Taking time out from giving guided tours around the Isle of Man Rea talks about the 130mph crash, what his Fireblade would be like from a blank sheet and the character of Biaggi
The flaming 130mph crash
To be honest I’m still not sure to the minute what exactly happened with the engine, but something went wrong. It meant that there was oil all over my back tyre and a fire in the bike on the exit of turn two, so when I tipped into turn three with lean angle there was obviously oil all over the back tyre and it tried to spit me off in a highside. I kind of let go of the handlebars and was lucky enough to fall off the side, instead of going up into the air, then tumbling at 130mph and coming to a stop in the gravel.
I dislocated my finger and aggravated an old wrist injury. They took my to the circuit medical centre and reduced my finger swelling and at that point my heart had given off a peculiar enzyme which happens in a serious trauma so I was airlifted to the Alfred hospital in Melbourne. I spent two days there with ongoing checks every 30 mins to make sure things were under control.
Is it my fastest crash? Yeah definitely, I had a few scary ones back in the BSS days, with a couple of brake failures. There was the one at Knockhill and Oulton Park, which were equally as scary. Probably more so as I had a bit more time to think about it. I’ve also had the throttle stick wide open on me once as well. It seems as though when I crash I never do a normal little front end fall.
We knew at Phillip Island when we got there that the circuit really suited the Ducati and Carlos Checa was on form from day one of the test. We had to try and start the season strong with points on the board, a 12th and a fourth wasn’t the best way to start but after the week before it was basically all that we could ask. 24 hrs before free practice time I was lying in hospital and I was pretty lucky to be honest, I guess, just getting out of there with some points on the board.
I’ve been working hard with my trainer to build up my strength and reduce the swelling with the physio. We’re definitely behind the eight ball a bit but it’s a long season and you can’t win the championship in the first round but we can certainly lose it, we came out the first round at Phillip Island with our heads above water.
Recuperation for Donington Park
I was really concerned after the crash as the Clinica Mobile doctors told me that I had damaged a ligament in my good hand, my right hand - I worried about that all weekend. It is still pretty sore and I went to see my hand specialist and he told me there was no ligament damage at all, only soft tissue damage. I have just been working with my physio back home in the Isle of Man to try and build a bit of strength and control whilst keeping up with my general fitness as well.
I guess at Donington Park I should be good, but I was good in Phillip Island. On the bike I was fine, it was just my left wrist, the old injury, my hand was that swollen even before the race when I made a fist you couldn’t see any of my knuckles. Now that swelling is all gone, I might not be at 100% but there aren't too many riders who are.
Plan of attack for Donington Park
We need to be a little bit smarter. We haven’t had the best of stories to tell about Donington. There is something I need to figure out especially in the last sector – the Loop. That’s what we’ll be working on Friday. But the first practice sessions will be more or less going out and all about finding a good rhythm and trying to be fast straight away so we can then work on a race setting. As soon as I’m able to get confidence and consistency we’ll then focus on the race strategy.
Excited about returning to the circuit
It’s just great to have two races at home. All us British riders have our core fan base in the UK and it’s easy to have all our friends, family and personal sponsors. It’s nice for them to come. We’ve had two rounds, even three in the past and I love this circuit and it’s got history as well. It’s the heart of British motorsport - it’s a big deal.
My focus at the start of the season was to just try and stay healthy and score in every single race. We’re just keeping that going every race and see what happens.
Strengths and progression of the CBR1000RR Fireblade
Basically when I got on the bike in 2009, Checa and Kiyo had been taking the bike’s development in a different way from where I was. It became obvious from the start that the bike needed to be finely tuned for each rider. So, luckily I’m not the kinda guy who is always looking around the garage for answers. I have all I need on my side to make the bike good.
We are continuously working and it is no secret that the bike is an older model to some of the younger manufacturers - we’re quite close to the limit. Electronically we’ve made some major improvements over the winter. Some of our rivals have found some speed, so that’s the next thing we need to work on, especially for the Monza round.
We need a little bit more speed, hopefully the guys back at base will find the answer. I think if we have that we should be in the ballpark because the main strength of our bike is that it’s good on the real twisty circuits, it’s not the best over bumps but shines on the twisty sections. Our weakness right now is the top speed.
Rea’s blank sheet Fireblade
I have no idea if they’re working on a new bike, for sure Honda know the next model they’re going to release. The market dictates it to them when us guys in the racing world would be the last to know, but I hope so as we definitely need something fresh to start with.
Starting from a blank sheet, I think the V4 concept that Aprilia have would be nice. I’d like to see Honda build a V4 superbike, for sure they have experience. They’re specialising in the inline-four and with the state of the economy I don’t know if they’ll venture away from it.
