At the recent Barcelona SBK tests, Johnny Rea again set the pace. Good for him of course, but not so much for his rivals. The Northern Irishman topped the timesheets, his factory Kawasaki a missile around the Spanish track.

And that’s not all, as the number 1 also proved to be number 1 in terms of pace. No one could match the six-time champion’s Ninja over a long run round the Montmeló track and, for now, it doesn’t look as if anyone can bother WSBK’s most successful rider.

Strong riders like Scott Redding, Michael Ruben Rinaldi, Toprak Razgatlioglu and Tom Sykes appear to be on a similar level, and yet there’s no stand-out contender among the chasing pack. In fact, as young riders like Andrea Locatelli and American revelation Garrett Gerloff start to emerge, the championship is becoming increasingly balanced. Or rather, it would be if not for the Cannibal.

“Old” or “new” ZX-10RR? It little matters to Rea

In asking Kawasaki for a new bike, Johnny has got what he wanted. The 2021 version of the ZX-10RR retains the classic style traits and inline four-cylinder engine, but is altered in some of its details, starting with the front section, which offers more efficient aerodynamics.

The airbox is redesigned, the exhaust system updated, the fuel compartment shifted and the engine “smaller”. What do we mean by this? During the November test at Jerez, there were two versions at the back of the Provec garage, the old and the new. And the new appears less bulky, confirmed by one of the Japanese technicians present.

Johnny has exploited this potential, both at the Angel Nieto track and then at Aragón and Barcelona. There is still a difference between the Ninja and the V4 R, but it’s very small. Also because at top speed, the Ninja’s electronics allow Rea to ride in a consistent, clean way. And so we’re not surprised to see the KRT bike at the top of the timesheets.

SBK without Johnny? Wonderful, but...

When a champion of this calibre is absent, you notice the difference, and right away. Look at MotoGP. Marc Marquez has been missing since the the first 2020 round and, without him, Honda has fallen into an abyss in terms of performance. Firstly.

Secondly, all references have been lost. Number 93 represented the benchmark, the ever-raising bar, the ultimate stimulus. Without him, there’s healthy confusion. Which is good in one way, because we’ve seen many different race winners. But the level appears both high, and at the same time, lower. Current champion Joan Mir hasn’t proved dominant. Far from it.

If Rea were to leave SBK, the same dynamics would occur. We might have more title contenders. We might see many riders able to win individual races. But the series clearly wouldn’t have an indisputed number 1.

Translated by Heather Watson

MotoGP, Honda where are you going without Marc Marquez?