As the world of motorcycle racing has gone mad 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 is also expected to be bringing a new bike, with much attention falling on Michael van der Mark and his future.
Honda has 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.
Source: Kawasaki Racing Team; Photo: © 2016 Steve English – All Rights Reserved
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.