Being a racer the benefits of a V4 would be that you can make the bike much smaller and compact with the engine. Chassis wise I would change the stiffness in certain areas and get rid of the problematic chatter that we get from the current model.
I think the problem for us is that the CBR is such a good bike in the road-going version and as a Superstock bike it’s one of the best; with the best handling and one of the most comfortable. But in Superbike race trim when all the other manufacturers have developed their bikes we don’t have that advantage, we’re on par with them or struggling in some areas.
Our team is not factory supported but our voices are heard by HRC, stripping the information around the problems we’re having. They get the information after each round but I don’t know what happens with it, it could be rolled up and scrapped or the ideas and thoughts may go in to the new model, whenever that comes along.
Experiencing MotoGP on the RC212V
Comparing it to my Castrol Honda, the torque feeling is somewhat the same it’s not less and it’s a little bit lazy off the bottom. The main difference in the MotoGP bike is when the bike gets to over 10,000rpm the thing really gets going. It produces all it's power really high. That’s really the main difference. The riding position is similar to my bike and so is the size, overall the whole package is a little bit more compact.
When you see the bike without all it’s bodywork on it is a work of art. The way all the sensors, the wires and pipes are flowing throughout the bike, it’s a real piece of art.
The tyres are different as well, a more stiffer construction to what I’m used to. The brakes too; the average Joe isn’t going to use the full potential of steel brakes let alone carbon brakes, with myself it’s not that I notice that difference it is when you get to that last couple tenths of a second. You really realise with the carbon brakes that there is still more strength left when you apply more pressure. It was something even I was still getting to grips with on the last day of the test.
What you notice the most is how strong the bike is at top rpm.
I've never been close to quitting, never really. At Phillip Island I felt sorry for myself at times, it was just one thing after another. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing riding in pain, especially for my friends and girlfriend seeing me struggling to get on to the bike and getting off it absolutely drained.
Never once has it crossed my mind quitting, I feel that I have unfinished business. Not just because I love riding, if I just loved riding I’d spend all my time riding my motocross bike. In my racing career I haven’t ticked all the boxes of the things that I have wanted to achieve, I want to do that as long as I can and I’d like to win as many world championship races as I possibly can. I can never be happy enough.
What Biaggi is like…
Max is a different character to anyone else, but since he has had his kid he has really mellowed into a human being.
With Biaggi last year, when I got injured at Imola, I saw him in his car leaving his motorhome - probably to go to some championship award dinner or party. He spoke with me and before I even got a chance to congratulate him on his championship he asked me how I was.
Away from the bike he seems like a nice guy, but on the bike he’s an animal. Honestly, whether it’s the last lap of a race or warm up, or the first lap of practice, he just wants to kill you. I’ve been on warm up laps with Biaggi and trying to make it back to the grid he just stuffs it underneath you. That’s just the way he is, he’s just a bit different.
I don’t know if it’s mind games. Obviously he’s a smart guy, but I’m intelligent and I can see right through that. I don’t get this thing with mind games, maybe it’s because it is something I’ve never really been involved. Maybe I should start, maybe he is trying to mind fuck me. It’s just the way he is, he’s one of the best riders in the world with an unbelievable career in GP and he’s found that level in WSB where he is winning all the time and he has a great team behind him in Aprilia. I have a lot of respect for him.
Jumping the Mountain at Cadwell Park
When the Mountain is attacked successfully as a jump you can get a good run into Hall Bends and stick a pass in, like I’ve done a few times.
Coming from motocross the jump resembles a step-up; if you ride up it you get a wheelie off the initial bump and a second wheelie on the next bit. If you make a jump of it and land on your back wheel, you don’t get the second wheelie. So you’ve saved time jumping the Mountain as one.
Fantasy race - Era. Riders. Bikes. Circuit.
I want to go back to Brands Hatch badly. Maybe riding a superbike because that’s what I am used to and bringing across my idol Kevin Schwantz. It’ll be on modern superbikes because I’d have the advantage then.
My absolute fantasy though? It’s too hard. I’ve never raced a 250GP, so it’d be one of those. Against the likes of Tetsuya Harada, Loris Capirossi, Valentino Rossi, we’d have Kevin Schwantz over for good measure and Max Biaggi. A golden era of 250GP, if we could pause Valentino’s time in 250, bring Biaggi and a fictitious 250 wildcard from Schwantz.
I would be lining up on a factory Honda RS250, with full support as a wildcard out of HRC in Japan. In a special race around Brands Hatch and I would win obviously.
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