Newly-crowned four-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea says a mid-season test at Brno “transformed” his Kawasaki into a true title contender, after it had “survived” tough opening rounds.
The 2018 season saw a raft of new changes brought to WSBK aimed at hindering Kawasaki's dominance and bringing the field closer together, with the most notable being the adjusted rev limits.
Kawasaki was hit hardest by this, losing 1,400rpm relative to its rivals, which Rea says “made the chassis a lot different”, and meant the team merely “survived” the opening handful of rounds – though Rea still managed three wins from the first four events.
However, a test at Brno mid-season allowed Kawasaki to “explore” chassis set-ups more, which ultimately “transformed the bike” into one with which Rea was able to win a further nine races and a fourth world title.
“About the beginning of the season, it was very difficult,” he said in a press conference following his championship win at Magny-Cours.
“Every season in the past now we've had some different kind of regulation to adapt to, and of course change is not always welcome because you have to react.
“The beginning was a huge learning process because, not only did we have a new engine spec, it was a different character, it made the chassis a lot different and we survived the first races, to be honest.
“We were able to win here and there, but it wasn't really until we went to a test in Brno where we were able to explore a lot more chassis set-up.
“I want to thank Pere [Riba, crew chief] because he thought outside the box and transformed the bike and since that test, we've been super strong and we're always learning.”
Rea: Best is yet to come
Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki Racing
Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images
Rea's fourth-successive championship success puts him equal with Carl Fogarty and, along with his record 67 race wins and tally of 130 podiums – matching Troy Corser’s record – make him statistically the greatest WSBK rider of all time.
Remaining in the series and with Kawasaki for another two years, Rea warns “the best is yet to come” and says the target now is to “at least” match what he has done this season.
“Right now I want to savour the moment, but I honestly feel the best is yet to come.
“I feel like I'm learning every single day, every year we learn something as a team and I'm surrounded by the most amazing professionals, and it's impossible just to stand still.
“Of course, sitting at a level like last season and also this season, it's impossible to stay there forever, but I have a really nice two years planned through '19 and '20.
“Of course, we have to aim to do at least the same as we are doing now to try to keep winning.
“That's what motivates me every single day, to be better, to work my ass off in the winter time to arrive in the season in the best shape for the season, and then manage the season in a good way.
“I think I'm now in my prime, so I don't have too many years left, but the next two I'm looking forward to.”