When the 2018 WorldSBK season begins, Jonathan Rea will face arguably the biggest test of his reign as the series champion. He spoke to us about the changes
Three years of unparalleled success have seen Jonathan Rea notch up 39 victories, 70 podiums and three WorldSBK titles. To put those numbers into context, only Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss, and Nori Haga have won more races in their WorldSBK careers. It truly has been a historic run of form for Rea and Kawasaki.
For WorldSBK, though, the achievements have been outweighed by the reaction of fans to these results. Feeling that significant changes were needed to ensure a more competitive balance for the field, they have introduced a wide range of new regulations to curtail the Kawasaki dominance. The goal isn't to stop Rea and Kawasaki winning but simply to allow other manufacturers to get on an even keel.
WorldSBK to the core
For Rea the changes will see a change in riding style and philosophy for the season but the Northern Irishman was keen to stress that he is excited by the changes.
“I'm a Superbike guy through and through, and I genuinely hope that this works,” said a considered Rea. “I've been in this paddock for ten years and I love the championship. I hope that for real fans of Superbike racing we have great racing, and I'm going into 2018 with a completely open mind about these new regulations.
“The way that people view the intention of the rules is important. Personally, I think that it's strange to have a situation where you curtail the fastest teams. In MotoGP, they gave teams concessions for what they were lacking. This could have been the softer tire, engine development, or more testing. I'm trying to be positive about it and I'm hopeful that it could bring the manufacturers closer together but it's going to be hard to do that.
“The reason that Kawasaki and Ducati are at the front is because they invest the most money in the championship. They both spend more on the technical side of things and on riders than the rest and that makes it hard to beat. I understand that something needs to be done because there have been races this year where either myself or Chaz has broken away at the front. I think that it's a bold decision to make this change and I hope that over time it will be proven correct.”
The most talked about change to the regulations will see Kawasaki lose approximately 1200rpm for the season opening round in Australia. For Rea, and his crew chief Pere Riba, the chance to win with a different philosophy is “exciting.” The team has been considering what changes to make the engine to ensure that power delivery will still be class leading, and interestingly the one area where Rea has looked for changes in recent years has been for a smoother power delivery. He may get what he has wanted with these changes, and ominously, it could in theory play into his hands more than his rivals.
“I'm not concerned about our performance and losing RPM. When you lose the top end it changes how you need to ride the bike, so we will focus on improving our corner speed again. I don't mind losing RPM but I don't agree with the performance manipulation through a season. We can lose more RPM through the season and that isn't sporting in my eyes. I don't mind if rules are changed because you can easily understand them and develop your bike over the course of a winter but to change them round by round isn't fair.
“With the fixed ratio gearbox that we use in WorldSBK, it could mean that if you lose RPM in the middle of the season the work we do in the winter to understand the ideal ratio is lost. This winter we will spend a lot of time trying to understand what is the best solution for us.”
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