World superbike champion Jonathan Rea’s already got a fondness for Australia — he’s married to Phillip Island girl Tatia Weston — but the popular Northern Irishman counts Australia’s motorcycle mecca, the Phillip Island Grand Prix track, as his second-home track and is counting the days to next weekend’s (Feb 26-28) Yamaha Finance opening round.
Rea comes face to face with the 25 strong world superbike field that he will race on Monday, with the first appointment the final two day pre-season test, prior to the championship kick-off on Friday.
Last year was a winner for Rea, where he broke through for his first title victory after switching from Honda to Kawasaki, and kicked off the season with a win at Phillip Island’s opening round last February.
He has a new bike under his belt for 2016, the new Kawasaki 2016 ZX-10R, and has spent the European winter testing his new machine and says he’s in “a good position for 2016”.
“The 20016 ZX-10R is definitely a step up, but the real test will come — as it is for all the grid — in proper race conditions. But the ZX-10R is definitely easier to ride and more forgiving, especially when I make small mistakes.
We’ve learnt stuff from last year, and we all know how each other work, so I am confident we will hit the ground running at Phillip Island — although it is a very unique circuit with its own set of demands, so it can always spring a surprise. And it’s not a round that decides the championship, but of course everyone likes to start the season on a strong footing.”
Said Rea from Phillip Island where he has spent a lazy week with Tatia and his family relaxing.
Rea knows that 2016 will be a massive fight, as WorldSBK welcomes in fresh talent like former MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden (Honda), Aussie duo Josh Brookes (BMW Motorrad) and Josh Hook (Kawasaki) and fast-rising German Markus Reiterberger, as well as the return of heavyweights Tom Sykes (Kawaski), Chaz Davies (Ducati) and Sylvain Guintoli (Yamaha). Sykes and Guintoli are also former WorldSBK champions.
The 24-rider WorldSBK field also contains two former MotoGP riders from 2015: Czech rider Karel Abraham (BMW Motorrad) and San Marino resident Alex de Angelis (Aprilia).
“It’s great to have new faces in the championship, especially fast ones likes Hayden and Brookes. The level of competition will be extremely high; there’s no doubt about it.
Hayden and Brookes will have challenges in different ways: Hayden as a former MotoGP world champion and Brookes after kicking butt in British superbike. And there’s of course Yamaha with Guintoli and (Alex) Lowes.
“The Honda is definitely capable of podiums, too, not only with Hayden but his teammate Michael van der Mark, who could go to the next level.”
Rea nearly counts himself as a ridgy-didge local after an off-season spent between the Aussie beach and bush.
He spends a few months each year down-under, with Jono and Tatia bringing their two sons, two year old Jake and four month old Tyler to visit grandparents and their second home at Phillip Island, as often as the season allows.
“I’m nearly a local, I suppose Phillip Island is like my home track, or my second-home track! It was certainly good to me last year, and it was great to kick off my career with Kawasaki and my year here with a win.
I’ve joined the local cycling group and I train with them every morning when I’m here. I think I know just about everyone in Cowes. Tatia thinks I am more local, than she is.”
While in Australia, he also spends time in the north-east Victorian holiday hotspot of Bright.
“I have been doing lots of outdoor training, with cycling and gym work in Bright, I particularly love riding up to Mt Buffalo and pedalling through places like the Tawonga Gap — although I’d love to ride a motorcycle through there as well! It’s a lovely piece of bitumen.
Spending time at Phillip Island and Bright has been magic, and a great way to recharge the batteries ahead of another long WorldSBK season. I am now itching to go again, and I have that fire in the belly like most riders at this time of the year.”
Rea arrived back in Australia last December, greeted by a road side billboard as he drove into Phillip Island welcoming home the new world champion.
He’s always on the go though, and after an Australian sojourn his diary over the past three weeks has included a whirlwind trip to Japan for wind tunnel testing and high-level meetings, attending the press launch of the updated Kawasaki ZX-10R in Malaysia, followed by testing at Jerez and Aragon and then the 2016 team launch in Barcelona.
RACE WEEK SCHEDULE & TICKETING
The full complement of 2016 world superbike and world supersport riders will hit the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit next Monday and Tuesday(February 22-23) for the final pre-season test before round one gets underway from Friday, February 26 until Saturday February 28.
WorldSBK and WorldSSP plus four national classes (ASBK, ASS, Moto3/125GP and Historics) will practice and qualify Friday and Saturday. Final qualifying for international classes, featuring the popular Superpole system, is scheduled from 12.30pm on Saturday.
In a format change for 2016, world superbikes will race over two days, with the first of their two 22-lap races on Saturday at 3pm and the second battle on Sunday at 3pm. World supersport will still race Sunday at 1.30pm in a 21 lap race.
The packed three day agenda, features 20% more racing, with Sunday’s programme back to back races from WorldSBK and WorldSSP and also the Australian championship 10 lap races for packed fields of Australian superbikes, Australian superport and Moto3/125GP. Historics will compete in three six lap feature races over the weekend.
Entry to the 2016 Motul FIM Superbike World Championship, Yamaha Finance round, Phillip Island will cost $115* for a three-day pass, $80* for a Sunday only pass, while kids 15 and under are free**. On circuit camping is just $100* for four nights, with kids 15 and under free** Visit www.ticketek.com.au for tickets; or www.worldsbk.com.au for info.
*Advance ticket prices only, delivery and processing fees may apply.
**Children must be accompanied by a paying adult