As the bedrock of Kawasaki’s approach to WorldSBK, the Ninja ZX-10RR has been through many stages of development, first as simple ZX-10R and now with its RR status.
Homologated as a base machine for World Superbike racing, the ZX-10RR is the brainchild of KHI’s Yoshimoto Matsuda who specified such things as a modified cylinder head to suit high-lift racing camshafts, DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon) coated low friction tappets and reinforced high-rigidity crankcases.
Changing the core DNA of the Ninja from one season to the next to reflect factory development and also changes to the requirements of KRT and its riders, Matsuda has overseen many iterations of the ZX-10R concept. Now, with the 2018 ZX-10RR he and KRT face perhaps their greatest challenge yet.
As part of a plan to create parity between teams and manufacturers for 2018 the peak engine revs of many machines has been reduced. As winners three years in a row, Kawasaki find themselves in the unenviable position of being at the greatest disadvantage with over 1000rpm of peak revs denied to the rev hungry litre class Ninja.
Whilst not agreeing with the new regulations, Matsuda has vowed to keep the ZX-10RR competitive and, like fans around the world, would be delighted to see either Jonathan Rea or Tom Sykes take the championship at year end – especially in the face of such punitive adversity.
In historical terms, the ZX-10R reached a new career zenith in 2013 when Tom Sykes and the Kawasaki Racing Team won the SBK championship. During that year the Ninja ZX-10R was the bike to have in WorldSBK, achieving ten victories over fourteen hard fought rounds of racing. Season champion Sykes proved a multiple winner and teammate Loris Baz also mounted the top step of the podium on one occasion.
Come the 2014 season and the litre class Ninja placed Tom Sykes second in the SBK Riders’ championship, delivering eight race wins for the gritty Yorkshireman. In the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup the Ninja came close to winning the title also.
Rea’s championship win in 2015 delivered total domination and with the two official KRT machines inside the top three finishing places, the bike proved versatile in the extreme.
The 1-2 result in 2016 for Rea and Sykes on the all-new Ninja enhanced the reputation of the ZX-10R, while podium success also followed the path of the new bike into the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup class. Cut to 2017 and Rea delivered a stunning third championship in a row cementing his relationship with the mighty Ninja and securing his place among the Superbike elite.
It’s not going to be an easy ride by any means in 2018 but the combination of KHI plus Matsuda-san, the KRT coordinated effort and two of the best riders to ever swing a leg over a Superbike bodes well. Rea and Sykes are both capable of winning the championship as they have previously proved, the question for 2018 is maybe now when but who?