The sun has set on 2023’s season, and Jonathan Rea’s stint with Kawasaki, with the six-time Champion’s final day in green not ending the way it deserved to
On the 3rd November, 2014, one of WorldSBK’s biggest announcements was made; Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) moved to KRT and would finally be able to showcase his potential after many years with Honda never quite produced a title charge. Nearly nine years to the day, the partnership has reached the end. Six titles, 104 wins and countless memories later, Rea signed off his KRT chapter with a solid showing at the Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto – the same venue in which the first of six consecutive titles were secured – feeling like the KRT era as come full circle for the #65. A special helmet was unveiled for his final day aboard the ZX-10RR and what an emotional rollercoaster it was.
THE FINAL GREEN DAY: Rea’s Kawasaki farewell as it happened
After a fourth place on the grid was backed up with a fourth place in Race 1, Rea was fired up for a podium charge in the Superpole Race. Again, going from fourth place, the ten-lap battle offered arguably the best opportunity for him to get his ZX-10RR inside the top three or even fight for victory, considering he was right up behind 2023 World Champion Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) on Lap 1 in Race 1. He was fighting for a podium with long-time rival Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) in which the two exchanged positions some seven times in three laps, eventually going the way of the #65.
When Race 2 burst into life, emotions were in full swing – the final hurrah in green. Rea blasted into the lead and began pulling away from his rivals; it seemed like it would be a vintage-style win for the perfect end to his time with Kawasaki. However, a crash at Turn 2 on Lap 5 meant that the dream closure was now over. Determined as ever, Rea remounted but there would be no points on offer, not the way he nor his KRT outfit deserved to mark the end of nine record-breaking years. Finishing 17t at the flag, Rea was received with an enormous reception in front of his Kawasaki box, with his crew and family both sharing a moment.
IN HIS WORDS: “We didn’t go down without a fight… it’s been a whirlwind journey”
Talking about his final race in Kawasaki colours, Rea said: “Strange feelings overall to be honest, not from a performance or results side but because I’m leaving an incredible team. My last day in green and that’s what is strange. Obviously, not the result I wanted to finish off with for my team, they deserved a lot better. What we did prove was that the Ninja ZX-10RR still has potential and up until that point of the race, I felt quite in control with a really good rhythm. There were times when I was like ‘ooof, I’ve got a magic tyre’! The bike was hooking up well and going forwards. Pere made a bold decision to make an incredible change, something quite big on the bike that we wanted to try. We didn’t go down without a fight and it was really frustrating to lose the front. Potentially, I could have just gave up the corner a bit, I was a bit fast on entry but I tried to pull it down and with too much lean angle, I was down.
“I wanted to finish the race as it would be too easy to pull in. My footpeg had broken off and my handlebar bent forward but I was still able to lap in the 1’41s. It makes me even more disappointed with what could’ve been but that was our race. It sums up the highs and lows we’ve had this year; some incredible highs but difficult moments but it can’t darken the moments I’ve had at KRT. It’s been a whirlwind journey and something I’ll never forget.”
REFLECTION AND FORWARD THINKING: one chapter closes, another one beckons
“It’s been an incredible partnership,” said a reminiscent Rea. “I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to join the team and on track or off track, they’ve been fantastic. They have had my back in tougher moments and supported me in the great days, so the consecutive winning might continue in the future but it was like living a dream for six years and going to work, risking our life, putting everything on the line but it was fun. It was fun with these people with a great manufacturer and I wish them all the best in the future with the effort and attention that they put in.”
Talking about what is next, Rea now has the mental space to look ahead into 2024 with Yamaha: “It’s something I can start to think about now; of course, before, my focus was completely with Kawasaki until the very last lap of the race but now, I can allow myself to think about the next chapter but before we do that, I want to enjoy this time. I’m going to have a great team dinner tonight with all my crew and it’s not goodbye. These people are my friends and will be around forever. We’ll be neighbours next year; they have some really nice hospitality so I hope I’m still invited for dinner.”