The Northern Irishman leaves Kawasaki ‘by mutual consent’, despite still having a year remaining on his contract, to move across to the Pata Yamaha team, with whom he has signed a two-year deal.
Rea’s time at Kawasaki is best known for his dominant spell between 2015 and 2020 which saw him win an unprecedented six consecutive World titles. His fifth championship crown in 2019 saw him overhaul Carl Fogarty’s 20-year record as the most successful World Superbike rider of all time.
He also holds the record for the most wins in the World Superbike championship at 119, more than double that of Fogarty who sits in second in the rankings with 59. 104 of Rea’s wins came with the Kawasaki team, and he also won the Suzuka 8 Hours in the traditional green colour scheme alongside Leon Haslam and Toprak Razgatlioglu in 2019 – his second Suzuka win, having won initially in 2012 aboard a Honda.
“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,” said Rea in a statement. “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.”
The move will see Rea race alongside Andrea Locatelli at Pata Yamaha and take the seat vacated by 2021 champion Toprak Razgatlioglu, whose move to BMW kick-started a silly season game of musical chairs back in May.
Razgatlioglu narrowly beat Rea to the 2021 title by just 13 points, while the 2022 season saw Rea start strongly before fading back to third place, 99 points away from eventual winner Alvaro Bautista. The 2023 season has been one of Rea’s least lucrative in a decade, helped in no small part by the Kawasaki struggling to keep up with both the Yamaha and the Ducati – the latter being a rocket ship – in a straight line. His only win of the year so far came at the most recent round at Most in the Czech Republic at the end of July, just before the six-week summer break.
While he still sits third in the standings, Rea is some 176 points behind Bautista, who has dominated the year, winning 18 out of 24 races. Razgatlioglu holds second, but has a 74-point deficit to Bautista’s Ducati.
The World Superbike Championship gets back underway this weekend with the French round, held at Magny-Cours, where Razgatlioglu will hope for a repeat of his double win in 2022 as he tries to close the gap to Bautista with 248 points still up for grabs across 12 races in the final four rounds.