Jonathan Rea says leaving Kawasaki for Yamaha one of 'hardest decisions' in his career

Six-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea will leave Kawasaki for Yamaha at the end of this season (Photo: Graeme Brown)
Six-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea will leave Kawasaki for Yamaha at the end of this season (Photo: Graeme Brown)

​The Ballyclare man won the World Superbike title an unprecedented six times in a row, shattering a plethora of records during a dominant six-year spell to become the most successful rider in the history of the championship.

However, Rea will take on a new challenge in 2024 after confirming earlier this week that he will leave the Kawasaki Racing Team at the end of this season to join Yamaha in a two-year deal.

The 36-year-old will partner with Italian Andrea Locatelli in the Pata Yamaha team, replacing BMW-bound Toprak Razgatlioglu.

Rea, who has won 104 World Superbike races with Kawasaki, said it was one of the ‘hardest decisions’ he has ever made in his career.

“Of course, I’ll never forget my first world championship with Kawasaki or the first dealings with the team, really pleading with my team manager Guim [Roda] to give me a chance on this bike,” said Rea, speaking ahead of this weekend’s ninth round at Magny-Cours in France.

“Rolling up to the first test, working with my mechanics; that bond we created inside the garage.

"There’s things I’ll take with me in life, how to deal with people and creating an atmosphere – the team really helped me with that.

“The team gave me everything. My childhood dream was to be a world champion and I’ll always remember my time with Kawasaki as the people who gave me the chance to fulfil a childhood dream,” he added.

“It’s been one of the hardest decisions of my career.”

Rea clinched his first world crown at Jerez in 2015, becoming Northern Ireland’s first motorcycling world champion since Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid won their final World Formula One and Formula Two world titles respectively 29 years earlier.

Looking back on that moment, when he donned replica helmets in tribute to Dunlop and Reid, he said: “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 I don’t think you could dream it up.

“To win six world championships on the bounce has been a hell of a journey, continuing racing and winning races every year I have competed with Kawasaki has been phenomenal.

“Too many memories; I could go on for hours about the memories but it made it even tougher [to leave].”

With four rounds of the championship left, Rea is focused on bringing his nine-year association with Kawasaki to an end in style.

He is third in the standings, 176 points behind dominant Ducati rider Alvaro Bautista and 102 adrift of Turkey's Razgatlioglu in second.

“I’ll try not to be sad and this chapter might come to a close, but I’m so happy with what we achieved,” said Rea, who won his first race in 2023 at Most in the Czech Republic before a lengthy summer break.

“If I look back to the Most weekend, a lot of things were going on in the background and we managed very well.

“Forget what’s happening; we can deal with that after the final round of the season.

“I love this team, we’re going to try and create some amazing stories until the end of the season, just try to enjoy my bike – get that feeling with my bike – because when I can find that magic then we can make it happen on the track.”