New World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea says he never gave up on his childhood dream of reaching the top in motorcycle racing.
The 28-year-old finished fourth in the opening race at Jerez in Spain on Sunday to wrap up the title after a dominant campaign.
Rea has won 12 races this season after switching to Kawasaki from Honda, finishing on the rostrum 20 times in total to leave the opposition trailing in his wake.
The Ballyclare man has come a long way from his early days as a budding schoolboy motocross rider to become Northern Ireland’s first motorcycling world champion since 1986.
“Anybody that has won a championship has not just arrived in that one championship,” said Rea.
“Everyone has faced adversity and hard times and come a long way. But since I have been five years old I have been competing in schoolboy motocross.
“So I feel like I have been riding competitively for such a long time. I came into the world championships at 20, quite young, but I feel like I have been racing bikes competitively for years and years, so I feel like it has taken me a little longer to achieve that goal,” he added.
“The good thing about it is that as a kid with a dream, I never gave up on my dream. I just kept believing in myself.
“It has been all nice and ‘limelighty’ at times, but there have been countless hours and days and weeks spent in hospital rooms or physio rooms or with trainers,” Rea added.
“I feel like I have faced enough injuries already so it also feels nice to have a season like this because it certainly makes up for the hard times that nobody really sees.”
Rea says the most special part of his championship-winning season has been the success of his partnership with new team Kawasaki and his maiden triumph at Phillip Island in February.
“The most special thing… was joining Kawasaki and a team that had been so successful over the past few seasons, sharing a garage with one of the strongest riders in World Superbike [Tom Sykes],” said Rea.
“To come out and win the first race at Phillip Island… that is a feeling and memory that I will take with me for a long time.
“That felt amazing so from that point on every weekend - where even if we couldn’t qualify on the front row, or even the second row – because we have qualified in seventh or eighth position, we still won quite a few races.
“It is a testament to all the hard work that not just Pere Riba my crew chief, or Paolo Marchetti my electronics guy, but all the mechanics put into making sure we have a package that works,” he added.
“It is proof that the Ninja ZX-10R is, if not the best one, then certainly one of the best packages right now on the grid.”