Belfast Telegraph

'I'm off to Ibiza': Jonathan Rea turns brother's stag into five-time celebrations after sealing toughest world title yet

 

High five: World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea celebrates winning his fifth successive title
High five: World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea celebrates winning his fifth successive title
Close up: Jonathan Rea gets up close to the camera in France

By Roy Harris

What an incredible achievement by Northern Ireland's Jonathan Rea, now the first rider in history to claim five successive World Superbike titles.

The 32-year-old from Templepatrick unexpectedly clinched the crown yesterday by winning the final race at Magny-Cours in France with the only rider challenging him for the Championship, Spain's Alvaro Bautista, crashing out on lap two of 21, leaving Rea with an unassailable 129-point lead.

An absolutely stunned and emotional Rea, who was close to tears, said afterwards: "Of the five titles this has been the toughest. People had written me off earlier in the season when I was racking up second places behind Alvaro, but all those seconds won me this Championship.

"It was a real battle with Mickey van der Mark in that race, but once I had established myself at the front I just kept telling myself to hit my markers and don't make mistakes.

"This has been a massive project with Kawasaki and there are so many people to thank for what we as a family have achieved. Now I'm off to Ibiza tonight for my brother Richard's stag party."

This has been a staggering achievement by Rea, who, since he signed for Kawasaki, has won every Championship - 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and now 2019 - with two rounds still remaining this year in Argentina and Qatar.

Rea admitted: "I was nervous today after Saturday's race when I slipped up and lost the race win on the last lap, my mistake. It was a fun race, but chaotic with a lot going on. Today, Mickey set a good pace and I was able to plot my move to go to the front.

"I didn't think the Championship was on the cards today and hadn't planned anything, but the marketing guys were on the ball. I was trying to do the maths in my head and it didn't sink in until I saw the big No.5 on my pit board.

"It's still a bit dreamy, but I'm so proud of my team, sponsors, my family and all those people who make this operation work.

"After the first two rounds we were well beaten, and after four rounds we were still getting beaten, but not by as much. Yes, it was an uphill battle - a Championship is not about one race, but a combination of a series of races.

"Right now, I am living in a bubble, focusing on the next race. Since I was a kid in motocross, I wanted to be a world champion, MXGP or MX2 it didn't matter.

"In 2015 when I won the first title that was it, dream done, and now we have five. When I barrel-rolled the bike at Misano and got back on to finish fifth, I didn't know at the time how important those five points would be."

Multi-British Superbike champion Shane 'Shakey' Byrne said: "I didn't think he could do it this weekend, but that's racing.

"When he got to the front he knew if he finished second the Championship would go to Argentina, but the win would seal it today and he went out and did the job. In the early part of the season he looked out of it, but he hung in and reaped the reward."

Two second places behind Turkey's first ever WSBK winner Toprak Razgatlioglu on Saturday and yesterday's Superpole race set up an enthralling final 21-lap encounter.

Van der Mark led from Rea, Bautista and Razgatlioglu on lap one. On lap two, the Turk made a pass on Bautista, lost control and fell off with the unlucky Spaniard unable to avoid the stricken machine and thrown over the handlebars, eliminating both from the race and, in Bautista's case, his Championship aspirations if Rea won the race.

It was a real ding-dong battle between the Dutch rider and Rea, passing and repassing, side-by-side at times before the Ulsterman made the decisive move eight laps from the end.

Van der Mark clung on but he just didn't have anything left and Rea took the chequered flag, allowing the celebrations to begin.

It was like a scene straight out of Hollywood - a dinner jacket, green bow tie and red carpet to a podium where he placed his hands in concrete for posterity.

Rea had achieved the unthinkable - from race one in Australia it was ex-MotoGP rider Bautista, brought in to win the Championship on the all-singing, all-dancing new Ducati Panagale, in control.

He raced to 11 wins in a row while Rea had to be content with 10 second places and a third before gaining his first wins at Imola with a double.

A treble at Donington, where for the first time he took the Championship lead, took him from 61 points behind Bautista to nine in front after a second crash in as many meetings for the Ducati man.

In fact, Rea showed a season of perseverance, talent and consistency, only outside the top three once, no non-finishes and the Championship secured with two rounds and six races remaining - the stuff that makes world champions.

His team boss Pere Riba summed it up, saying: "We were having a tough weekend and didn't expect to win today. Even when we were behind early in the season, Jonathan never gave up.

"Alvaro started to make mistakes while Jonathan's double at Imola showed that he could beat the seemingly unbeatable and we as a team kept working and working to get to where we are today."

The list of accolades Rea has amassed since his younger days in motocross is astonishing, but it hasn't all been plain sailing with major crashes at Knockhill in 2004 and the Nurburgring in 2013 that could well have ended his career.

But his grit, determination, genius, self-belief, total commitment and, yes, a bit of luck along the way in his pursuit of his goals are a reminder to every young sportsperson just what is required to get to the very top of your sport and stay there.

Team-mate Leon Haslam insisted: "You can't take it away from Jonathan. He knows the Kawasaki inside out and takes full advantage of it."

James Whitham, ex-racer and now Eurosport commentator, added: "Early in the year when Jonathan was definitely under pressure, he kept quiet, kept working, believed in his ability to turn it around and fair play to him for this unique achievement; the most remarkable turnaround in World Superbike history."

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