Jonathan Rea On The 2018 WorldSBK Rules: "I Genuinely Hope It Works"

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.”

Rev revolution

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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I can understand having the manufactures make available all parts, engine and frame, to the privateers. On equal machines, Jonathan Rea will still come out on top of all Kawasaki riders. Chaz Davies will still come out on top of all Ducati riders. What I don't agree with is the sliding scale of restrictions Kawasaki must endure within a season. Why not go all the way and have Rea and Sykes start on the last row of every race while dragging an anchor? 

I couldn't agree with Rea more. The reason for competition is to demonstrate who is the best of a group of competitors. This may be entertaining but that is a byproduct and not the reason for the exercise. Having a regulatory system that changes the technical rules race by race negates the engineering development by the teams and is a manipulation of the results which renders the results as worthless over the course of the season. 

It was weight for the longest, then briefly air restrictors, and now this, but the idea of a sliding scale handicap is not new.   It is also not changing from the prior 3 race evaluation period used for decades, so it will not be race to race.  

What is changing, and not yet written about, is the completion of the grand plan.  That is morphing SBK into a STK series.

Now written into the 2018 rules are elimination of valve or cam changes, for example, and from next year the same for rods.  They also eliminated electronic suspension and ABS which use to be allowed provided on homologated bike.

The concesion parts are a new twist but are a one time update over the season once a minimum of three rounds have been completed and a particular brand is down by 9 concesion points from top brand (win = 3 points, 2nd = 2, 3rd = 1 concesion point).  The list of mods are to the things now banned from beign changed to the homoglation model, ie. heads, valves, cams etc.  

So basically the concessions allow Superbike type mods for the unsuccessful teams while keeping the top team and those close to them in Superstock trim.