Kawasaki’s all-conquering WorldSBK team hosted new season launch party yesterday - not in any one of the variety of iconic city-centre venues they have used many times in the past - but they did it at their expanded and very swish European headquarters, located in an industrial estate just behind the main grandstand of the Montmelo circuit, on the outskirts of Barcelona in Spain.
Fielding their two works riders, Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes again in 2018, their shiny new ZX-10RR race bike was delivered from the artificial skies of their workshops to ground level on a metal platform, specially cut into the very ceiling of their posh industrial headquarters facility.
Finally fully lowered down onto the stage, the new bike, which will have a vast reduction in peak RPM for 2018 compared to 2017, was a curious shade of light metallic green, with yellow flashes and lots of black panels. It was certainly a departure from 2017, visually.
Already fast in testing, the much less rev hungry latest Ninja (with an engine that drops from a maximum rev limit of 15,200rpm to 14,100 this year, by regulation) is still expected to be the top bike of all, especially in the hands of history man Rea. He has scored three titles in succession recently, all on slightly different versions of the current bike, as rules and development directions have changed.
With the pretty stringent new rev rules working against them in 2018, simply to try and slow down the Ninja express and make the championship more open and closer as they have had a greater reduction than anybody else, Kawasaki has clearly taken a tough stance for the first time.
They obviously feel al these new, and possibly even tighter rules in midseason, are unfair meddling by the powers that be in their finely honed WorldSBK on-track efforts. The organisers and FIM can award further rev limit drops, in blocks of 250rpm at a time, through the coming year. Kawasaki thinks they know who they may be aimed at most directly.
That evident corporate displeasure, and determination to overcome all obstacles put in their path anyway, has a name now. To be exact, a hashtag, #NinjaSpirit.
It has been teased at the foot of a few recent media releases, but explained finally as accepting any new challenge, of never giving up, and any other number of positive motivational approaches to this year’s racing.
World Champion Rea was asked at the team launch to explain what the new motto of NinjaSpirit meant to him? He stated it was “About never giving up, and each year always striving to be better.” For Sykes it was more about… “Pure racing heritage, always associating Ninja with speed and durability.”
It seems, from outside at least, that Kawasaki has now taken quite a solidly hard stance in their collective annoyance at what they see as new rules designed to affect them more than anybody else.
Everybody still sees Rea and Kawasaki as the most likely to succeed again in 2018, especially given their prowess in recent winter tests on a full 2018 bike, with a 14,100rpm ceiling, not a 15,200 one as last year. If enough engine revs are lost, development frozen and the season-long gearing choice issues (that almost all major teams have toiled with so far) start to bite savagely enough? The Kawasaki riders may well need all the spirit they can bring to bear on their Ninjas. But probably not in the first few rounds at least.