Jonathan Rea is counting the days to the opening round of the 2016 World Superbike Championship after completing the final European winter test at Motorland Aragon in Spain this week.
The factory Kawasaki rider and team-mate Tom Sykes missed out on track time on day one of the two-day test on Wednesday due to high winds, but finally had the opportunity on Thursday to compare the data gained at the previous Spanish test at Jerez last week.
Reigning world champion Rea, who flew to Belfast in between his pre-season commitments to attend the Cornmarket Irish Motorcyclist of the Year awards, will have one final two-day test at Phillip Island from February 22-23 as he puts the finishing touches to his Ninja ZX-10R before officially commencing the defence of his title Down Under on Saturday, February 27.
“Today we tried out different spec front forks and rear shocks and we changed the engine character a little bit,” said Rea.
“The information we gained we can look at over the next week to make sure we arrive at Phillip Island in good shape. We will have two good days on track in Phillip Island, which gives us more time before the races start.
“I am excited to go there because I have good memories from last year, but it also feels like home. I am just looking forward to putting everything together and having a proper race weekend,” he added.
“That is what we are all working toward so it is an exciting time right now.”
Rea made a dream start to his Kawasaki career in 2015 with a magnificent win in race one at Phillip Island to earn his maiden triumph at the legendary circuit.
It was a sign of things to come as Rea, who celebrated his 29th birthday on Tuesday, went on to claim a total of 14 victories and 23 podiums as he dominated the championship.
However, the Ulster star has a fight on his hands to retain his crown this year, with Yorkshireman and 2013 champion Sykes surely smarting after being comprehensively beaten by Rea last season.
Championship runner-up Chaz Davies also poses a threat on the Aruba.it Ducati along with team-mate Davide Giugliano, while former MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden and Michael van der Mark head a strong line-up for Rea’s former Ten Kate Honda team.
Yamaha also returns to the championship, with 2014 champion Sylvain Guintoli and British rider Alex Lowes eager to make their presence felt on the YZF-R1.
Exciting Spanish prospect Jordi Torres, who rode for Aprilia last season, is also a dark horse on the Althea BMW while British Superbike champion Josh Brookes is an intriguing addition to the series on the Milwaukee BMW.
In a new format introduced this season, one race each will be held on Saturday and Sunday at each round, with the championship blasting off at Phillip Island proper on Saturday, February 27.