After 6 years for Ten Kate Honda and 9 years for the Kawasaki factory team, a completely new chapter begins for the world’s best pilot in WorldSBK on the Yamaha R1. Jonathan Rea got acquainted with his new motorcycle and the new team on Monday, October 30, 2023. Instead of Toprak Razgatlioglu, the Northern Irishman will now prepare for the coming season on the factory Yamaha alongside Andrea Locatelli.

Rea instead of Toprak at Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK

Toprak’s departure from Yamaha to BMW was considered a huge surprise, even among experts. After four very successful years, almost no one expected this. However, many remembered the circumstances that led to the Turk’s move from Turkish Puccetti Kawasaki to Yamaha in autumn 2019. Because he was very disappointed not to have been included in the 8 Hours of Suzuka on the race weekend, his manager Kenan Sofuoglu publicly announced revenge. The five-time Supersport 600 world champion immediately made contact with the Pata Yamaha factory team and this led to the spectacular transfer of his protégé. Many voices in the paddock are also convinced that Kenan, with his often quite brash manner as Turkish sports minister in the service of the highly controversial President Erdogan, may have recently lost his tone at Yamaha in the negotiations about the future of Toprak. This also explains Yamaha’s lack of approval of the 2021 world champion for the November tests in Jerez and Portimão.

First sitting test under the eyes of his new team except for riding coach Fabien Foret (second from left) for the record world champion. At the Circuito de Jerez Angel Nieto, Jonathan Rea will be able to experience a first comparison with his previous work machine. On the first day of testing in Jerez it started to rain after 2 hours, but Rea had already set the fourth best time shortly beforehand on the Yamaha R1, which was completely new to him.

Rea’s commitment as a logical consequence of the development

From the introduction of the new edition of the Kawasaki ZX-10RR for the 2021 season, the Greens team, which has been spoiled for success, has been able to worm its way. Of course, as is so often the case, the FIM didn’t play a good role when its technical commission formally castrated the new model with highly questionable arguments shortly before the start of the season. Because too few parts in the engine of the new model were new, the speed limit of the previous model applied and therefore all test drives until mid-May of that year were virtually worthless. As a result, the record world champion saw more falls than ever before. Rea lost the number 1 to Toprak after six consecutive titles and then Bautista returned to Ducati. In the meantime, Ducati had greatly improved their MotoGP Replica Panigale V4R and the small and very light Spaniard benefited from an enormous performance and weight advantage, as there was no minimum weight in the WSBK until 2023, in contrast to the smaller classes. As of 2022, Kawasaki simply had no chance and their flagship suffered from a lack of effort to improve its motorcycle. Yamaha, on the other hand, continued to develop and continued to release new parts even in the middle of the season. Jonathan Rea noticed this and it was clear to him that a change could only bring advantages for him.

Jonathan Rea with WSBK icon Troy Corser, who became world champion in his career as one of only a few pilots on different makes. The Australian won his titles on Ducati and Suzuki, also winning for Aprilia, becoming runner-up for Yamaha in 2008 and ultimately driving for BMW. In addition, the man from Wollongong became the first non-American (on almost by Ferracci Ducati, who even became Superbike World Champion with Doug Polen in 1991) to become AMA Superbike champion in the 1994 season (© WorldSBK).

Lots of news for the 2024 season

In addition to numerous technical changes to the regulations, the calendar for next season also contains some innovations. The most important of these are two new routes and, with the exception of Portimão, some very important postponements of events in the southern part of Europe. In addition, the round in San Juan (Argentina), which was also canceled for 2023, will be canceled. By introducing a minimum weight, FIM and Dorna gave in to pressure from some manufacturers who had been demanding this for a long time and had threatened to leave WorldSBK without this urgently needed new regulation. After two years with no chance for Alvaro Bautista’s opponents on the Ducati MotoGP Replica Panigale 4R, this should ensure a more balanced season, which would ultimately benefit everyone. Below is the calendar for next year, with the two new routes in Hungary and Cremona (Italy), subject to their timely homologation.

Critical voices far too early – we risk making a prediction

In the meantime, many so-called experts commented on Rea’s move from the Greens to the brand with the crossed tuning forks in the logo. Quite a few of them are very skeptical, which is definitely premature. With only 6 wins and two of them only in the much less important sprint race in 2022, as well as only one success in the following season, one can speak of a disaster for the best pilot in WorldSBK of all time. His move to Yamaha as the only brand that has been able to seriously challenge Ducati in the last two years is at least as logical as Marc Marquez’s move in MotoGP from Honda to Gresini Ducati. Ultimately, a lot will certainly depend on whether the introduction of a minimum weight will put an end to Alvaro Bautista’s mostly safe victories, as well as how well Toprak gets along on the BMW. Regardless, we think it’s wrong to doubt Johnny Rea’s competitiveness on the Yamaha R1. We are already daring to predict that in 2024 alone he will have more victories with it than in the previous two years on the Kawasaki.

In Jerez de la Frontera, just two days after his last race for Kawasaki Racing, the first tests for Johnny and the Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK Team begin before they continue at the Autodromo do Algarve near Portimão later in the same month. In contrast, Toprak still has to wait for the tests in December this year before he can familiarize himself with the new BMW M-1000RR on the same tracks.

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© Yamaha Racing).