Kawasaki give it every­thing

Kawasaki brought their best rid­ers, tech­nol­ogy and team to­gether. And they nearly pulled off a sur­prise, too...

Performance Bikes (UK) - - SUZUKA 8 HOURS -

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’

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