Kawasaki's performance in World Superbike Racing has been so good of recent times that it's kind of embarrassing. So what do you change when your bike has just won three straight championships and will take the 2017 manufacturers title in a canter once more with more fastest laps and pole positions than any other marque in 2017? The answer is, not much.
Since a tentative start in world superbike with the new ZX10 R in 2011, Kawasaki has become increasingly dominant in the critically important motorcycle racing series based on the bikes that you can buy over the counter. Tom Sykes missed the title by half a point in 2012, won it in 2013, and missed the title by six points in 2014. Both of those titles went to Aprilia.
Since Jonathan Rea joined the Kawasaki Racing Team at the beginning of 2015, World Superbike racing has taken on a formulaic look with most races a variation on the following theme: Jonathan Rea at the front, and Tom Sykes fighting with Chas Davies, Marco Melandri, Michael van der Mark, Leon Hallam, Alex Lowes or the late Nicky Hayden for the other spots on the podium.
In 2015 it resulted in Rea winning the title, with Sykes third and the pair took the manufacturers title for Kawasaki. In 2016 the results were pretty much the same with Sykes getting the better of Chas Davies Ducati to claim first and second place in the championship for Kawasaki and the manufacturers championship once more.
The master stroke at the end of 2016 was the release of the new Ninja ZX10RR, which involved so many minor changes that an exhaustive list is almost impossible, but those small changes all added up to a lap time between one and two seconds faster around Kawasaki's 4.673 km Autopolis test track in Japan.
That potential has translated into a dominance on most tracks that has only occasionally been matched by the Ducati of Chas Davies. Other than a win by Marco Melandri in the second race on his home circuit in Misano in June, it is nearly two years since anyone other than Davies' Ducati has finished in front of the Kawasaki.
The bike was a result of applying all the things Kawasaki had learned from racing successfully at the highest level over the previous few years and the fine details of the changes were fascinating. For example, the bike had a new cylinder head with additional clearance to accommodate high-lift racing cams, and the crankcase was reinforced for greater strength and rigidity and hence reliability.
The changes included narrower connecting passageways between the cylinders so that the wall thickness could be increased for greater strength and reliability and heat transfer.
From its single seat to its lightweight forged Marchesini wheels to its KQS racing shifter, the ZX10RR was not just fast, but reliable in the extreme, and the end result saw riders across the globe take to the race-ready 2017 Ninja ZX10RR for everything from track days to full-blown racing at the highest level.
It's not surprising that the 2017 results have been even more dominant with several non-factory Kawasaki teams now consistently taking points and Jonathon Rea wrapping up the world riders title with two rounds (four races) still to go.
With that kind of success, it's also not surprising that the 2018 model isn't that much different to the 2017 model. Indeed, in great contrast to the myriad changes of 2017, the 2018 ZX10RR will feature silver reservoir canisters behind the lower fork legs change (instead of red) and green fork caps (instead of red).
Look at the 2017 results above and consider for a moment all the sports bikes competing against the Ninja with factory support: Ducati, Yamaha, Aprilia, BMW, Honda, and MV Agusta. Kawasaki is so dominant that it has been able to take a breather while the others all play catch up.
The Ninja seems highly likely to go 1-2 in the world riders title once more, and take the manufacturers title in a canter once more, with more fastest laps and pole positions than any other marque in 2017. What's more, all the data collected on racetracks across the globe in 2017 will be directly relevant in 2018. Nice for some!
Source: Kawasaki (PDF)