Kawasaki has reiterated its commitment to racing in the WorldSBK championship, saying there are no plans for a return to the MotoGP world championship following Suzuki’s explosive decision to leave the premier class.
Last month, Suzuki publicly confirmed that it would cease its MotoGP efforts at the end of the 2022 season, just two years after winning the world championship title with Joan Mir.
Leaving five manufacturers on the MotoGP grid in his wake, as next year’s grid looks set to drop from 24 bikes to 22, Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta has said publicly he has sparked interest from manufacturer-level parts to eventually replace Suzuki.
While it’s unclear which manufacturers he’s referring to – if any – there is a fairly limited list of plausible candidates with the finances and resources to realistically take on an already competitive and tightly matched field.
Of these, Kawasaki and BMW represent the most logical “educated guesses”. They are certainly the best qualified to make a transition to MotoGP given their factory-backed efforts in the WorldSBK championship.
Only Kawasaki, however, has previous MotoGP form, competing between 2002 and 2008 with the attractive but moderately successful ZX-RR. However, he abruptly left the series ahead of the 2009 MotoGP season in favor of siphoning off resources to invest in a WorldSBK effort which at the time was lingering well behind main Japanese rivals Honda and Yamaha.
He has since dominated the series for the past decade, winning his first title in 20 years with Tom Sykes in 2013 before Jonathan Rea’s six-game winning streak between 2015 and 2020. As a result, Kawasaki Racing Team boss, Guim Roda, says there are reasons why he would risk his status for a much more financially demanding return to MotoGP
“From Kawasaki’s perspective, years ago I think KMC Japan decided to focus on the WorldSBK Championship for some key reasons and those reasons are still relevant,” Roda told sister publication Visordown, Crash.net.
“The brand value of the media exposure achieved by WorldSBK is very good and it shows the quality of Kawasaki and the serious way of working. We at KRT believe this helps to sell many other models, not just Ninja. Motorcycling is a passion and, through racing “, we confirm this passion. KRT tries to share it with all Kawasaki fans around the world.”
WorldSBK more “logical” to sell motorcycles
Central to Kawasaki’s decision to turn its back on MotoGP in favor of WorldSBK is its ultimate goal of promoting and selling its production models.
As a production-based series, Kawasaki says it’s more relevant to compete with similar models than what the public can buy as well.
Indeed, although MotoGP offers greater visibility for the brand as the premier class of motorcycle racing, Roda says Kawasaki’s enduring success over the past ten years negates the limitations of the smallest stage on which it was reached.
“Technically in WorldSBK we use production models, it makes more sense to race that way than to make new chassis, engines or aerodynamics every year like in MotoGP. For Kawasaki and KRT it is easier to manage the internal resources by linking them to street bike R&D and mass production than trying to put on a racing show with bikes that end customers can’t buy for street use.
“At KRT, we do our best at every race and every test to improve the package and also energize Kawasaki fans around the world, no matter what machine they are riding. Personally, I believe that is the spirit of Kawasaki racing.”
Why Kawasaki doesn’t need to race in MotoGP
While quitting MotoGP to turn its dwindling effort into WorldSBK was a masterstroke from Kawasaki, many see it as the company ‘playing it safe’ by focusing on pumping more money into a series smaller (translation: easier) to basically expend its way to the top.
It’s a cynical view – and it’s not wrong – but it’s not just Kawasaki bringing the ball home because it wasn’t winning, despite some encouraging signs it would have ended up being fine .
Unlike its main Japanese rivals – Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki – Kawasaki did not come to MotoGP with a prior Grand Prix racing heritage, a comparable lineage held in high esteem by its counterparts. Suzuki notwithstanding, that history of GP success arguably ranks above any reason why Honda and Yamaha continue to invest heavily.
Kawasaki, on the other hand, has a more established Superbike history dating back to the first WorldSBK championship in 1988, although its success rate up to the “twenty-teens” was sporadic.
While Honda, Yamaha and Ducati could compete in both MotoGP and Superbike, the first series makes more sense for Aprilia and KTM as companies that see sport brand exposure as the main objective, while that Kawasaki and BMW prefer to promote specific models.