World Superbikes: Jonathan Rea targets record third title triumph

Jonathan Rea clinched his second world title in Qatar in October
Jonathan Rea clinched his second world title in Qatar in October

Jonathan Rea is eyeing a record third successive World Superbike crown as he begins a new season on his Kawasaki at Phillip Island, Australia this weekend.

Rea was second fastest in Friday's practice, narrowly behind Chaz Davies, while Eugene Laverty was 11th quickest.

The Northern Irishman is one of four riders to clinch back-to-back Superbike titles but is aiming to become the first to clinch three in a row.

"I'm thinking of this as a completely new challenge," said Rea, 30.

"I believe in our ability as a team, as a manufacturer and in myself as an individual."

Jonathan Rea will again be in Kawasaki colours for the 2017 season

Rea still lies two titles behind Carl Fogarty's record of four championship successes but will start this season as favourite after recording a phenomenal 46 podiums from his 52 races to date with Kawasaki.

The Isle of Man-based rider has already laid down a marker by topping this week's timesheets in the final pre-season outing at Phillip Island.

"I have to be clever, stay healthy and injury-free, and put a good season together," said Rea.

"I'm putting the thought of three championships to the back of my mind and just focusing on the first race. I have the right people behind me to help me with the job," he added.

Carl Fogarty on Jonathan Rea

The Ulsterman's main rival this season is expected to be Ducati-mounted Davies, given the strong manner in which the Welshman finished last season.

Rea's Kawasaki team-mate Tom Sykes and Italian Marco Melandri, another Ducati rider, will also hope to be in the mix.

Toomebridge rider Eugene Laverty is back in the series after two campaigns in the MotoGP paddock but is struggling to find a good set-up with his Milwaukee Aprilia.

Laverty is a twice former race winner at Phillip Island but faces an uphill struggle to secure a high leaderboard finish.

The first race of the new season will take place at 04:00 GMT on Saturday, with the second at the same time on Sunday.