James Whitham: Rea is the WorldSBK GOAT, no question

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Picture: Impact Images

Does Jonathan Rea’s remarkable achievement in winning five world championships make him the best Superbike rider in the history of the class? Well, I think it’s a fair accolade but trying to work out who was the best across different eras is something that no one has been able judge properly.

There are those who would say that past years have been more competitive or that sometimes a bike which is particularly dominant has made the difference. What I would say is that in all conditions and across all circuits Jonathan tends to get the best out of his bike and he’s done that now for five years. Nobody else has done that and it’s not just five championships in total it’s five on the bounce. So for me he’s done better than anybody else ever has.

But what of the others? If Kocinski had stayed in the championship he might have won two or three but he only won one, and if you speak to Foggy he’ll tell you that little John only won that because he was particularly good in the wet and 1997 was a wet year.

Carl’s dogged determination and bloody-mindededness was as important as his skill on a bike in winning his four championships. Corser probably had the talent to win more than his two. Doug Polen dominated the series in ’91 and ’92 on the Ducati and yet struggled on the Honda.

And you can’t talk about great champions without mentioning Troy Bayliss. Hard a copper’s knock and up against Colin Edwards on works Hondas.

Jonathan’s consistency and his ability to get the best out of a bike, a situation and a condition every single time makes him stand out. And this year has been a prime example. At the beginning of the season he couldn’t win. Bautista was dominant and he had to finish second which he didn’t like but when the Spanish rider started making a few mistakes those second places gave him a position from which to capitalise.

I am sure that Foggy and Scott Russell or maybe Polen or Corser would argue that maybe he’s had the best bike for some of his titles but I am sure he wouldn’t agree. And who’s to say that Foggy didn’t have a dominant bike for one or two of his years. He might also not agree and would no doubt say it was all to do with ability - as I’m sure I would if I was in that position.

But if you take it in the round you must conclude that Jonathan Rea is the best ever in that championship. And I think he can continue for the next few of years if he wants to. Why not? He likes doing it, it’s not physically too much stress for him and its not like it was in GPs in the days of Schwantz and Rainey or Doohan, Gardner and Spencer.

Their bikes were so difficult to get right that by the time they got to 25 they were limping round the paddock like buckled wheels. Now, as I said last week, circuits are a lot safer and riders go on a lot longer. Anyway, whenever he decides to hang the leathers up he won’t be short of things to do.

The great pity, following this momentous achievement, is that Jonathan is not getting the recognition he deserves outside of the motorcycle media and Irish newspapers. Apart from the odd little paragraph in one or two national newspapers there was nothing.

He has been unfortunate to get into WorldSBK when while still a difficult championship to win it doesn’t have the kudos or credibility it once had. And that’s a sad thing but a lot of that is down to constant rule and format changes so people didn’t know what they were watching. Happily it seems to be getting its mojo back and most of the racing at Magny-Cours was fantastic, the best in years.

But to repeat what I said last week it really annoys me that someone with a heap of talent and a lot of determination and doing something very exciting and a tad dangerous are not getting the recognition they deserve. While other people can become very famous for doing absolutely nothing other than maybe taking their clothes off on a desert island dating show. Foggy got more column inches in the national papers and appeared on more TV shows (Celebrity Squares, Through The Keyhole, etc) for eating grubs in the jungle than he ever did for all his hard-won 59 Superbike race wins.

One thing about Jonathan Rea, in a paddock full of good people, he is a really good person and a particularly good role model for kids and young people. In fact, he is squeaky clean. If you want to be really famous, outside of motorcycling, perhaps that’s part of the problem!

I’m sure he doesn’t see it as a problem at all though. In fact, I’m sure he doesn’t give a shit. He’s happy enough having the ability to ride a motorcycle the way few people have over the years.