Opinion: It Isn't Kawasaki Who Should Be In MotoGP

Jonathan Rea on the WorldSBK Kawasaki ZX10-RR

Why don’t Kawasaki race in MotoGP? It’s a question asked almost as frequently as why doesn’t Jonathan Rea switch to MotoGP? The simple answer is money. For a fraction of the money Kawasaki spent to finish at the back of a MotoGP field they’ve been able to dominate the Superbike World Championship for the best part of ten years.

Six titles in a row and 123 victories since 2011 versus five podiums in six years. The cost of investment in their Superbike project is a fraction of what they spent in MotoGP but their results are enough for them to sell the ZX10-RR as the all conquering Superbike on the planet. It’s a marketing dream compared to the nightmare of trying to sell being a MotoGP backmarker.

Since Rea signed for Kawasaki in 2015 he has won 81 races and six titles as a Kawasaki rider. Aprilia started their MotoGP programme the same year. Who’s had better value for money? There’s only one winner in that discussion.

Teamwork makes the dream work

For a generation Kawasaki has found a partner team. At one point Paul Bird’s squad ran the Kawasaki programme in WorldSBK, with limited success, but since 2012 it has been the Provec Racing operation run by Guim Roda, and the results speak for themselves. First Tom Sykes and presently Rea have dominated to such a degree that the role of Provec is undervalued.

The team has faded into the background and morphed into Kawasaki in most people's eyes. That’s deceiving however. The success of Kawasaki in WorldSBK owes much to the team behind the scenes. The Roda brothers have developed a close knit squad that has been together for over ten years, with all roles within the team being decided by the team rather than a manufacturer. Even riders looking to bring people into the squad can be a challenge. A trusted mechanic might get the nod, but we’ve rarely seen that happen.

Provec value consistency above all else. They want the same faces in the box and the results have been remarkable. No stone is left unturned and this team truly is remarkable. Their professionalism was light years ahead of other WorldSBK teams for a long time and was above most MotoGP outfits too.

Parallels with Pramac

If you look for a comparison in the Grand Prix ranks Pramac Racing is an apt one. The Italian squad has developed a close relationship with Ducati over the years and flourished into a leading team. Provec would have been able to achieve the exact same success if they had been a MotoGP team rather than a Superbike squad.

Provec run their operation to a budget that comes from a variety of loyal sponsors as well as from Japan. Kawasaki provide resources and support, but the Spanish arm of the operation is what makes it tick. It’s what makes it successful.

Want a clear example? Look no further than the Suzuka 8 Hours. The Japanese race is unique on the calendar and a “must win” event for all the Japanese manufacturers. Kawasaki brought Rea and Leon Haslam to the event in 2018 as part of Team Green. There was some support from Provec, Pere Riba was the project leader, but success wasn’t attained. Mistakes in the race dogged the team and for 2019 Provec ran the entire operation.

Taking their usual WorldSBK squad to Japan they won the most prestigious race on the calendar at the first attempt. It was a remarkable achievement but the success went beyond simply having factory riders and mechanics; they brought their WorldSBK press officer to Japan and a host of other staff. The close-knit nature of the team has fostered loyalty from both sides.

Would Kawasaki ever move to MotoGP? Not a chance in the near future. The bigger question should be whether Provec would cast an eye over at the Grand Prix paddock instead...


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Comments

Would a Provec move to MotoGP be financially advantageous for them? Currently they're at the top of their world, what options in MotoGP exist for them?

Great bit Steve! And thank you for the picture of you and Gordo in your unders, I won't share it. 

Been curious about Provec. Kawi in GP's could be quite successful now given the rulebook relative to previous eras. But why would they? I think about their polar opposite Aprilia here, ditching WSBK and going for it in prototypes. The Aprilia road bike is AMAZING, perhaps my favorite (though only rode it once), caveat being its electronics. Has me pondering their fates were Green and Black reversed.

