If a good day starts in the morning, then Jonathan Rea can consider himself to be a happy man. After 9 years with Kawasaki, his new adventure with Yamaha began today in Jerez and from the smiles he spreads, you can imagine how it went. Even the stopwatch reassured him: 4th quickest time despite just 12 laps on the R1. It seems that it was love at first sight between the Briton and the Iwata bike.
“I can finally talk about it - he laughed - This morning I was very nervous to understand how I would feel on the bike, if I would be fast, all the different information I would have. After the first outing, I was sure that even the smallest doubt had disappeared, I already felt at home. It was very strange to be in that garage and I didn't know how it would go on the track but, when I left the pit lane and put my knee on the ground at the second corner, it was as if I was on my bike. There are only a couple of small things to sort out, the position of the dashboard and that of the brake lever were not perfect, but with each outing I felt more and more comfortable."
Has the Yamaha lived up to its reputation as an easy bike?
“There are bikes that are friendlier than others, with which it is easy to lap within a second of the race pace, but being fast is always the most difficult thing. I like the character of the Yamaha engine, it adapts to my riding style, it has linear delivery. It is clear that the riders and test riders did a good job on this bike, but I already knew this because I often followed it on the track. On Saturday I smiled when Locatelli passed me a few laps before the end of the race because I was thinking that was what I wanted: a less tiring bike in the final laps. Riding the R1 I understood why Toprak rides like that, because the bike has good potential at the end of the race. It's only the beginning, we need to continue working and doing laps, but it was a very positive start."
Where did you start from?
“I started from a base that many Yamaha riders use, a set-up that the technicians thought could work for me. I didn't touch it, I just made some adjustments for the riding position."
You even had a first crash...
“At the last corner I had Biaggi in front, I went wide, onto a patch of damp asphalt, and immediately fell. In that corner, as in the first, second and fifth, the conditions were not perfect. Then it started to rain and we decided not to use the half day in the afternoon. If it rains tomorrow then it might be useful to test in the wet."
It seems that it’s a bike that's right for you.
“We'll see, it's only the first contact. I'm sure that when I reach the limit of the bike I'll start complaining about something, but now everything is new and I'm far from exploiting the full potential. I will have to change my style, try to be comfortable, tomorrow I will start making some changes to the set-up. I'll proceed step by step, there's a lot of time between now and the first race at Phillip Island, there's no need to rush."
Before starting, did you ask Locatelli for some advice?
“We only spoke to each other this morning, but as friends, it was important to have the first sensations with a clear mind. I spoke to Canepa in the garage and he was very helpful, we have already started comparing my data with those of the other riders. Yamaha's strength is having a satellite team with fast riders and this is useful for development."
Does seeing Toprak's data also help?
“Of course, it may be useful to also compare myself with him in some areas and I have already done so, he has been the most successful rider with Yamaha in recent times. I saw that in some points I'm faster than him, in others I have to improve. I will compare myself with any rider who is fast on the R1, including Ray and Baldassarri, this type of communication is a benefit for everyone."
This morning your old team greeted you in the pit lane, did you feel sad?
“I had some sad moments when I made the decision to leave them because they were my family for 9 years, you can't avoid certain feelings. When I made this change in my head, I felt very positive and I immediately understood that I had found another family in Yamaha. I wasn't sad this morning when they said hello to me, but happy and I wish them the best, especially my team."
You also had to leave Riba, your historic crew chief.
“The relationship with Pere was incredible, I have often said that. I have excellent feelings with Andrew Pitt, great respect for him, but of course he will need time to better understand my comments. The relationship is already good, plus he was a rider so he can understand my mentality, not just the technical aspects and he did a great job with Locatelli. Today I only see positive aspects."
Does Yamaha seem to you to be a more racing-oriented manufacturer than Kawasaki?
“It's difficult to compare, I’ve just arrived. As I said before, I think Yamaha's strong point is that development is done in Europe and that it has a lot of data coming from fast riders. At Kawasaki I understood how difficult it was with only two official bikes on the track, it's a different working method and I like it."
Is there a chance that you might race the Suzuka 8 Hours with the R1 in the future?
“We haven't talked about it, but I love Suzuka. We don't know what will happen in the future."