World Superbike rules have changed a lot in the past four years, but the title holder has not. This demonstrates the versatility of Jonathan Rea, his Provec Racing-managed team, and Kawasaki in responding to ever-more-pointed rules changes that have stopped just short of handicapping green motorcycles with English-speaking riders.

We should not be surprised for Kawasaki is the only manufacturer not serving its Superbike team with table scraps from a MotoGP program. Kawasaki has no MotoGP program. The situation in World Superbike reminds me of the Mat Mladin/Ben Spies era in AMA Superbike when Yoshimura Suzuki worked in a 100 percent professional way to win while its opponents chose to economize—Honda by replacing its previous HRC-developed racebikes with in-house units, Kawasaki by subcontracting, and Yamaha by finding limited budget left after Daytona.

Rea doubled this past weekend at Magny-Cours in France, making such a workman-like job of it that I was reminded of Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul (present-day France) in 50 BC. Trained and professional Roman legions under experienced command again and again faced larger armies of powerfully motivated but less-prepared opponents and methodically cut them to pieces. Rea, crowned series champion after race 1 (which he won by three seconds over teammate Tom Sykes), knew he must give zero encouragement to his rivals in race 2. With two riders ahead of him as a result of this year’s inverted-start rule, he moved forward with superior pace, applied pressure, passed one after the other, and pulled away to leave closest season-rival Chaz Davies (Ducati) second by 1.8 seconds.

Tom Sykes
Tom Sykes (66) finished second in race 1 and fourth in race 2 at Magny-Cours. “I felt quite comfortable on the bike in race 2 but I just missed a little bit of turning,” he said. “This race was a lot closer than yesterday, and there were two guys between Jonathan and me.”Photo courtesy of Dorna

Any remaining doubts? Despite rules changes that have again and again sought to reduce acceleration and now at times require the partial inverted start, Rea has led 225 laps in this season’s races to 62 laps by Davies and 51 by Sykes. The creditable Yamaha team of Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes led 41 and 34 laps respectively.

It takes time to develop the momentum that Rea now has, collecting detailed knowledge of the setup requirements of all the circuits, testing, having the resources to respond to constant (and expensive) rules changes, and maintaining a professional staff of the highest qualifications. Rea himself conserves his resources with care, saving rubber and energy to be strong to the end.

Speaking of his crew chief Pere Riba, Rea said, “It’s great to have Pere in the team because he understands me and my riding so well. If I’m not sure about something he can look at the data and understand that I’m riding differently and he’ll change the setting to force me to ride in the correct way. Once I’m on the bike and I feel that change I instantly understand what he needs me to do. Maybe that comes from riding uncompetitive machinery and having to extract the most from yourself.

“Knowing what I now know about this team, I’d hate to compete against us because I know that everyone in my corner would fight for me. A fast rider on a fast bike with a good team is hard to beat but if there’s one of those pieces missing it’s very hard to be successful.”

On the other hand, this season’s Ducati is the long-in-the-tooth 1,200cc V-twin, due for replacement next year by a completely modern V-4 with the short MotoGP stroke of 48.5mm, something that on paper ought to allow it to rev 13 percent higher than Kawasaki’s veteran inline-four design.

Chaz Davies
“I could see on my pit board that Johnny was closing,” Chaz Davies (7) said. “Once he got side-by-side with me, it was all about trying to make life as difficult as possible for him. Once he got past, I didn’t really have an answer for him.”Photo courtesy of Dorna

Speaking of the Panigale V4, Davies said last June, “There is a new bike coming, and these things usually take time to develop. It could be two months, it could be six months, it could be one year. You just don’t know. It took a long time to put the V-twin into a winning position, and you have to assume that it could be the same with the V-4.”

Rea’s teammate Sykes is leaving Kawasaki at the end of this season (the rules-driven changes to the bike have conflicted strongly with his acceleration-based Superbike riding style) and will be replaced by Leon Haslam.

Michael van der Mark
“We changed a lot on the bike this morning, but it didn’t feel so good,” Michael van der Mark. “For the race, however, I got a really good start and was really aggressive. I thought my pace was good, but Johnny and Chaz had a little bit extra.”Photo courtesy of Dorna

Why not an all-new bike from Kawasaki? Literbike sales today are but a small fraction of what they were before the 2008 economic bust. That being so, sales cannot be expected to cover the heavy costs of retooling for an all-new model.

The 2019 World Superbike season will be fascinating.