After starring in one of the most remarkable comebacks in motorcycling racing history, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) can finally lay claim to being the first-ever five-time MOTUL FIM Superbike World Champion, securing the 2019 crown in sensational fashion at the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours.
The rider from Ballymena, Northern Ireland has overcome perhaps his most formidable foe to date on course to take his fifth crown. Álvaro Bautista’s (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) blazing introduction to the series left many onlookers startled and ready to hail the start of a new, #19-led era. But Rea faced the challenge like a true champion by biding his time, picking up podium finishes and waiting for the moment to pounce. When he did it was with razor-sharp precision, turning around a 61-point deficit in the blink of an eye and wrapping up his fifth title with two rounds to spare.
With this title win, Rea becomes the undisputed king of the WorldSBK history books, holding a record number of championship wins, race wins and career points, amongst other accolades, picked up in his 11-season-long WorldSBK career.
As has been the case for several other greats of two-wheel racing, Rea’s first steps in the paddock were made in WorldSSP. Taking the runner-up spot in his rookie season, he was quick to make the step up to World Superbike one season later alongside Ten Kate Honda, marking the start of a six-year-long, character-building spell onboard the Fireblade.
His performances in each one of those seasons propelled him to the factory Kawasaki bike ahead of the 2015 season. The rest, as they say, is history. No matter the circumstances, the rivals, the regulations, Rea has always managed to finish the calendar year on top.
Yet one could forgive him for rating this championship win above the others, considering how the year began. Pre-season testing had Rea as the odds-on favourite for the title, but all that changed once Phillip Island rolled around: Bautista romped through to an incredible three race wins, leaving Rea and new teammate Leon Haslam to scrap for the remaining podium positions. Buriram and Aragon confirmed that this was not a one-off, and despite Rea’s best efforts, he was again forced to be content with the second position.
Many of his fans set their faith on Round 4 at Assen – Rea’s favourite playground since joining WorldSBK. Yet after a stroke of misfortune in qualifying (and the Saturday snowstorm saga), he was faced with an uphill battle from eighth on the grid. Not only were the race wins just out of reach, but he was also beaten to the line in Race 2 by home hero Michael van der Mark.
Four rounds and 53 points down, a short-lived revival began at Imola with his first two wins of 2019, yet once again luck abandoned Rea with the cancellation of Race 2, denying him a possible hat-trick of wins.