Jonathan Rea has opened up for the first time about his decision to leave Kawasaki after almost a decade in favour of a new challenge with Yamaha for the 2024 WorldSBK Championship season.
After rumours began to surface during the summer break, it was confirmed ahead of this weekend’s Magny-Cours WorldSBK round that Rea will indeed swap green for blue for the next two seasons.
Coming months after Toprak Razgatlioglu - the rider he replaces at Yamaha - made the call to sign with BMW, it means the 2024 WorldSBK grid will have a very different look to it next year.
However, Rea’s decision to leave the manufacturer with which he achieved a record six WorldSBK titles and 104 race wins has caught many by surprise, not least because he still had a year remaining on his KRT contract to fulfil.
But after reportedly parting with upwards of £800k to be released from his agreement, Rea told the WorldSBK website that while he is emotional to be leaving the Kawasaki ‘family’, he is insists the time is right for him to seek a fresh challenge at this stage in his career.
“As you can imagine, after six World Championships, nine years working together and so many memories, it’s been one of the hardest decisions in my career. In the end, it all boils down to the fact that I need something new, a new challenge and I had the opportunity somewhere else to find that.
“It’s mixed emotions because it was a very emotional time to leave such a family and a place where I’ve created so many amazing memories, not just on the track but off of it.
“The time is right to make the next chapter in my career and we’ll deal with that later, but it was a very hard decision.”
Rea arrived at Kawasaki in 2015 after seven seasons (one WorldSSP, six WorldSBK) spent with Honda and immediately began laying the foundations for what would become a hugely dominant era.
After sweeping to his first title that same year, Rea proceeded to collect five more WorldSBK titles in successive seasons, smashing the erstwhile record for victories in the process. As of now, Rea’s 119 WorldSBK victories is more than double that of nearest counterpart, Carl Fogarty on 59.
“Of course, I’ll never forget my first World Championship or the first feelings with the team, pleading my team manager Guim to give me a chance on this bike. Rolling up to the first test, working with my mechanics and creating that bond inside the garage.
“There are things I’ll take with me in life, such as dealing with people and creating an atmosphere. The team helped me with that and 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.
“Taking the chequered flag at Jerez in 2015 was incredible and the story we created after that is beyond not just my wildest dreams but you literally couldn’t dream it up.
“To win six World Championships on the bounce, continuing racing and to win races every year has been phenomenal. There are too many memories; I could go on for hours but it made it even tougher.”