Jonathan Rea on WorldSBK turnaround – ‘Everyone had written me off’

Jonathan Rea admits he - and everyone else - had written off his own chances of winning a record-breaking fifth WorldSBK crown in 2019

Jonathan Rea

Jonathan Rea has revealed he was prepared to accept his hopes of winning a record-breaking fifth WorldSBK title in 2019 were over in the wake of Alvaro Bautista’s early-season dominance, saying it was his acceptance of the underdog challenge the re-motivated him.

After four fairly dominant seasons won from the front in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, the arrival of Bautista on the new Ducati Panigale V4R sent Rea’s bid for a fifth consecutive crown in a tailspin from the off when the Spaniard romped to 11 wins on the bounce.

Moreover, they were dominant successes with Rea – despite finishing second in all but one of those races – unable to mount a significant challenge to the Spaniard.

It was a shock to the system that took many – inside and outside WorldSBK - by surprise, with Rea identifying round four at Assen as representing a particular low as he was ‘flat out beaten’ around a circuit he has a strong record at.

”It was really hard to believe that the chips would fall our way after being so far back with the steamroller effect Alvaro had at the beginning of the year. Eleven races unbeaten is mad.

“Not only did I get written off by everyone on the inside, I’d written myself off. After Assen was really tough, Assen has been one of my strongest tracks and I went there and go flat out beaten. I had to take a long look in the mirror.”

Admitting he was ‘no longer the man’, Rea says he accepted the challenge until fortunes began to sway in his favour as Bautista – who at one time held a 64 point lead over the Ulsterman – began to make a catalogue of errors that negated his early-season dominance.

“I no longer was the guy and once I had accepted that and seen it as a challenge, it was kind of cool rocking up to a race weekend thinking hopefully we can do it.

“I feel a little bit like a boxer, I survived the first few rounds but no knockout punch. All the points went to the opponent, but through the mid-part of the season I began to regain strength, we won some rounds.

“There was always a chance Alvaro could deliver the knockout blow to really stop any chance mentally of winning the championship, but it never happened.”

Jonathan Rea rolls with the punches to win record WorldSBK title

Jonathan Rea sums his 2019 WorldSBK season perfectly with that boxing analogy as he faced up to an unfamiliar and formidable new foe in Bautista.

Light on his feet and quick with the jabs, the Ducati-armed Bautista set himself up nicely to deliver the knockout blow that could (should) have seen him walking off with the decorated title.

Instead, Rea rolled with punches and played the long game, a strategy which might not have worked had Bautista not began tripping up on its own under fairly little pressure. However, once the errors came, Rea’s unshakable consistency and stamina brought its own pressure, causing Bautista to fold altogether.

Bautista may have brought impressive speed from his time in MotoGP, but he lacked some tactical know-how when it mattered.

By contrast, even when Rea was ‘struggling’ he was only ever finishing second or third. Indeed, while Rea had to come from behind, he was never out of the title fight – and that is what makes him one of motorcycling’s great champions.