WSBK: Jonathan Rea unmoved by Sykes hype as Phillip Island opener looms

World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea.
World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea.

Jonathan Rea isn’t reading anything into the pre-season hype surrounding his Kawasaki team-mate Tom Sykes as he focuses on making a flying start to the defence of his World Superbike title at Phillip Island in Australia this weekend.

Yorkshireman Sykes, soundly beaten by Rea in the 29-year-old Ulsterman’s debut season on the Ninja ZX-10R last year, has impressed during winter testing on the 2016 machine and is bristling with confidence after lapping consistently at the top of the time sheets.

The 2013 world champion will need little motivation in his quest to turn the tables on Rea after being forced to play second fiddle to the Ballyclare man last year and a mouth-watering clash between the pair is on the cards when the championship roars into life with race one on Saturday (4am GMT).

Rea has refused to be drawn into a war of words with Sykes, despite admitting his team-mate had ‘run his mouth a little’ during interviews in the off season, and is instead happy to do his talking on the track when the lights go out.

“It’s fine and I guess it’s as fine as you can imagine between two competitive team-mates,” said Rea of his relationship with the English rider.

“I have to remain really respectful to Tom because he’s a top rider; off the bike we don’t really keep in touch or anything but I don’t really do that with most of the riders.

“It’s nice to have a competitive team-mate because it really spurs on Kawasaki also and we both have our own qualities as riders, so hopefully we can develop the bike in a good way for many other riders,” he added.

“I’m reading stuff and he’s running his mouth a little bit but it’s press and journalism, so you can only read so much into it. I’m quite happy to concentrate on what I’m doing and the most important thing is to set the bikes up for the races and as my dad always said, when the lights go out and the flag drops, the talking stops.”

In a revised format this year, one race will be held on Saturday and one on Sunday, placing extra significance on Friday’s opening practice sessions.

“Friday is the most important day now because normally in a race weekend, the majority of the steps forward happen overnight when the engineers get the chance to sit down and understand the comments and match them with the data,” said Rea.

“We’re only really going to have Friday night now to understand that before we go into the race and we can’t learn very much from Superpole, because it’s basically just a time attack.

“I think this year, race one will be a learning curve for a lot of us.”