As he works to get up to speed with Yamaha in World Superbike, Rea is also chasing history

The great Giacomo Agostini, a 15-time FIM Grand Prix world champion who won 122 races throughout his career from 1964 through ’77, is considered by many to be the single greatest motorcycle racer of all-time.

Jonathan Rea wants to match Ago’s record.

The six-time FIM Superbike world champion with 119 wins to his name, Rea, of the Pata Prometeon Yamaha World Superbike organization, aims to match the sensational Italian’s records, but must first look to hitting the podium for the first time in the season.

New to the Yamaha effort in 2024 after nine straight seasons with Kawasaki Racing, Rea made a profound off-season move when he switched to Yamaha to race its YZF-R1. The results have not been what the 36 year-old Northern Irishman is accustomed to. Due to sluggish performance, gremlins and straight-up misfortune, Rea has been nowhere near the podium. His best result from the opening three rounds has been a fifth in the Superpole race at Assen.


“It’s been tough for the last few months,” admitted Rea, who is counting the days to the next round at Misano in mid-June. “And with these gaps in the schedule, it is one of the biggest difficulties that I’m facing in changing teams. The calendar format this year has been so punishing and so have the World Superbike regulations on minimizing test days for the teams that have been strong last year. We started the season at Philip Island and then there was the gap to the second race at Barcelona and then there was another gap to Assen and then there is another gap to Misano. You know it’s been tough to find a bit of momentum. I mean, Assen was a decent turning point for us, but now we’re kind of waiting another five weeks to get on the bike again and race. We’ve got some tests planned in Italy in the next weeks, but nothing can prepare you or give you a yardstick like a race weekend.

“The waiting around is the tough part. Especially when you have areas to improve, you want to get back on the bike and get to work, really. There are limited days of testing. I mean my team is going testing two days in Cremona, the new circuit. Then we’ll test two days at Misano. However, with the test restrictions now, I can only use two and a half days in total for the rest of the year. So we’ve got to be clever in how we use them. I just need more time, man. I was with my previous team for so long and I love everything about the Yamaha R1, but I just need time. The team needs time, as well, to understand me and my riding style. There’s no doubt about it that we’ll get there, but it’s just a slow process. I want to run before we can walk, I feel like.”

For now, Rea has to focus on small gains and getting both he and the R1 up to speed.

“Yeah, 100-percent we need to look at small wins,” agreed Rea. “I hate lowering my expectations, but sometimes you have to take the small wins and be positive and be patient, as opposed to getting ruthless and making huge changes and trying to change the direction of the tide. I think things are going the right way and we just need to be patient and no doubt about it, it’s going to click into place soon.

“You know the bike is competitive. I feel like I’m at the best moment of my career, so I just need to wait for everything to click. It’s as much about the team understanding me as it is me understanding the new bike. I probably underestimated that before I made the change. Everybody at Yamaha is amazing, but it is just different. It’s probably like a golfer changing his caddie. Probably instinctively you don’t need to tell the caddie what club to pull out of the bag. The caddie just knows. I feel like I need to direct the ship at Yamaha a little bit more and work even closer to the crew, which I really love. Even in the harder moments this season, the atmosphere has been great. The team manager has been great. I feel a lot of support, but we’re not where we want to be. We want to be battling for the podium and race wins. It seems like we’re a little bit off that right now.

“And we can’t underestimate the competition in World Superbike right now,” noted Rea. “The manufacturer support there is phenomenal. I’ve been in this championship since 2009 with Ben Spies and Yamaha and Nori Haga and Carlos Checa and Ducati and Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri… I’ve seen all different eras of Superbike, but right now the manufacturer support from Honda, from Kawasaki, From Yamaha, Ducati, BMW… It’s just unbelievable. It really is.

“In MotoGP they still spend the big money, but it’s more about marketing and to showcase their brand. In Superbike, they’re trying to sell road bikes and they’re trying to sell exactly what they build. What you can buy now in the showroom is incredible. That’s all derived from what we race, so it is very, very competitive. If you’re slightly off on your race weekend, you’re nowhere. You have to be on you’re A game and with everything working perfectly just to be competitive. Like I say, no doubt we’re going to get there, but it’s taking more time than I really expected.”

Rea then spoke to where Yamaha is looking and exploring to enhance the R1’s performance character.

“The biggest thing is confidence and trust in our electronic system,” he said. “Nowadays, we have more than 220-odd horsepower and you’re trying to put that to the ground. That’s huge. We spend so much time with fuel mappings and traction control and wheelie control and engine braking, and I know it is there, but it just hasn’t clicked with me so far to fully grab this bike by the scruff of the neck and grit my teeth. I can ride fast and I can ride close to the limit, but to take liberties with the bike and to get stuck in, I’m just missing that last little bit.

“In the next couple of tests we have a big plan to try some quite different things with our electronics. We want to try different ideas and different software and the team is pushing hard. They really trust me and they’re leaning on my experience, as well.

“I really love the bike. I love the chassis, I love the engine character. We could do with a little bit more power, but generally, I love the bike. I just need to make it mine. In the next few races, Misano and Donington, I want to be on the podium, for sure. That’s the next goal. I think we’re a bit off winning, but I think if we can get on the podium, that will be a good weekend.”

Still, the opportunity to put his name alongside the great Giacomo Agostini with more wins remains a strong motivator.

“I’m equal on FIM world championship race wins with Giacomo Agostini and that’s a big goal of mine to try and take that record. That would be huge for me,” he said. “Winning a race is definitely a longer-term focus in the next couple of races. It’s just about getting more comfortable with the bike and trying to fight for the podium. If we can do that more consistently, then race wins is the next goal.”

Story originally appeared on Racer