THREE-time defending WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea believes the new technical rules introduced for the 2018 season won’t make a huge difference to the speed of his Kawasaki ZX-10RR.
He is finalising preparations for the Yamaha Finance-backed season opener at Phillip Island this weekend, February 23-25.
Under the new regulations for the 2018 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, rev limits effectively replace weight penalties and air restrictors, meaning the all-conquering Kawasaki factory team of Rea and Tom Sykes is initially restricted to a rev limit of 14,100rpm – a 1000rpm reduction from the 2017 season.
However, Rea who arrived back in Australia earlier last week and was at Melbourne’s Langham Hotel on Friday speaking with media, is adopting a positive outlook.
“RPM equals power, so we had to redesign the tuning spec of the engine so our bike is now producing a lot more torque at lower in the rev range,” said Rea, who spends time in the off-season at Phillip Island in the home he shares with his Aussie wife Tatia and sons Jake, 4, and Tyler, 2.
“For me and my riding style that’s quite good – it’s more manageable with less peaky power.
“The new regulations have tried to balance the field, which is a huge challenge for all the manufacturers. But at the end of the day, it’s cutting-edge superbike technology and the more we simplify it sometimes I think the less appeal there is,” said 31 year-old Rea.
“Time will tell – and I hope it’s closer racing because it’s not nice seeing the chatter outside the championship about it being not cool to watch.
“After three or four races most of the riders and teams will find their place in the championship – and I can’t see it being too dissimilar to last year as regards to who’s at the front and winning races.”
From exhaustion to exuberance
Rea was a spent man at the end of the 2017 season – where he became the first rider to win three titles in a row in the production-based series – but he’s now rediscovered his mojo in a big way.
“At the end of last season I was very tired physically and mentally. I kind of didn’t know where my motivation level was, as I was very busy at marketing and post-season events.
“But then I started training and I’m in a very good place now to fight for a fourth title.
“Everything is in place to win again, but there’s also a part of me that worries that one day I am not going to be that guy.
“I can’t continue this forever, but I feel like barring any silly mistakes, and I remain healthy, we should be able to fight for the title until the very end.”
Rea, who was born and bred in Northern Ireland, also enjoyed some personal highlights during the off-season, such as being awarded an MBE at Buckingham Palace by Prince William and finishing runner-up in the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year crown behind distance runner Mo Farah.
“At the BBC awards I got to ride my ZX-10RR onto the stage and banged it off the rev limiter a few times which was good fun!”
In the final European WorldSBK test before the paddock packed up and began the long-haul to Australia, Rea was fastest ahead of Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha), Leon Camier (Red Bull Honda), Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha), Toprak Razgatlioglu (Puccetti Kawasaki), Sykes, Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia), world No. 2 Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) and Jordi Torres (MV Agusta).
Next up was a two-day official test at Phillip Island yesterday and today before the season kicks off back at the GP circuit three days later (February 23-25).
Rea has won five of the last six WorldSBK races at Phillip Island, but he knows that everyone is starting from scratch again this week.
“It’s the beauty of this time of year because everyone is so excited, and motivation for everyone is charged – they all believe it could be their year.
“Personally, it’s always super special at Phillip Island, and to start last year with wins in Australia in front of my friends and family – that was a weekend that really sticks in my mind.”
Jam-packed WorldSBK weekend
The 22-lap WorldSBK races at Phillip Island will be held at 3pm on Saturday and Sunday, which will also feature three Aussie wildcards: Yamaha pair Wayne Maxwell and Daniel Falzon, as well as Troy Herfoss (Honda).
The 18-lap WorldSSP race will begin at 1.30pm on Sunday, with even more Aussies to cheer on: championship regulars Anthony West and Lachlan Epis, as well as local wildcard Tom Toparis. All three will be Kawasaki mounted.
Twelve support races will also double as the opening round of the 2018 Australian championship for superbike, supersport, supersport 300 and YMF R3 Cup competitors.
Entries for Australian superbikes have topped 50, including the comeback king Troy Bayliss.
Ticketing and camping options
A three-day pass for WorldSBK at the island, purchased in advance through Ticketek, is $120* and includes free Paddock Access. Add camping at the circuit campground for up to four nights, and you’ve the perfect location for a summer long weekend away with your mates or family.
Feel like spoiling yourself? Opt for a Bar SBK pass at $260* and gain access to three undercover facilities, or go for a VIP option in the fully catered suites above pit lane.
And as always with World Superbikes, kids 15 and under are free, as is your bike.
Advance ticket sales close Wednesday, February 21 at 4pm. Buy early and save or get your tickets at the gate from 8am Friday, Saturday and Sunday of race weekend.
For more information, visit www.worldsbk.com.au or 1300 728 007 or Ticketek.
*All ticket prices quoted purchased in advance and subject to Ticketek processing fee. Book now and save on gate prices.