BIG INTERVIEW: Jonathan Rea - ‘sport was all I thought about growing up’

Jonathan Rea and family. Pics by GeeBee Images
Jonathan Rea and family. Pics by GeeBee Images

Superbike superstar Jonathan Rea raced into the record books last year when he was crowned World Champion for the third time in a row.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Ballyclare man also narrowly missed out on being named BBC Sports Personality of the Year, with just a handful of votes separating him from winner Mo Farah.

Now the new racing season is about to get underway and Jonathan is looking forward to the year ahead with the aim of securing a momentous fourth World Championship title in a row.

Racing runs in Jonathan’s blood, as both his father and grandfather were involved in the world of motorsport.

“My dad was a motorcyclist,” explained Jonathan, who began racing when he was a child.

“He made his way in the Irish scene in road racing and short circuit racing.

“My grandfather was one of Joey Dunlop’s first major sponsors.

“I grew up around bikes, it was natural to me. Motorcycling was in my family before me so it was very easy to get into.”

Jonathan’s parents kept him very grounded as a child, insisting that he could only ride bikes if he kept getting good grades at school. As a result he attained A*-B grades in his GCSEs at Larne Grammar School, but there was never any other career for him away from motorcycling.

“To be honest I just wanted to ride bikes but mum and dad were really strict that I had to get good school grades if I wanted to ride bikes,” he revealed. “It was good motivation to keep working.

“It was probably hard for my parents because they understood the dangers but it gave me incredible discipline and I had a great grounding at school and I wouldn’t change that.

“I was brought up in a nice family environment and it gave me an incredible life. School couldn’t teach me what I learnt in sport.

“I am very fortunate that my parents encouraged my dreams because I threw myself into it 100%.

“I don’t know where I would be without sport. I have no idea what else I would have done. It is all I ever thought about.”

Jonathan was first signed up to a motorcross team when he was just 16, however, his parents insisted that he worked hard as well and he studied for a degree in manufacturing and engineering after leaving school.

When he was a teenager, Jonathan heard about a valuable opportunity that would set him on the path to racing stardom,

“I had heard about a team looking for a young rider as a scholarship,” explained Jonathan. “It was like an X Factor style competition and we had to go through auditions.

“I was very fortunate and it was a great opportunity for me.

“I started on an 125cc bike and got picked up the second year by the official Honda team and then I stepped up to Superbikes and established myself by challenging for the World Championship in 2007.”

Jonathan continued to build on his success, and was crowned World Champion for an unprecedented three years in a row in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

“I try to detach myself from a target at the start of the year and just take things day by day,” he explained.

“Last year we knew quite early in the season it was going to happen because the other teams made some mistakes and we had a smooth year.

“When we finally got it done it was kind of weird. Life doesn’t change because I still had to finish the season.”

Jonathan was thrilled with the response to his third World Championship win, especially back home in Northern Ireland, where fans were delighted with his success.

“The homecoming back in Northern Ireland was amazing,” he continued.

“Racing never stands still and you are always thinking about the next race so it was important to take time out and reflect.”

After racing into the record books last year, Jonathan was overwhelmed by the support from his fans and from the racing fraternity, especially when he came runner-up to Mo Farah in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year contest in December.

“It is an amazing accolade to have but for me it is all about racing and World Championships,” said Jonathan.

“For me it hasn’t had a huge impact but you do become more well known on another level outside your sport.

“I never had the expectation to do well in the Sports Personality thing. I had seen before it, especially on social media, that people were talking me up but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be placed even in the top three.

“I was so thankful to everyone who picked up the phone that night. It was a really nice way to finish the year.”

And despite all of his success, Jonathan certainly isn’t putting the brakes on his career yet, with a fourth World Championship title now firmly in his sights.

“We have been testing down in Spain and it has been going really well,” Jonathan revealed. “I have spent two months off the bike and it felt good to be back on and I am excited to be back.

“The goal is to win the championship,” he added. “I am very motivated to win another championship and just have to try to be strong.”