You can take the boy out of motocross but you can’t take motocross out of the boy. That sums up World Superbike winner Jonathan Rea’s continued passion for the sport he grew up racing and dreaming of being World Champion in.
A former British Youth motocross champion Rea was a schoolboy prodigy right though his motocross career until, late in his teens, he made the switch to road racing. Hindsight has shown it was a pretty good decision with success upon success both in terms of racing results, media exposure and of course financially, despite admitting that he would still prefer to be Ricky Carmichael than Valentino Rossi!
Rea’s heart, like many road racers, still lies with motocross and now with his success on the circuits he is in a position to give back to the sport that he just can’t get away from.
After running a one man team for the last couple of years, Johnny stepped it up a level in 2012 and ran a two man team featuring multi time Irish and Ulster Champion Wayne Garrett in MX1 and up and comer Michael McCammond in MX2, with Wayne winning the 2012 Ulster MX1 Championship for the team despite a 12 month period of injuries.
We sat down with the now world famous team owner of the JAR Honda team at the British Championship to discuss the birth of the team and his passion for motocross
.Starting JAR Honda…
It was a brainchild in 2008, I saw that I could pull some sponsors together and help some kids.My dream was always to be a professional motocross rider, it never happened and now I race road racing. But that is fundamentally where kids can starts and it is a way to give something back.
We helped Tommy Fenwick for one year and that we had David Goosen, since that mid way through 2010 I looked after Michael McCammond, he was riding for another team at the time but I thought I could do things a lot better for him, I could build a better atmosphere around him to ride better.
Last year Michael done us proud back home. We thought we would stop British Championships for a year and try and win a championship for Honda, because there is a lot of KTM and Kawasaki support at home but there is no Honda support. So I went to try and represent Honda through my deal with Honda Europe. It worked out ok until Michael got injured in a round of the Ulster Championship. We sat the rest of the year out, I didn’t want to put anyone else on the bike.
We decided to grow things for this year and I spoke to Wayne directly after my last Superbike race at Magny Cours (in 2011). I remember it very well, I was driving to the airport and spoke to him for a long time. We met up again at Michael’s brother Philip’s wedding and spoke to him there and got everything set up.
Is your focus at home or the British Championship?
Our plan is to do British Championship but to really give Honda a title in Ireland. Our focus is at home because we can’t come here and expect to win, it’s just not realistic. But at home I think we have the right MX1 rider, and with both classes being combined now, I put Michael in MX2. I think that was a smart decision because it is a good championship to win, the 250f Honda is a strong bike and the 450 needs no introduction. For me it is basically a hobby now you know.
Did you expect Wayne to be riding already after such a short time off?
No, Back when we done the deal I expected him to be ready, but he had a setback before Christmas and had a further operation. But what he has been through and his determination, it shows why he is the best rider at home in Ireland right now.
Do you see some of yourself in him?
No, everyone is different, and that is the hardest part for me, to try and stand back and let everyone be different, instead of jumping in and saying I think you should be out walking the track or whatever. You need to stand back and let everyone be their own person because that’s why they are both great riders, it’s not because of me, I just give them the tools.
Last year you were very much involved, walking the tracking, cheering Michael on, your heart is very much in the sport.
Definitely, but this year we are very lucky in that we have Kenny and Davy on board. Kenny came with Wayne from his previous team, and that has taken a load off everyone so we can kind of run as a proper team, but we are all volunteers, nobody is making money out of the job we do it because we have a big heart and want to give back to the sport. For me it is a lot of hours but I want to show people back home that it doesn’t take a lot of money or a lot of effort to do things the right way. It just takes a little bit of time, a little bit of thought. We are trying to set a bit of a benchmark in Ireland , the Suzuki team years ago did it and it’s nice with our rivals AJ plumbing and the Kawasaki team to put a bit of effort in and to try and present things nicely. I know there is not a lot of money in it but I want to try and lift the sport at home. There are still the die hards like us there, and there are still the riders like Wayne and Michael, so I am trying to support that.
What about yourself, if you had stayed with motocross what level do you think you could have got to?
I have no idea, I know Martin Barr – it’s kind of weird because Martin was never my biggest rival when we raced against each other, my biggest rival was Robert Hamilton, at home anyway. But then somewhere around when I quit Martin’s career took off and Robert’s didn’t. So I don’t know where mine would be, it’s all about getting the right break and staying injury free – I don’t know to be honest.
Do you still wish you were out there?
That’s brutal, why would you want to put your body through that?! The thing about motocross is it’s real. I can jump in a plane tonight and put my feet up in my apartment. But in the real world these guys are driving through the night to get home, then going to work on Monday. Michael will be on the farm at six in the morning, and that’s real. That’s why Michael was first choice for me to have on the team. He is a family friend anyway but his work ethic is first class. You see, especially in Ireland where the sports not big, there are kids walking around the paddock with an entourage at fifteen/sixteen. Michael is milking cows at six in the morning before he goes to Donemana to go home and do it again. That’s dedication and he has got a big heart. That goes for Wayne too, we have worked very close with his mechanic on the bike and I think he is happy with it.
How much time are you able to put into the team with racing World Superbikes as well?
All winter we have been working with the mechanics, every day my inbox is full. It took so long to get the look of the bikes right with the art work because Honda Europe want to try and stay close to the stock look. You have to juggle all the sponsors and try to keep everybody happy and that’s the hardest job for me. My brother Richard is the team co-ordinator he helps a lot with the running things at home with the van and bringing everything together.
Is there any chance you will make a racing appearance yourself at an Irish or Ulster?
No definitely not, I am not fast enough now…I don’t think so anyway! I did a few races on the Isle of Man last year, enduro races, but I’m past it and I need to let it go! I couldn’t come back half hearted. If I came back, I raced bar to bar with Wayne at Desertmartin in 2001 on a 125, so I would be pissed off if I went to an Ulster championship and he lapped me! As a team manager I’m competitive but I know my days gone, I am not a motocross rider anymore but I enjoy it.
How would you compare road racing to motocross?
It is completely different, this is more physically demanding, but I would almost say in road racing you have to be fitter, your concentration level is higher, the range in laps time with these guys is maybe 3-5 seconds whereas on the roads mine will be within a second so that means hitting the same part of a corner right every single time. When you’re doing 200mph it takes a lot of concentration.
What can be done to make motocross more popular even amongst the road race fans?
A lot of people don’t like me or whatever because I’m trying to do things on a bigger scale, but I am motocross’ biggest fan. I would like to work with the governing bodies like the MRA and the clubs because I have been to proper organised events, even World motocross compared to World Superbike or MotoGP – it is completely different and I think I could help.
We need to sell motocross to the outside world, we need to get kids who watch football on a Saturday to come and watch these guys instead of kicking an air ball around! Road race fans like it because it’s a motorised bike, road bikes are maybe not as spectacular but it’s a different buzz. With motorbikes it’s the same target audience but we need to sell it to those outside that for people that are hanging about the street. Stop charging gate fees, try and pack out Desertmartin, there are people earning money out of it but they are not selling it.
Is it frustrating, because in motocross the rider can usually make up the difference but road racing it’s not always like that…
Yea It is a little bit like that, like in f1 if you are in a Force India you aren’t going to win, in a red bull car you have a good chance of winning, in motocross the athlete can make the different he is maybe 80% of the result although the bike, that’s what is good about motocross it is about the rider, these guys aren’t athletes they are warriors.
Interview by Jonathan McCready
Picture by Paul McCrea