Belfast Telegraph

Why I was right not to leave Honda sooner on the road to world title glory, explains Jonathan Rea

 

By Roy Harris

Trying to keep up with Jonathan Rea in the past 48 hours gives us all an inkling how the chasing pack in the World Superbike ranks must feel.

The three-time World champion returned home to a hero's welcome at George Best City Airport in Belfast on Sunday night after a weekend when he completed a hat-trick of titles at Magny-Cours in France.

Last night the local hero was in his hometown of Ballyclare as guest of Councillor Paul Hamill, the Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, for another reception and much more autograph signing.

And in between these two dates he also met the media, and members of the Northern Ireland football team, at the Culloden Hotel, where Michael O'Neill's men are preparing to lock horns with World champions Germany on Thursday evening.

Well, if they need a few tips about beating the world's best, then no finer man than the 30-year-old who became the first rider ever to win three titles on the bounce, notching up his 50th WSB win in the process.

Having finally caught up with Rea, I wanted to find out a bit more about his life in the fast lane, so I began by asking him if he had any ambitions left in the sport.

"To be honest, no," he revealed. "I've achieved three championships in a row, that has never been done before and it doesn't get much better than that.

"For me now the only way is down, but for sure I'll be trying my hardest to win a fourth championship. When the new regulations come in next year it will be an exciting time developing the new bike and as it is into an unknown area it will be harder than ever to stay at the front.

"I'm under no illusions about that, so this is my time and I aim to make the most of it. Who knows, maybe next year it will be someone else.

"I've been on the other side when the results weren't coming because I had been on uncompetitive machines and you know what, that made me.

"Journalists always ask me should I have left Honda earlier and my answer is always no, simply because what I learned in those years prepared me for what I have now."

So, having experienced the ups and downs of the sport, does being World champion make things a little bit easier?

"If anything, things are harder now with Tatia (his wife) and the two boys (Jake and Tyler)," he responded.

"What you see on Sunday is glamorous and nice, but it is like everybody else getting through airports with two young kids when you can't plan when they are tired.

"We kind of try to see more of the countries we are in, be more relaxed and take a bit of time so it's not just flying in for the race and out after it's over.

"I travelled the world with Keith Amor and had a really fun time in my early WSB years, even going to Australia three or four weeks before the race.

"I spent some time in South Africa and met a lot of amazing people, but eventually constant travel becomes hard work."

And unlike the pampered players of the Premier League or the multi-millionaires of the Grand Prix circuit, Rea's success has been built on very humble foundations.

"In my late teens I left home early to 'sofa surf' between mechanics' and friends' houses; it was too costly to travel back and forth to home (Ballyclare)," he recalled.

"I lived with the late Craig Jones and with my personal trainer and friends in the south of England; I didn't have a home or a normal life.

"All my best friends at home, their weekends continued as normal while I was getting busier and busier.

"I was brought up amongst bikes and it wasn't a terrible thing though, as I made lots of friends across the world that I would not have had if I had not went racing.

"The sacrifice now is putting our kids through the racing, it is really tough especially as me and Tarsh live in the Isle of Man with no support network, no parents, grandparents, aunties or uncles to help us.

"I'm the guy that races, to me it is still fun and I enjoy it, but there is so much to do from Free Practice 1 to the last race in a factory team - media obligations, sponsors, autograph sessions, factoring in eating time before practice and racing.

"The only time I might get a free hour is with my physio when I can relax.

"I may be the guy who stands on the podium, but Tarsh doesn't ever get a rest, the kids don't clock on or off for an hour to give her a break, she deserves to be on the podium as well as me."

Jonathan's two young boys are now on an electric trials bike and he added: "Jake (4) is a natural, but so sensitive while Tyler, not two yet, rides it like a bull in a china shop."

However, if they have inherited their dad's determination, talent and will to win, who knows, we might have two more Rea World champions in the future.

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