I hate to say it, but my love for World Superbikes hasn’t got any stronger in recent years. And I know I’m not the only one. I put it down to one thing; the fact that Jonathan Rea just seems to be consistently that little bit better than the opposition. Or sometimes, a lot better. Don’t get me wrong, there’s sometimes decent racing in WSBK, but it’s seldom for the lead. It’s a real shame. And whilst winning six out of six World Championships in a row is an incredible achievement, and one that Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki ought to be jolly proud of, I feel like it just goes to show that the pairing is in a bit of a league of its own. Which isn’t a good thing if you’re a World Superbike fan.
But what’s the difference between Jonathan Rea dominating in WSBK and Marc Marquez dominating in MotoGP? I know MM93 hasn’t done so since 2019, but only because he’s raspberry rippled himself; he still won five out of the last six MotoGP Championships. Well, the difference is really very simple, MotoGP is the absolute pinnacle of the sport. The Peak. The upper apex. The zenith, so to speak. Which means World Superbikes is not.
Let me explain what I’m getting at by way of an analogy. Imagine you had a shit-hot darts player going from pub to pub throwing triple 20 after triple 20. He makes everybody else look daft and is easily good enough to be chucking arrows around next to the likes of Phil Taylor and Eric Bristow down at the Ally Pally in front of hundreds of pissed-up, novelty hat wearing darts fans. You’d tell the lad to step up to the Premier League, wouldn’t you? Never mind chasing MBE’s and ruining everyone else’s fun; get yourself up there with the big boys and let’s see what you can really do… if you’re so brilliant.
Marc Marquez has been pretty dominant in GPs, but there’s nowhere else for him to go. The same can’t really be said about Jonathan Rea.
Please don’t mistake my ‘venting’ for slagging Mr Rea off. I like the bloke, and I consider what he has done to be nothing short of remarkable. He’s an incredible rider, and definitely one of the best in the world. But he’s only ‘one of’ the best in the world, and until I see him win a MotoGP race, I’m afraid that’s all he’ll ever be.
So, what’s stopping him moving on up? Contracts? Yes, it’s fair to say that whilst he’s contracted to Kawasaki who, if memory serves me, haven’t had a bike on the MotoGP grid since 2009 (I just checked, memory does serve me), he’s not going to get a look in. But he didn’t have to re-sign his contract with Kawasaki at the end of 2018, if he’d of fancied a change. And you can bet your bottom dollar that there would have been other offers on the table. Maybe not for a factory team, but he’d have got a ride in GPs if he’d have wanted one.
Is it that he’s not fast enough? Well he was certainly fast enough in 2012 when he stood in for an injured Casey Stoner at Aragon on the Repsol Honda; he only went and finished in 7th, one place in front of a certain Valentino Rossi. Yes, the pace has improved in GPs since then, but I don’t think for a second he would embarrass himself amongst the MotoGP contemporaries.
Is it because he’s too settled in WSBK, and with Kawasaki? I think so, yes. I think he knows how to get the very best from a ZX-10RR, he works well with his team and most importantly, he knows how to win World Superbike races. He’s in his comfort zone. And whilst I don’t think for a nano-second that the job of any professional sportsman (or sportswoman) is easy, it seems to me (and I’m sure plenty of others) that the lad isn’t pushing himself, striving to get to the next level of his sport; the way a true sportsperson should.
But maybe that’s exactly it. Maybe this ‘Professional Sportsman’ is more ‘professional’ than he is ‘sportsman’. Maybe it’s got to the point where it’s just a job, and he’s going to milk the Kawasaki cash-cow for all it’s worth. He’s a family man after all, so you can’t blame him for wanting to provide for his wife and kids. I know he likes to get his family involved with as much travel as possible, so that they can be with him when he’s racing, and changing jobs would certainly have the potential to upset that applecart; more rounds, more travel, a different paddock and, crucially, a new employer. Plus many more ‘unknowns’ to have to deal with. And maybe that’s too much like hard work.
I don’t know if we’ll ever see Jonathan Rae on a MotoGP bike again but I hope we do. I’d love to see him on a GP podium and I genuinely believe that, on the right bike, it’s possible. But more than that, I want him to prove me wrong. I want him to show me, and the rest of the world, that he’s a true sportsman, and that bike racing isn’t just his ‘job’; earn your seat on the ‘Sports Personality of the Year’ table. Get out of your comfort zone and strive to be the very best in the world. Not just the best on a Superbike.