Sepang was always expected to be a difficult track for the Honda and it seems to have been a struggle today for you?
Yeah, it seems that the grip level is so low that it really highlights our problem with power delivery. We’re struggling with engine braking as well so it’s been frustrating weekend so far and I think that the grip level of the circuit isn’t making it easy for us to get ahead. When the grip level is low the bike handles awful because it doesn’t feel stable and the tyres are always moving around a little bit. That’s our main problem right now and our pace is better than our qualifying pace but for sure we aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and challenge for the podium. We need to do a better job in qualifying.
What’s the goal for tomorrow?
I think that the top four or five guys are really strong but I think that I could be in the mix for the battle for fifth or sixth place. It looks like the three Aprilia’s and the two Kawasaki’s are really performing well so I’m hoping to be the next in the queue. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out though because I’m coming from the fourth row so it’s going to be tough.
What do you think of WSBK this year? One race a guy has the pace to win and the next he’s down the field, how competitive is WSBK right now?
It’s so competitive. Each manufacturer has their strengths and it presents opportunities to shine. As a package it seems the Kawasaki is the most rounded package but I also know that when our bike is working well we can challenge and I’ve won three races this year, both in the wet and dry, and that makes it even more frustrating to have a tough weekend.
Looking at the last few years there hasn’t been a new Fireblade so you’ve effectively been running around on older and older bikes how tough is that for you to deal with knowing what you’ve been capable of doing in the past?
Yeah it’s tough because every year we expect to be better and better but we’ve got the same base bike. The team has done a fantastic job and over the last few years the electronics are the main area we could improve because we’ve got the same base chassis and engine. Every year we’ve tried to invest more in electronics and this year we really have a better package, especially with Traction Control. It’s taken us a long time to get our engine braking strategies consistent but as a base it’s a much better bike. It’s frustrating though not to have brand new model to work with but I made the decision to stay so we’ve got to make this bike the best that we can.
What is your contract situation? Are you available at the end of the year?
The last few years I’ve only signed one year contracts.
There was talk of moving to the Open Honda in MotoGP before you broke your leg last year, is that something that you’d be interested in doing?
I’ve been in contact with Honda quite a lot. It’s a tough decision because you go there to battle for tenth, on a good day, on an Open Honda or you can be in this paddock and race for race wins like I’m doing. For me the wins are more motivating but my dream has always been to be in MotoGP so it’s a balancing act of waiting to see if I ever get the opportunity and to sit down with the people around me and see.
You had the opportunity a couple of years ago to fill in for Casey for a couple of races. What did you think of racing in MotoGP as opposed to WSBK?
All the guys there have two arms and two legs like me. To watch that class and hear the prestige means that it’s built up to be more than it was. I went in halfway through a season when everybody was up to speed and I didn’t disgrace myself with a 7th and an 8th. So I know that the level of MotoGP is high but it’s not a completely different planet to WSBK. I really enjoyed to ride for the factory Honda team and it was unbelievable. I might not have had a season but I’ll have Repsol-Honda leathers in my collection forever and that’s really cool. I’ve got a great relationship with Honda and it was thanks to them that I got the permission to ride in MotoGP and carry on riding in WSBK. I’ve to thank my team for giving me the permission to go and do that and then for Honda for the opportunity but it just whetted my appetite for more.
Would you only go to MotoGP full time with a factory team?
I’d have to see because it’s not as simple as that. If you work at Jonathan Rea Computers and you’re the managing director and you’re earning a decent wage and Apple comes and offers you a job as a runner for free. There’s so many options and different teams offering things. I feel that in WSBK I’m really wanted and Honda for the past few seasons have demonstrated that by the negotiations being handled very fairly. My requests have been met, not financially but from a technical point of view and having the right staff behind me, so I really like the fact that we work together. It seems that when I’ve negotiated with other teams that it’s seems to have been very one sided and you don’t feel that warmth to make big career decision.
Is that what gives you the loyalty towards Honda because presumably there’s been plenty of opportunities to go elsewhere?
