The news that Jonathan Rea had re-signed with Kawasaki was met with almost universal ambivalence. There are lots of pros and cons to Rea staying put. From a racing perspective, why would he leave? He has a team centred around him with a proven track record of success. What could motivate him to move? A new challenge is the reason most cited.
In 2014 there was a general feeling in the WorldSBK paddock that Rea was a rider waiting for the right opportunity to show his true ability. Years on a Honda had seen him at the sharp end of the field, despite racing with a blunt weapon. Switching to the all-conquering Kawasaki gave him the opportunity he had been waiting for.
Five world titles, 74 race wins, and 128 podiums later, and Rea is regarded as the greatest Superbike rider of all-time. There’s nothing left for Rea to prove in WorldSBK so why would he leave? A loyal team, a good bike, a hefty pay cheque and an ambassadorial role with the manufacturer when he retires would certainly make it very difficult to walk away from Team Green.
In the past Rea has dallied with options on the table from other manufacturers. He’s flirted with Ducati in the past and held court with Aprilia and Suzuki, but there was never a concrete offer on the table to move to MotoGP. Moving to Ducati in WorldSBK, which would give the possibility of moving to MotoGP, would be an attractive proposition for any rider, but Rea is also a realist. He’d want to be paid for leaving Kawasaki. After all his success, he holds the cards at the negotiating table.
With that being the case he opted to remain with what he knows and stayed with Kawasaki. Is it such a bad thing that Rea has elected to stay with Kawasaki for “multiple years?” The Northern Irishman has won five titles in a row and is the bookies favourite to make it six in 2020.
Why would he leave indeed?
The biggest reason to leave is the competitive balance of WorldSBK. Have Ducati moved into the ascendancy with their V4R? Their bike certainly looked all-conquering with Alvaro Bautista in the early rounds last year. The Spaniard was a perfect match with the bike and circuits in the early part of his Superbike career and it showed what was possible. When the Ducati was on form it was unbeatable.
Would that have sparked any doubts for Rea? It would only be human for them to surface and he surely needed to hear some arguments from Kawasaki about their future plans for the ZX10-RR. Whether it will be the right decision for the final chapter of Rea’s career remains to be seen, but it could make for a compelling close to his career.
Last year was Rea at his best. The ability to dig deep and overcome the battering ram that was Bautista was amazing. One rider fell apart while the other asserted themselves. It was a one-of-a-kind campaign from Rea. Whether he can do that in future years, particularly 2020, will be a very interesting story to follow. We’ve seen what Rea can do with the dominant package in WorldSBK and now we need to see how the Ducati develops with Scott Redding this year.
Redding is the key player in WorldSBK. He has arguably the best bike on the grid and is with a team that’s as well resourced as Kawasaki Racing Team. The Englishman is incredibly motivated and took to WorldSBK well in Australia. Was that a sign of what we’ll see from him all year? Or was testing a more accurate portrayal, where he was fast but not amazingly so? Has Rea signed on for “multiple years” of chasing Ducati rather than setting the pace?
Challenges internal and external
For a championship that has, wrongly, been derided for having a dominant champion, suddenly we’ll see Rea have to dig deep on a regular basis. He’ll do that with a teammate, Alex Lowes, who’s out to win and prove his mettle. With a second year of his contract confirmed Lowes is as relaxed as he is focused.
Battles within and battles outside Kawasaki look set to rage for Rea. It’s going to be fascinating to see how reacts to both. Would it have been good to see Rea on another bike? Definitely. I’m also definite that it wouldn’t have been good to see him on the Ducati. Rea won’t have it all his own way going forward because the Ducati V4R is just too good a motorcycle for that to be the case.
The greatest Superbike rider of all time has signed his new contract, and we’ll get to see him at his best with his back against the wall at times. It’s an exciting prospect.
This is part of a series of articles published in partnership with RacingLowdown.com, run by MotoMatters.com contributor Steve English.
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