Anyhoo, Green is getting a challenge eh? Four other Factories are on the gas. Fun times.

Loved our compressed BSB season. Less excited about our winner than three or four up and comers (and good old Glen Irwin). Kyle looks great. Same for our Scottish kid. Chewed my finger nails off watching it last night, gets the blood pumping!

Cheers

Why make the comparison to Aprilia only? Suzuki got back into MotoGP for 2015 as well. Have they gotten better value for money than Kawasaki? Or how about KTM, who at one point wanted to join Superbikes but failed, then joined MotoGP? Feels a bit like cherry picking there.

The point still stands that to NOT succeed at MotoGP is still orders of magnitude more expensive than it is to NOT succeed in WorldSBK.  And since Kawasaki have previously attempted MotoGP and not succeeded (but reign in SBK), it is not a given that spending those massive sums and re-entering MotoGP is a boon for success for the brand.

We could look at all of these! Each has its own dynamic. Just found my brain chewing specifically on Aprilia. Suzuki applies too since they have a good liter bike but no WSBK presence. KTM has never really had a WSBK contender unless I am wrong about the RC8. I have a disparaging bias against big twins lately it seems, hugely disappointed in my current one and will be happy to see empty space in the shop where it was come Spring. Anyhoo, yes. Agreed Firefly. All of them apply too. The GSXR1000 looks an accessible easy handling and rideable bike, like a big 600. But it hasn't been so strong anywhere for a while, has it? I don't think the RC8 was near as good as even that anywhere. The Aprilia though, remember when they modified an RSV4 and ran it in GP? It did the business! I just gush over that bike, and a dream would be that as it is with electronics like the BMW. Really compact, the engine is incredible, handles great. Pardon my enamored preoccupation and imbalanced accounting. Off-season gets dreamy.

Also being massaged by my dreamy brain is what is coming on the horizon. WSS is going to have Triumph 765 Triple, and may get the "middleweight' damn near 1000cc Ducati Twin. At issue for me is the criminal neutering of that gorgeous 3 Cyl engine. Same horsepower roughly of the old 675, but way less revs. A lazy naked grocery getter tune. If we could run the real engine that is there, in that "you think an R6 handles well?" chassis. Oh! The HP and torque curves of the 675 are uncanny in how perfectly they come on, a thing of beauty. Right until you approach the top of the rev range, when it trails off relative to rivals. On tighter BSB tracks it can win. IOM it can win. If there is a god hearing prayers on Motomatters, please put a Daytona top end on there. And, what if an equivalently large displacement Superbike Triple were to find it's way into the big bikes with Triumph, and a tad less electronics? Ok, too much to ask. 

Very impressed with Kawasaki WSBK. And Rea of course. The color is a style crime, but forgivable. Curious what the 2021 bike has in store for us, looks promising. Off to catch some missed old Moto2 races. Cheers

Hardly cherry picking, at least not intentionally. I used Aprilia because it's the easiest comparison to make in relation to risk vs reward of GP vs SBK. 

Aprilia left WorldSBK in 2014 to focus on their MotoGP project while at the same time Rea joined Kawa. One has had unparralled success while the other has been a failed project up to now. KTM ,ight have looked at entering SBK but they never did, Suzuki hadn't had the same type of factory buy-in that Aprilia (or Kawa) in SBK for a numbers.

I get the point, but two out of three new factories in MotoGP since 2015 have had success. So that would suggest the risk is worth the reward, while at the same time joining SBK is not worth it at all. The risk is big (getting beat by the almighty Kawasaki) and the reward is small. I would suggest winning a race in MotoGP is already more noteworthy than winning a championship in SBK. So while taking just Aprilia is maybe the easiest comparison, I would say it's not a very complete one. It may say something about the faillure of the Aprilia MotoGP project rather than risk vs reward regarding MotoGP and SBK.

I can't believe that someone owns that bike.