Despite being contracted to Kawasaki until the end of 2024, the Carole Nash backed star had been rumoured to be keen to leave Team Green after two lean seasons, in which the ZX-10RR struggled to match the pace of the Ducatis and Yamahas. Joining Kawasaki from Honda for the 2015 season, it was a match made in heaven as the now 36-year-old won six titles in a row. The partnership gained a number of records records including all-time WorldSBK benchmarks for championships, race wins, podiums, fastest laps and total points scored. Together the combination has won 104 races, with Rea’s individual total sitting at 119 including his earlier victories on a Honda, however despite Rea riding as hard as ever, wins have been tougher to come by in recent years. Toprak Razgatlioglu took the title in 2021, with Alvaro Bautista looking set to win a second consecutive championship on his Ducati this year. When Razgatlioglu announced a surprise switch to BMW for 2024, Rea’s name was a surprise favourite to replace him on the Yamaha R1. It proved to be a well founded rumour, and superbike’s G.O.A.T. has been released from his Kawasaki contract and will be lining up in blue for the next two seasons.
Speaking of his decision to leave Kawasaki, Jonathan said: “I want to thank everyone at KMC and KRT for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to prove myself at the highest level. I have learnt and grown so much as a person and a rider since the first day throwing my leg over the factory Ninja ZX-10R superbike.
“Winning six consecutive WorldSBK Championships will always be the most obvious highlight of my time with Kawasaki; but it will also be the amazing memories, the life lessons and the laughs that I will take with me into the future. And, for sure, it’s our mission to complete the 2023 season as strongly and with as much commitment as we have always shown.
“Now, looking back on our journey, it fills me with pride at the joy and happiness we have brought Kawasaki fans and Kawasaki owners around the world. This is not a goodbye, because you don’t say goodbye to family, but it is simply the end of this incredible chapter. I wish everyone at KRT the best of luck for the chapters that will surely follow. See you at the track”
Eric de Seynes, President of Yamaha Motor Europe, commented: “We are very happy to welcome Jonathan to the Yamaha family and we are very much motivated to collaborate with him for the future. We have the same motivation to win, and the same passion for WorldSBK. Like him we have been world champions in recent years and we want to be back on the top of the box once again. Jonathan’s drive, determination and hunger for success have been constants throughout his career and these attibutes will contribute to our future common success. We truly believe that Jonathan can add to his world championship tally, writing his name even larger in the history books, and we are equally confident that he can achieve this together with us. We are working hard to improve further our race proven Yamaha R1, to ensure that we provide Jonathan with exactly what he needs to achieve his and Yamaha’s goals in 2024 and 2025.”
Speaking of Rea’s departure, Guim Roda, Team Manager of Kawasaki Racing Team, added: “In life as well as racing, priorities define the path to follow. I am very happy and proud that during these nine years Johnny has defined his priorities with KRT and has given us so many successes. I consider myself, our team, Kawasaki and all our fans worldwide, privileged to have been part of this journey. Whichever direction he goes in the future, I hope he can continue to grow as a rider. The task we have now is to finish the 2023 season as best we can with the tools we have been able to forge this year. As always, we will continue to look for improvements and seek advantage wherever possible. KRT is committed to putting on a good show with Johnny during his last four races on the formidable and impressive Ninja ZX-10RR that he has become synonymous with.”