Nine fantastic seasons with six titles and GOAT status, Rea’s Kawasaki time has been full of highs
The sun has set on the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship and thus on one of the most iconic motorsport partnerships. Whilst the title race was decided ahead of him and went the way of Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati), Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) danced his final dance in green and what a journey it has been, although it perhaps didn't end the correct way with a crash from the lead in Race 2. We look back on a stunning era below, with plenty of hair-raising moments in the history books.
RIGHT FROM THE START: spinning his first laps in 2014
People said that Rea’s first laps on the Kawasaki at an Aragon test in November were like watching a kid in a sweetshop or at Christmas; his pace was clear for all to see from the start, with him even saying himself: “I’m very excited, the initial impressions are quite positive and I’m enjoying it.” Plenty of tests later, Rea was the favourite for the season ahead and what would follow was breath-taking.
The Rea-KRT partnership started in style with a sensational first win in Australia on his Kawasaki debut, beating Aprilia’s Leon Haslam on an epic final lap. The season would roll on and Rea would take his first crown with five races to spare at Jerez – where the chapter will close. 14 wins for a whole season at the end and the birth of a rivalry with Chaz Davies, the Rea-era had only just begun.
After battles with Davies in 2015, they continued at the start of 2016 at Phillip Island, where Rea made it a double to start the year. More success came and whilst he was caught by teammate Tom Sykes and Ducati’s Davies and the title going to the last race of the year, Rea had it all under control to become the first British rider to take back-to-back titles since Carl Fogarty in 1998 and 1999.
Despite a new rule in the reverse grids for Race 2, meaning the winner of Race 1 would start P9, Rea was still able to overcome a new challenge and take the title with two rounds remaining, the first of three titles achieved at Magny-Cours. Bigger than that however; whilst Rea joined Carl Fogarty and Troy Bayliss as triple Champions, he was the first rider ever in World Superbike to do it consecutively.
Coming into the season injured, perhaps the opposition had the initial jump on Rea; Marco Melandri took the last two wins of his career at the season-opening Phillip Island event but Rea wasn’t taking it lying down. He came back with a bang, surpassing Carl Fogarty as the rider with most wins at Brno before going on to win the last 11 races, setting a new record for straight wins a season. The title was sorted at Magny-Cours with the iconic card celebration – although no joker could derail his efforts.
Rookie Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) arrived to WorldSBK with great gusto, destroying the opposition in the opening 11 races of the season to match Rea’s record of the year before. However, Rea was back to winning at Imola but the gap was still 61 ahead of Jerez’s Race 2. Bautista crashed at the following four rounds, blew his Championship lead whilst Rea stormed to the title against the odds, clinching it at Magny-Cours.
Nobody thought it at the time but 2020 would be Rea’s last title in green; he started the season with a crash at Phillip Island and had to fight rookie Scott Redding on Ducati, Yamaha’s Toprak Razgatlioglu and KRT teammate Alex Lowes in the early stages of 2020. However, Rea dug deep, won more races, capitalised on opposition mistakes and on WorldSBK’s Estoril return, bagged his last title (for now).
From a last lap showdown – later decided in the Stewards’ room – at Magny-Cours – to a stunning opening lap battle in Barcelona’s Superpole Race, Rea and Razgatlioglu left nothing on track. We got what we deserved: a master vs apprentice showdown at the brand-new Mandalika venue in Indonesia, where the title went to Toprak. For Rea, the highlight of 2021 was the 100th win of his WorldSBK career at the season-opening Aragon round, the first rider to achieve this in WorldSBK.
With Bautista back at Ducati after two years at Honda and Razgatlioglu with the #1 on Yamaha, 2022 was the greatest hits of the three years previous. For Rea, Estoril was as an instant highlight as he stormed to a Sunday double, beating Razgatlioglu in the Superpole Race and resisting Bautista’s offensive in Race 2 in a final lap classic. Astonishingly, Race 2 remains Rea’s last dry-race win.
2023’S STRUGGLES TO STRATEGIC MASTERCLASS: another venue ticked off on the win list
2023 hasn’t been Jonathan Rea’s season. Bautista and Ducati elevated the level and Razgatlioglu at times seemed the only one who could go with the Spaniard. For Rea, a first dry podium didn’t come until Assen at the third round but it would be Most where the scenes of celebration burst through. A masterful flag-to-flag ride saw Rea take a first – and so far only – win of the year.
END OF THE ERA: Rea’s nine seasons of success with Kawasaki come to a close
Ahead of the next round in France, it was announced that Rea would move to Yamaha for 2024, replacing BMW-bound Razgatlioglu. The “excitement” that Rea started his KRT tenure with never faded and perhaps should be met with his quote from his first interview after the announcement of his Yamaha move: “My childhood dream was to be World Champion and I’ll always remember my time with Kawasaki as the people who gave me the chance to fulfil a childhood dream.”
REA’S KAWASAKI STATS: the greatest rider of all-time for the team in green
Fastest laps: 94
Front row starts: 88
Total points: 4,593
Riders' Championships: 6
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