Kawasaki give it everything
Kawasaki brought their best riders, technology and team together. And they nearly pulled off a surprise, too...
The return of a full-factory effort with Team Green was as exciting as it was necessary. For two years, Leon Haslam carried the burden of a lower-key Kawasaki entry, and last year the effort was extreme: over five hours on the bike. If Kawasaki were to win their first 8 Hours since 1993 they’d need a change of tactics, and more than one super-fast rider.
That change came in the form of the Kawasaki WSB team. The Manufacturer made a decision that they needed Rea at any cost, and the triple world champion was drafted in as team leader, with certain conditions.
The primary condition was that Pere Riba would take a hands-on role. Riba, Rea’s full-time WSB crew chief, led the development of the endurance bike. Kawasaki’s decision to look to Europe for leadership was rewarded with a bike capable of shattering the Suzuka lap record.
“I’ve had opportunities to come back to Suzuka with Kawasaki before but it just didn’t seem right,” said Rea. “It didn’t seem like a full effort and I know what it takes to win at Suzuka. Having Leon as a team-mate was important, but I wanted Pere and my mechanic Uri in the garage. It can be daunting going to a team you’ve never worked with, so that familiarity was important.”
With Rea feeling content within the team, he found his feet immediately and dominated the timesheets on Friday and Saturday. Claiming pole position, it seemed his WSB form would instantly transfer. The unique challenge of Suzuka means outright lap speed isn’t the only factor, and ultimately it would be mistakes with Rea on the bike that cost Team Green dearly.
Running out of fuel mid-race put them on the back foot, but the wrong tyre choice led to a crash behind the safety car, ending their chances of catching Yamaha, barring any similar bad luck. Kawasaki gambled by keeping their golden boy out on slicks behind the safety car in the rain, but he was caught out by a, “Speedway style crash where the rear came around.” After, the 31-year-old explained how inexperience played a part.
“It started to rain and I asked the team if I should pit, but my board kept telling me to stay out. If it was a WSB race I’d have pitted for wet tyres but in endurance races you try to avoid making an unplanned pitstop. I crashed with very little lean angle and no throttle; maybe I should have stuck to my guns and stopped.”
The crash cost Kawasaki any chance of catching Yamaha and dropped them to third behind Honda, where they remained until the flag. But it’s likely that Rea will return in 2019 to set the record straight.
‘Rea found his feet immediately, and dominated the timesheets on Friday and Saturday’