Jonathan Rea expects his rivals to come back stronger than ever as he looks to defend his World Superbike title in 2016.
Rea enjoyed a dominant season in 2015, winning 14 races and racking up 23 podium finishes in 26 races. Had he not been forced to retire in the final race of the season in Qatar, the Northern Irishman would have set a new record for a total points haul in a single season.
His off-season has been no less frenetic – not only did Rea become a father for the second time, he’s also been involved with developing Kawasaki’s new ZX-10R.
While he is determined to defend his championship, Rea knows it’s not going to be easy, especially with fellow title contenders like Chaz Davies and team-mate Tom Sykes breathing down his neck.
“I think the biggest motivation and how I’ve thought about things in the winter it to stay at the front,” said Rea. “To stay at the front, I know how strong my rivals are around me. I’ve been thinking about my rivals and analysing them and how they go about their weekends and trying to be better.
“I know that I’m on one of the best machines and it’s my job and my technical crew’s job to make that bike good for every circuit over the three or four sessions we have before Superpole. That’s where our job comes in.
“I’m so motivated because I just know how hard it’s going to be. I’m under no illusions. It’s not like last year was a fluke but it just happened. I want to try and forget about last year and because I respect my rivals so much. I know they’ll have learned from our season and they’ll come back stronger than they were in 2015. So I need to come back with fight.”
Rea also admitted to some reservations about his new bike, which he said has been developed “more for another riding style”.
“The bike is quite different. I was here one year so the development of the bike has been happening through riders like Tom [Sykes], [Joan] Lascorz, [Loris] Baz. This bike was not born last year, it was born many years ago. The bike has been developed for them guys, from their comments. And they’ve done a great job because the bike is at a higher level.
“But as a race bike it’s asking me now to ride a bit in the style of Tom. You know, like brake much deeper, stop the bike and then fire it out, which is good. It’s his style. He’s won championships. But I also have my style, which I’m trying not to lose a little bit.
“It’s just about trying to find the right balance of how much I get sucked into riding the bike how it’s asked to be ridden or trying to implement a little bit of care, like looking after the tyre, turning well, corner speed and attributes that made me strong in 2015.
“In testing it hasn’t been about polishing the package; it’s been about trying this swingarm, trying that shock, trying these forks, trying that engine character, or that setting with electronics.
“But what happens when the lights go out is completely different to now. The excitement in January, even for myself, the team launch, bikes, colours, lap times, testing … it’s all so exciting but the main thing is when the lights go out. When that happens I think we can be in a good position.”