Jonathan Rea claimed his place in motorcycling history on Sunday after becoming the first Northern Irishman to win a world title since Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid in 1986.
Not many can – or will – begrudge the 28-year-old his success after dominating the 2015 season from the start. This hasn’t just been a single season effort for the Ulsterman either, it’s been lifelong dedication and hard work with a few tough decisions along the way.
Rea has grown a reputation as being ‘Mr Nice’ so his choice to leave behind long-time supporters Honda and make the switch to Kawasaki raised a few eyebrows in the paddock ahead of this year’s campaign.
Having come through Honda’s rookie scholarship scheme Rea spent the 2008 season in the Supersport class before making the move up to World Superbikes with the Ten Kate team.
The 28-year-old always displayed the raw talent of a force to be reckoned with in the premier class but perhaps his unwavering loyalty of six seasons to his employers hampered his success within the sport.
During his time with Honda, Rea only managed a best Championship finish of third with wins at a rarity so now having won 12 of the 22 races this season and claiming a podium in 20 of those the figures speak for themselves – pure domination.
There is no doubt the Kawasaki have been the catalyst for Rea to finally fulfill his potential on the world stage that many predicted but a bitter sweet taste must remain.
What if? What if Rea made the move earlier? What if Honda gambled and took him to MotoGP?
We’ll never know the answers to these questions but we do now know the true talent of the man from Ballyclare.
The ability and dominance he has shown this season is unquestionable. Rea may not be the character people want or desire but he is a competitor in his own right and can now be considered with the elite.
There is no argument over the fact that he is one of the best ever to take to the tarmac in the WSBK class, his domination this season shows that, but could he have been THE best ever?
We’ll never know.