‘Toprak’s really made me step up’ – Rea reveals feelings as 2021 closes

Monday, 22 November 2021 06:46 GMT

The WorldSBK title race may not have gone his way but there’s only one objective for six-time World Champion Jonathan Rea…

With the 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship’s celebrations ongoing after a titanic Pirelli Indonesian Round at the Pertamina Mandalika International Street Circuit, there’s been plenty of time for reflection amongst the paddock’s biggest stars. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) was forced to relinquish his crown on Sunday morning, as Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) became the new WorldSBK Champion, thus ending Rea’s stranglehold on the Championship.

Despite losing out in what was one of the most remarkable Championship battles ever seen in World Superbike, Rea signed off a memorable 2021 season in style. A hard-fought victory in a dry Race 1 was enough to secure him second in the title, whilst he capped off a dramatic weekend with another win in Race 2. Beating rival Scott Redding ( Racing – Ducati) in a final lap thriller, Rea finished just 13 points short of Razgatlioglu and what would’ve been a sensational final round comeback for his seventh straight title.

Magnanimous in defeat and looking forward to the 2022 season already, Rea commented on his Sunday: “I’m very good and very content; I’m really happy to win both races at Mandalika and in two kinds of conditions: dry and hot in the morning and wet in the afternoon – proper wet! It was very nice for me to finish the season like that, and I am very happy to go home after a good weekend at a new circuit but of course, man of the year is Toprak, and his team have done incredible. OK, I’m not happy for him but I really respect the job he’s done, his team’s done, and he’s really made me step up. His level’s really high but I’m improving. They’ve given us as Kawasaki a reference, to improve the bike, which is really motivating for us going into the off-season.”

Despite finishing second, Rea’s season was full of highlights. A 100th win was achieved in the first race of the season at MotorLand Aragon, whilst he took a stunning 200th career podium in the Tissot Czech Round at the Autodrom Most. After that, he took a further three race victories before ending the season on a high with a double in Indonesia. Rea’s season will also be remembered for the sensational run of eight consecutive pole positions, a new record in the 33-year history of the World Superbike Championship.

Continuing to review his weekend in Indonesia, the outgoing six-time World Champion stated: “This weekend, we knew the Championship was out of reach; it didn’t depend on us. In many ways, I don’t feel like I’ve lost the Championship here, I feel like I lost that in the middle of the year. We had a lot of mistakes and had some troubles. There’s no regrets, I can go home content and once again, massive respect and congratulations to Toprak.”

For Kawasaki, their all-new ZX-10RR wasn’t able to be all-conquering this year, as they also relinquish the Manufacturers’ Championship to Yamaha, finishing third overall in the end of season standings. However, the Japanese manufacturer also set plenty of records, such as achieving their 100th pole position, a 300th front row place courtesy of Rea’s second place on the grid in Indonesia and, also achieved this weekend in Race 1, their 170th win. A tussle throughout for the Riders’ Championship and the Manufacturers’ Championship, Kawasaki have played their part in a spectacular show and even though in 2021 it didn’t go their way, 2022 will see them fight to reclaim their crown.

Reflecting on 2021, Rea continued: “We won a lot of races, but we struggled in a lot of races and I made mistakes as well. The biggest thing is that now, the reference is different; in the past, I was my own reference and step-by-step, we had to try and improve. Now, Toprak and Yamaha especially are the reference, also Ducati in the last years with their straight-line speed. It’s giving us a new reference, we have to try and improve the package, I have to try and improve as a rider and that’s the sole focus in the off-season: to keep improving and come back in 2022 much stronger. However, we have some good ideas, so that’s motivating and to finish like we did here, I can go home happy.

After running the #65 on the cool-down lap of Race 2, Rea confirmed that it will be his number next year: “I’m not happy to use the #65 because it means I lost the Championship, but it gives me good feelings from when I joined Kawasaki; it was life-changing. It brings back all those memories of winning my first World Championship. I’m going to go and work as hard as I can, I hope it’s temporary because running the #1 is really special. The focus is to try and get that back but the #65 is there and next year, that will be my number.”

Pata Yamaha team manager Paul Denning also commended Rea’s performances in 2021: “I think Jonathan’s level has been higher this year than any of the times he won the Championship, and that’s from an outside perspective observing him. I’m not sure if he would agree or not, but he has elevated his own performance this year, to fight with Toprak and Scott Redding and the show for everyone to watch has been incredible.”

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