The six-time WorldSBK Champion - who scored his second Suzuka 8 Hours victory and first in Kawasaki colours during the last running of the event in 2019 - came into the event as favourite alongside regular KRT counterpart Alex Lowes and former team-mate Leon Haslam, the trio having amassed eight wins at the iconic event over the years.
However, it was soundly out-performed by HRC Honda, which showed a unpenetrable level of competitiveness with its CBR1000RR-R Fireblade throughout the weekend in the hands of Takumi Takahashi, rookie Tetsuta Nagashima and WorldSBK regular Iker Lecuona.
With race starter Haslam losing ten seconds to Takahashi during the opening stint, Rea took on Nagashima for the second stint, but while the ex-Moto2 rider was making his debut at both the event and on a Superbike, he couldn't make in-roads, which coupled to a longer stop swelled the margin to 21secs.
However, KRT's race suffered its first major blow during the third stint when Lowes was caught out by the format of using two different Safety Cars during caution periods, with Lecuona being picked up by one and the Kawasaki man bottled up behind the other. With the Safety Cars touring at different speeds so as to quickly ensure all bikes could catch up to the pack quickly, this stretched Lecuona's advantage by almost 50secs to well over a minute.
With Kawasaki switching up the running order to put Rea on the bike next, versus Takumi Takahashi, the Ulsterman did indeed begin making in-roads into the lead.
However, his momentum would make him somewhat ragged while negotiating traffic with Rea’s awkward lunge up the inside of a backmarker at the Turn 12 flip-flop chicane resulting in a front-end fold that sent him and the bike skating down the escape road into the foam barriers.
Getting both himself and the bike up again, Rea resumed unscathed without even entering the pits but it was another 30secs lost to the front. Worse still, with Kawasaki needing a longer pit-stop next time around to check for damage, Haslam returned to the track in third and with Nagashima bearing down on him.
The Japanese subsequently overtook Haslam to put HRC a lap clear of KRT, a critical moment that neither Rea, Haslam nor Lowes could reverse.
Instead, KRT settled into a battle with the YART Yamaha team for second place, a position the two teams would swap repeatedly as they pitted out of sequence with one another. However, when YART ran into myriad issues during the final hour, the KRT protected the ZX-10RR to bring it home a strong, if distant, second
“It has been a really enjoyable week here in Suzuka with my team," said Rea. "All the team staff, plus my team-mates Leon and Alex, meant that the atmosphere has been incredible. We have worked really well together, everybody from back room staff, strategy people, caterers, nutritionists, doctors - every single person in the team worked so hard with a busy schedule to get here.
"It is not easy to have two goals in a single season - the WorldSBK championship and also the Suzuka 8 Hours. We had huge competition here, and did our best. I feel we just came up short but we can be proud, and really proud of my team-mates and everyone else for their hard work. It is a little bit bitter sweet coming second best but I think we can fly home knowing we gave it our best shot.
"There were a few mistakes in the race, a few issues, but that is Endurance racing and we can stand on that podium and be proud of our efforts. Thanks to Kawasaki and all of our sponsors for making this happen and no doubt we will be back again to try and go one better.”