At an average speed of 178.647kmph Jonathan Rea blasted his Ninja ZX-10RR to the fastest ever Pole Position of the epic Phillip Island circuit almost twelve months ago. The lap (followed by an exciting double win) was an emphatic opening thrust for what would be a shining charge to a record third WorldSBK Championship in a row and a landmark year for his Kawasaki Racing Team in 2017. In a matter of weeks Rea will again be the man to catch in Australia as #1 goes for No.4.
Kawasaki Racing Team showed-off their colour scheme and sounded their intentions as reigning ‘targets’ for 2018 at the spotless HQ/workshop located in the shadow of the Circuit de Barcelona last week and as the motorcycles for both Rea and teammate Tom Sykes stood prepped for freight to Australia directly after the formalities.
The feeling of ‘being chased’ is a familiar one for the Northern Irishman, 2013 champ Sykes and the Catalan squad who have blasted the SBK series green since 2015. But 2018 will pose an entirely new set of parameters. Shifting regulations to curb the rev limiter thresholds of certain manufacturers will leave Kawasaki at a disadvantage to the rest of the grid. Japanese technicians have had to modify the ZX from a corner speed weapon to one that creates more blazing horses from lower in the rev range, thus more torque. Rea and Sykes already seem to have ‘found the net’ of the altered goalposts: times in testing at Jerez in Spain and Portimao in Portugal indicate that the motorcycle will again be a blurry sight in 2018.
SBK Project leader Yoshimoto Matsuda spoke of Kawasaki being “challenged for being too successful” in Barcelona and the vibe of the presentation in front of media, sponsors, guests and fans was very much one of defiance; a message that was re-echoed and energised in the brand’s use of the phrase ‘Ninja Spirit’ for the upcoming thirteen-round contest. “Ninja spirit for me is about never giving up,” said Rea “and each year has just been getting better and better. I’m actually looking forward to seeing what the future holds because the bike is constantly evolving and we’ve even stepped forward, despite the new technical regs.”
“For me it means racing heritage, speed and durability and Kawasaki have always made that work,” opined Sykes.
For the Englishman in particular – who was sporting fresh scars on his left hand after an operation to remove metalwork as a consequence of his fiery crash in Portugal last year – 2018 represents the chance to again attempt to usurp Rea and keep ahead of the rest.
“We’ve been fighting for that world championship for the last six years and we’ve had some low points getting the best out of the bike…but I feel very much prepared for the new season. Unfortunately for our competition the technical changes have enhanced our lap-times: I feel like I have my mojo again.”
Four titles in the last five years means that KRT are the undoubted top dogs of Superbike and a production-bike-based discipline that should undergo some more curious changes in 2018. Can anyone stop them?