affair between the leading riders.
Going into the final complex of bends, fellow countryman Eugene Laverty high-sided off his Milwaukee Aprilia, fortunately without injury. But Rea clipped the sliding machine as he tried to avoid it, ripping off his rear-set. He rode down pit lane and his race was over.
A frustrated Rea commented: "Eugene crashed right in front of me and I could not avoid his bike, which wiped off my rear-set. My toe next to the big one on my right foot is swollen and I'm off for an X-ray. It's not what I wanted, with the high of winning the championship to this. I could have went back out again, but with the weather the way it was we decided to sit it out."
Throughout most of the 21-lap race there was what the riders call 'mental rain', not enough to force them to switch machines, but making grip tricky.
Ducati's Chas Davies easily won the race from a Pata Yamaha double podium with Alex Lowes second and Michael van der Mark third.
In the end, even with Rea out and Tom Sykes back in seventh, it was enough to give Kawasaki the Team Championship for the season to sit proudly alongside Jonathan's third successive world title.
The big question now is can he make it four in a row in 2018? He certainly has the ability, desire and commitment to go for gold once again.
Riders: 1 Jonathan Rea (Gbr) Kawasaki 456pts, 2 Tom Sykes (Gbr) Kawasaki 336, 3 Chaz Davies (Gbr) Ducati 327, 4 Marco Melandri (Ita) Ducati 281, 5 Alex Lowes (Gbr) Yamaha 200, 6 Michael van der Mark (Ned) Honda 189, 7 Javier Fores (Spa) Ducati 169, 8 Leon Camier (Gbr) MV Augusta 146, 9 Jordi Torres (Spa) BMW 140, 10 Eugene Laverty (Gbr) Aprilia 127
Manufacturers: 1 Kawasaki 499pts, 2 Ducati 440, 3 Yamaha 266, 4 Aprilia 175, 5 BMW 164, 6 MV Augusta 146, 7 Honda 104