As the world of motorcycle racing has gone made with speculation over who is to replace Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha, and by extension, either Maverick Viñales at Suzuki or Dani Pedrosa at Honda, focus has also turned on the World Superbike paddock. There has been much talk of which riders could make the transition to MotoGP, and in turn, which MotoGP riders could try the switch to World Superbikes.
The one name that was consistently raised was reigning World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea. Given Rea's previous experience standing in for an injured Casey Stoner in 2012, there had been much speculation that Rea had both the ability and the interest in making the switch to MotoGP.
Today, Rea put an end to any such speculation. The man from Larne extended his contract with Kawasaki to remain in World Superbikes for another two years. Rea will now be racing for Kawasaki until at least the end of 2018.
That Rea should choose to stay in World Superbikes should come as no surprise. Rea made the decision to commit to a future in WorldSBK as part of the decision process to jump from Honda to Kawasaki. Kawasaki have repeatedly stated that they have no intention to return to MotoGP, after their costly experiment between 2002 and 2009. Kawasaki offered no path to MotoGP for Rea, and Rea has dedicated himself to winning races and championships in WorldSBK instead, taking his first world championship at the first attempt with Kawasaki.
Rea has also become a keen supporter and promoter of the series, believing that the level of racing and talent is woefully underrated. Changes made to the series appear to have helped start the process of turning the series around.
Rea's contract extension with Kawasaki could be the signal for a shake up in the WorldSBK paddock. The friction between Rea and teammate Tom Sykes has increased measurably this year, both men taking potshots at each other over the direction the bike is being developed. Sykes is believed to want out, his name being linked with the second seat at Ducati, alongside Chaz Davies, where Davide Giugliano's days are rumored to be numbered.
Suzuki is also expected to make a return to WorldSBK in 2017, with the Milwaukee SMR team the current favorite to take on that role. While Josh Brookes is certain to keep one of those seats, the second seat in the team could be an attractive option, as the brand new GSX-R1000 is expected to be the kind of quantum leap forward that the new Yamaha R1 was. Honda are also expected to be bringing a new bike, with much attention falling on Michael van der Mark and his future. Honda have been promising to bring out a much more competitive Superbike for several years now - their failure to do so was a big factor in Jonathan Rea's decision to head to Kawasaki after many years with Honda - but if they fail to do so for 2017, Van der Mark could decide to explore what options the interest he has generated in the MotoGP paddock.
Below is the press release from Kawasaki, announcing Rea's re-signing:
Jonathan Rea And Kawasaki Together For Two More Years
Reigning FIM Superbike World Champion Jonathan Rea has re-signed with Kawasaki’s official KRT effort to compete for two more years on the class-leading latest model Ninja ZX-10R.
Committing to extend their mutually beneficial partnership into the future, both Rea and Kawasaki aim to continue the kind of success that delivered Rea the championship in his first KRT season last year.
Jonathan leads the current WorldSBK championship standings by 35 points after five rounds of the 2016 season have been completed.
Jonathan Rea stated: “I am so happy to extend this partnership with the Kawasaki Racing Team and continue the great relationship I have with all the Kawasaki engineers and fans. It is clear that our objectives and way of working are very well matched so it makes perfect sense to extend this for two more seasons. With all the incredible memories we have made so far and are now creating, I am 100% confident that we will enjoy working together and develop the Ninja ZX-10R into the future. I would like to thank Kawasaki and all the KRT staff for their full support and belief in my potential. With this in mind I am now even more focused than ever to win the World SBK Championship in 2016 to make it back to back wins.”
Steve Guttridge, Racing Manager Kawasaki Europe, stated: “The successes Kawasaki have enjoyed with Jonathan and his relationship with our Kawasaki Racing Team over a relatively short time has been phenomenal to witness. Finding that complete chemistry in racing is very difficult. Team, bike and rider all need to be in harmony together and for sure with JR we have found that magic mix, so it's only logical to continue the great relationship. Jonathan is a racer who understands well the importance of the entire team around him; the full package. With Johnny wanting to stay for two more years inside our team and riding the new Ninja ZX-10R, we have a full package.”
Guim Roda, KRT Team Manager, stated: “We have now two great riders in KRT. Two World Champions and the goal is to keep them for the next two years. Rea is an experienced rider with a young spirit and big motivation, open to learning and improving race-by-race. This gives us even greater potential to have an even better rider in two years’ time. His big credit in this KRT project is to give us the pressure to give the best to him. I know clearly that the mechanics, crew, technicians, team staff and all KHI engineers will do our best to cover his expectations.”
Ichiro Yoda, KRT Senior Engineer, stated: “The KRT project is based on development and information for KHI engineers to improve their knowledge and improve the development of future machines, working closely with the R&D department. We have re-signed a rider with commitment and skill who can push the limits of the bike to explain to the engineers his feelings. Jonathan has a good talent and speed, and we are very happy to use this energy to understand how the Ninja ZX-10R works at on-the-limit conditions. I’m sure in 2016, 2017 & 2018 we will have a strong package with him.”
The final word goes to Kenji Tomida, President of Kawasaki’s Motorcycle and Engineering Company.
“We were delighted to host the recent visit to KHI for 2015 WorldSBK Champion, Jonathan Rea. Our Ninja brand has been further enriched with the launch of the new Ninja ZX-10R on which Jonathan has already had much success this year. The whole Kawasaki family are understandably delighted that he has extended his relationship with the Kawasaki Racing Team and we wish him success both now and in the future.”