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Jonathan Rea at the 2017 World Superbike Spanish round
NEWS

Jonathan Rea’s racing elixir of success is mixed in the garage

Jan 222018

An MBE, BBC Sports Personality acclaim and - of course - a record-setting three WorldSBK titles in a row: 2017 gave Jonathan Rea plenty to write home about. The Brit is now widely acknowledged as one of the fastest and most skilful motorcycle racers across the globe. The 2018 FIM WorldSBK series is fast looming into view with the first round of thirteen taking place around the immensely quick curves of Phillip Island in Australia at the end of February. Rea and his Kawasaki Racing Team have already negotiated tests and technical rule changes to get the Ninja ZX-10RR into fettle for another charge for the crown; the final steps of preparation take place this month.

Behind the success and the weight of numbers that Rea and Kawasaki have accumulated in three years (a mighty streak of 39 wins from 78 races including 70 podium finishes) is another story. How did a sensitive and brilliant athlete go from being a shining light of WorldSBK to its ultimate master and ‘bar-setter’? The nest of that glory was constructed with a few mobile phones and fostered in the small but proficient confines of the Kawasaki pit box.

“There was a secret meeting in 2014 - that actually took place at Jerez - where I sneaked off and signed my Kawasaki contract in a hotel room, it looked like a right dodgy deal. I just rode off into the night on my scooter,” Rea smiles. “I signed my letter of intent and from that moment Pere [Riba, Rea’s Kawasaki Crew Chief] created a WhatsApp group. He welcomed me to the team and introduced my two mechanics at that time, Uri and Arturo. From that moment we have been in daily contact. Without that beginning it might have taken a lot longer to build that relationship. I don’t think we realised what we were going to achieve in those early days.”

“It is nice and curious that forms of communication and social media in the 21st century means you can meet people without really knowing them,” offers Riba. “Before ‘officially’ meeting Jonathan at our first test we had already talked a lot and it was like we already knew each other. We talked bikes, life, families; it was useful. So we had that connection from the very first day of work.”

 

Rea is a devoted family man and it was clearly important that he felt the same sense of sanctuary in the Kawasaki garage. “The connection is the key,” says Chief Mechanic Uri Pallarès. “If you ask Johnny about his previous teams then technically no problem, but in human terms? Perhaps that is the difference. Maybe not all riders need that type of atmosphere, but he is someone that responds to that trust and friendship around him. I think that is what we were able to give him.”

“Guim [Roda, Team Manager] understood that I needed an arm around me and that family feeling and Pere created it…and it’s like we have created a monster,” Rea continues. “These guys are like my best friends. We win together and we lose together but I have always been very open and honest with them.”

“There are many philosophies about racing and each rider is different,” he says. “Some need a lot of people around with a warm feeling. Some are ‘colder’ and don’t need anything or anyone and just do the job. It doesn’t mean they are better or worse: just different. I knew Johnny from a few years ago and I knew he was a guy who liked the family atmosphere. Uri, Arturo and some of the other guys have been working together for many years and we have a special relationship, personally as well. So when the rider comes into the team we try to make him part of this family. For some riders it has a big value and ‘power’ and for others it doesn’t.”

 

Many teams gel and work in harmony, but it seems the nature of the relationships Rea and co have encouraged has been outstanding for its effect for the racing and results.

 

“Confidence and trust goes a long way,” says mechanic Arturo Perez. “Pere and I have talked about this a lot; when we tell each other something then it is with ‘total belief’ when it comes to the racing side. When I do something around the bike then I know Pere and Uri are relaxed and it is the same if Uri is on the tools.”

 

Riba is positioned at the forefront of the band and is therefore the psychological ‘caretaker’. Nursing the dynamic of the corps is important but extracting the best out of Rea is his primary target. “You get to know the rider more and more each day and you can learn to see if there are any worries or problems at home with a wife, mother, father, brother or friend,” he says. “Everything can affect the athlete. My job is to try and understand how the rider is and what to give him – apart from the mechanics and set-up - to do his job. I can maybe organise the test or the race weekend a bit differently. To understand that you have to spend a lot of time and effort with him and try not to be distracted.”

 

“My best friends at home are all good people with good values and I think that is the same in the team,” Rea says. “They are all respectable people and I think that was why I was attracted to them in the first place. It seems mad that you can connect 5-6 people together with the same character. I spend thirteen weekends and six team tests a year with these guys…but I want to spend more time with them. We go out to dinner, we go on holidays together and visit events together. It is also important for me to ‘invest’ in that as well because it is a big part of my success. They sacrifice as much as I do to be in this position, so we have to be able to enjoy it together.”

“I always tell the guys that ‘we are in a dream’ because I have thirty years experience in this world and what we are living now is not normal,” adds Riba. “It’s almost unreal. It’s not racing. The tough moments haven’t arrived yet.”

 

“Everyone comments on how fast Johnny can ride…but if you really knew him then you’d see how good he really is,” summarises Pallarès. “I’ve never won the lottery but I think in this aspect it is like holding a winning ticket. These times, these people and this rider at his peak combined with this bike, the brand and the whole moment: it is unbelievable. Everything has come together and exploded.”

 

The team are already rubbing their hands at the prospect of the 2018 Kawasaki in Rea’s formidable grasp and with the same backing and support structure to again tackle Sykes, Davies, Melandri, Lowes, Laverty and co then it looks as though the original #team65 will be leaving plenty feeling ‘green’ once again in WorldSBK.

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