Jonathan Rea is seeking history in 2017 but it's a clean sheet of paper as the champion strives for a third title
For the last two years Jonathan Rea has been as consistent as the tides and wrapped up the WorldSBK crown with almost a complete season of podium finishes. Since joining Kawasaki in 2015 the 30 year old has notched up 23 wins and 46 podium finishes from 52 races. To put his number of victories into perspective Rea's two year reign would place him in the top ten for career wins.
Last year Rea became only the fourth rider to successfully defend a WorldSBK crown and this year the Northern Irishman could write his name in the history book as the only rider to ever win three titles in a row.
The New Year has officially started, the real world of contracts finally lining up with the world of motorcycle racing. Riders who swapped factories are now free of their old contracts, their new contracts having commenced as the world greeted 2017. That also leaves them free to post about the new season on social media again. Aleix Espargaro was so keen to do so that he posted right on the stroke of midnight.
If the riders are excited, that gives fans reason to be excited too. Here are 10 reasons to look forward to 2017.
1. Six factories
For the first time since 2004, MotoGP has six different manufacturers* competing again. Unlike 2004, however, the level at which those manufacturers are competing is much more equal. In 2004, only Yamaha and Honda won races, though Ducati were regular visitors to the podium, and would win more consistently in 2005 and 2006. In 2016, four different manufacturers won races in the dry – Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Ducati – and all four were consistent podium threats.
Top ten lists are by their very nature subjective; beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. From the moment the season started in Australia until the very end there was a great scrap for the title, with the fight going down to the wire in Qatar. But who was the best rider of 2016? This is the MotoMatters.com top ten riders of the 2016 WorldSBK season.
If ever there was a time to be disabused of any notions of the glamorous life a professional motorcycle racer leads, the weeks immediately following the end of the racing season, after testing has been completed, is surely it. Riders around the world head into operating theaters and physical rehabilitation facilities to have more permanent fixes applied to the temporary patch up jobs done to allow them to keep racing during the season.
In a typically robust column written at the end of last week, David Miller, editor of Bikesportnews.com, suggested that the time which double World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea had set on Thursday at the combined WorldSBK and MotoGP test at Jerez had made the MotoGP bikes look a bit silly. Rea had ended the day as the fastest rider on the day, setting a time of 1'38.721, nearly a quarter of a second faster than Alvaro Bautista, who was riding the Ducati Desmosedici GP16 at the track.
Rea had set the time on a modified version of a road bike, costing something in the region of €300,000, beating the satellite Ducatis (estimated lease price, just shy of €2 million), satellite Hondas (official lease price €2 million, actual cost to lease about 50% higher than that), and the factory Suzuki, KTM and Desmosedici GP17 ("I'm sorry sir, you'll have to put your checkbook away, this one isn't for sale").
Miller draws a number of conclusions from this, some sound, some based more on hyperbole than reality. The claim that MotoGP is no longer a prototype series is unfounded. MotoGP bikes (and their predecessors, the 500cc two strokes and four strokes from whence they came) have never been prototypes, as Grand Prix racing was hobbled by rules from the birth of the series in 1949. The ban on forced induction, imposed in the 1930s when the excess of horsepower made possible by supercharging far outweighed contemporary braking technology, was left in place.
It took Kawasaki until last year to finally win a WorldSBK manufacturers title. Having retained the crown in 2016 the Japanese factory will have to dig deep in 2017
Winter testing is a time to take stock of what worked well on your bike in the past and what now needs to improve. Kawasaki has won over half of the races in the last three years, 39 victories from 76 races, but despite these successes the team are working hard to find improvements.
The final four rounds of the season saw Chaz Davies and Ducati dominate proceedings and the Italian manufacturer's renaissance over the last 12 months has made it the early favourite for title success in 2017. New regulations will see split throttle bodies now outlawed and there are also changes to the battery regulations.
While Jonathan Rea has been running his bike in this specification for most of 2016 his teammate, Tom Sykes, has not. The Englishman spent last off-season commenting about the lower inertia engine he is now having to deal with a significant change in the mass around the engine unit. Whereas in the past Sykes used a battery in his ZX10R to maintain lower inertia he will now have to revert to a crankshaft with a generator that will increase the engine inertia. The higher inertia was a problem for Sykes in 2015 and he had hoped that the changes for this year would offer him advantages compared to Rea. That didn't transpire and now the Yorkshire rider is clearly feeling the pressure.
“It's going to take time to sink in,” was the immediate reaction of Jonathan Rea upon winning his second WorldSBK title. The Northern Irishman has led the standings all year but despite this it has not been an easy title victory.
Rea has faced some challenges with his Kawasaki ZX10R throughout the 13 round championship. A spate of false neutrals-including three at Donington and also one in Germany-robbed Rea of confidence and points at crucial junctures of the year. As a result the champion said that his second title means more than 12 months ago.
Jonathan Rea stands on the verge of defending his World Superbike title after finishing second at Jerez in Race 2. The Northern Irishman came out on top of a tussle with his Kawasaki teammate, Tom Sykes, and will enter the final round of the season with an almost unassailable 48 point lead.
It was smart strategy that won Chaz Davies the opening race of the French round of WorldSBK but in Race 2 it was patience and perseverance that won out. The Welshman clocked up his third win in four races and each have come in very different circumstances. A dominant victory in Germany started this rich vein of form but France showed how strong Davies has become. Having the mental strength to stick to his guns, and his intermediate tyre choice, in the opening race was contrasted with his patience in waiting for an opportunity to pass the Kawasaki riders in Race 2.