With only days and hours until another WorldSBK FIM World Championship gets underway the reigning champions for the last four years decided to show their hand. Rivals and Superbike fans had seen plenty of the black winter testing livery worn by Kawasaki Racing Team in European outings at the end of 2018 and in the first weeks of the new year: world champion Jonathan Rea and fresh teammate Leon Haslam had again been setting a pace to furrow brows in the paddock.
This was the first time KRT unveiled the re-worked graphics of the distinctive green-black shades of the Ninja ZX-10RR and a motorcycle that has been terrorising WorldSBK for almost half a decade; to the point where the rulebook has even been bent to try and limit their dominance.
The Barcelona-based team normally complete these formalities in the Catalan capital but Phillip Island and the close proximity of the final pre-season test and the opening race of thirteen dictated a change of scene.
‘Change’ was in the air actually. For the first time since 2015 KRT have altered their rider roster and 2019 is a campaign that will see the Superbike racers tackle three races on a weekend compared to the usual two. Thirteen rounds and thirty-nine sprints: a lot of track mileage and action ahead. The ceremony conducted for media and team guests and dignitaries was the first time people could see good friends Rea and Haslam together as well as the sharp ’19 look for the Ninjas.
“It is the first time you see your final bike in the flesh,” admitted Rea, who is pursuing another WorldSBK record with a potential fifth title. “Everything is real and now we turn the page to 2019. Alpinestars have done a great job with my leathers as well. I changed my number 1 plate a little bit too, incorporating some new logos. It is nice to do the launch here in Australia, and so close to the first race weekend.”
Leon Haslam has already admitted in the ‘Green Lines’ video series about the build-up to 2019
that his KRT saddle represents “the best opportunity” of his long career.
“To be part of such a professional team, and to see the manufacturer itself and Kawasaki Australia putting on such a massive show, is fantastic,” the British Superbike Champion commented in Aus. “They are really getting behind it. I just want to get going now.”
Kawasaki prevailed in 2018 thanks to the combination with Rea and in spite of the regulations that limited their engine potential. “2018 was one of our most difficult years so far,” commented Shigemi Tanaka, Managing Director of Kawasaki Motors Australia. “We were under huge pressure. The fans and media naturally expected more championship success, yet our Ninja ZX-10RR was a victim of its own success as new rules were adopted to help other teams reach the high level of Kawasaki.”
The level remained elevated with some shrewd technical adjustments and Rea’s determination to rail against the handicap. “These rules are still maintained but we’re prepared,” warned Team Manager Guim Roda of the task in 2019. “We have a bike with a new more capable engine and we have reinforced our technical and human assets to take advantage of this.”
Once again KRT will be the biggest moving targets in WorldSBK but a cherished prize waits for either Rea or Haslam if history can be made come Qatar in October.