Last year was probably the closest [to leave] and I had some very good options but when I sat down with Ronald Ten Kate, and I was very open with him that I was negotiating with others, but we had a final conversation and I remember that he was demonstrating how much he wanted me to stay. I don’t regret for one second deciding to stay here because I’ve had the best start to a year in WSBK that I’ve ever had. We’re not at the halfway point yet but we’re second in the championship, have led the championship and have already had three race wins. I know that I’ve made the right decision to stay but I know that at times like this when it gets tough that we’ve got to make the best out of what we can do. We’ve got two circuits next, Misano and Portimao, that should suit us. I’ve had good results there in the past so we’ll see.
Did having your first child last year play into your decision to stay with Honda? Did you feel that moving teams would have been too much of a change?
No, definitely not. If I’d made a different decision at the end of last year it’s not as if I’d have had to move house or anything. I’ve got a motorhome with all my kit and together with Kev, my PR and motorhome driver, and my family we travel around and move on to the next town.
You’re living on the Isle of Man, were you home for any of the TT races?
I was home for the first Superbike race but then had to come here on the Supersport Monday. It was good though and I went around the track and watched it which was pretty cool. I love the TT and everything that it stands for. It’s historic from back in the day but for me it’s the motorcycle equivalent of a music festival and the atmosphere is buzzing. I live there and it’s a beautiful place when the TT isn’t there but it’s an amazing place when it is. The atmosphere comes alive and the streets are bustling so it’s cool and I always enjoy it.
What was your family’s history in racing?
My grandfather sponsored Joey Dunlop, he was the Rea Racing Yamaha, and my father won a TT in 1989 as well as Ulster GP’s and many Ulster and Irish championships. For me though road racing isn’t a box that I’m interesting in ticking. For me it’s two different sports, it’s like football and rugby. They both use a ball but they’re completely different.
You’d never be interested in trying it?
No, not at all. I’d like to do the parade lap because I know my way around the circuit but doing it competitively isn’t really something that I’m interest in…maybe on a bicycle!
When you look at yourself, the Laverty’s and Jack Kennedy what do you think is the reason that Ireland has produced five world class riders in the last ten years?
Ireland’s always had a talent pool with Joey riding high at the world championship level, and not just on the roads, Jeremy McWilliams and Adrian Coates had good success at World Championship level. In my ear we’ve had a lot with myself, Eugene and Jack all similar ages and doing respectable jobs. I’m not really sure why it’s happened with both John and Michael having respectable careers and Alistair Seeley doing a great job as well. It’s tough because I don’t want to seem like I’m slagging off where I come front but the governing bodies in Ireland have never done anything special for me. You see a many other countries with a small number of top riders and the governing bodies and the sports councils really push the riders to the front. In Ireland that was never the case for me anyway. I was lucky that I got opportunities across the water and I don’t know if it’s small country syndrome but I feel that when you had to make that trip across the water every weekend to race that it’s not easy, it’s a slog, that you make many sacrifices and maybe that makes you a bit tougher than the English guys that maybe only had to travel a few hours to a circuit to race. It was a big commitment by me and my family to go racing in the British championship. I started circuit racing in 2003 but from 1997 it was all that I knew from the British Motocross championship. It’s not like any of fluked our way to where we are with luck so it’s good to see.
Does it frustrate you that you can have a great weekend but it will get only small coverage at home, like when you had your double win at Imola?
There was pieces on BBS News and there was some good coverage in the papers but Ireland is quite traditional about its road racing and that’s respected a lot more than what myself, Eugene and Jack are doing. I don’t read too much into it and I don’t race because of that. I like everything that comes from being a top rider but I live in the Isle of Man with my family and they support me as one of their own over there and the coverage in the Isle of Man is great and if I have a good race I’ll be on the back page of the Manx Independent. It’s tough though because it’s a minority sport in Ireland. Motorcyle racing isn’t that well promoted in Ireland and because we don’t have an international circuit that you can bring a world championship to it struggles to be in people’s faces. Ireland’s an emotional place and if something has an emotional attachment to it the people want to watch it and see it so I don’t think that I’m going to change the countries perspective on my sport but in the grand scheme of things I’m happy that when you take them out of Ireland, unless you’re Johnny Evans playing for Man Utd, that it’s a small place. Whereas the likes of myself, Eugene and Jack won’t be shouted about in the living rooms of Northern Ireland that our sport gets promoted worldwide quite well.