Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Rea received a hero’s welcome as he returned back to Northern Ireland on Wednesday afternoon after winning a record fifth World Superbike title.
Rea wrapped up the championship somewhat sooner than expected at Magny-Cours in France on Sunday after nearest rival Alvaro Bautista crashed out in the final race.
Kawasaki star Rea needed to seal victory to guarantee the title ahead of the final two rounds this month in Argentina and Qatar and he rose to the occasion, fending off Dutch rider Michael van der Mark to record his 12th victory of the 2019 season.
With Rea not anticipating his crowning moment until the penultimate championship round in Argentina at least, his family were not present in France to savour the moment, but his wife Tatia and the couple’s young boys Jake and Tyler greeted him with hugs and kisses at Belfast International Airport.
A large crowd of fans turned out for the world champion’s homecoming and Rea, who flew straight to Ibiza following his title success to attend his brother Richard’s stag party, said the enormity of what he has achieved has yet to sink in.
“I don’t think it will ever sink in but it kind of puts things in perspective when you land back to so many people. I’m a bit stuck for words and that’s not normal,” he said.
“I get to do my job inside a little helmet and you feel quite protected in your working environment but here, back home in Belfast, I thought it might be a bit more low-key this year, but it’s quite a big deal!”
Rea admitted he has contemplated retirement but the 32-year-old believes he still has plenty left in the tank and can further enhance his legacy as the greatest rider ever in the history of World Superbikes.
“I had thought about retirement and what I would do afterwards but right now I can’t see it; I’m just having fun, I’m competitive and I’m enjoying riding my bike,” Rea said.
“We’ll take things year by year now but I’m looking forward to the challenge of 2020.”