World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea says the new 2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R has been developed ‘for a different riding style’ after the Ulster star completed a two-day test at Jerez in Spain on Wednesday.
The Ballyclare man, who will make a flying visit to Belfast for Friday night’s Cornmarket Motorbike Awards where he is a runaway favourite to be crowned the 2015 Irish Motorcyclist of the Year, ended the test seventh fastest overall, 0.932 seconds behind his KRT team-mate Tom Sykes, who headed the time sheets.
Rea, however, managed his best lap in 1m 40.856s without taking advantage of a qualifying tyre compared to Yorkshireman Sykes, who lapped in 1m 39.924s using the extra-grippy rear rubber.
The Kawasaki rider, who will celebrate his 29th birthday next Tuesday, says he has been working ‘calmly and methodically’ with the new ZX-10R as the countdown continues to the first race at Phillip Island, which takes place from February 26-28.
“It is clear that the new bike has been developed more for another riding style and it asks you to ride in a certain way. So we are still exploring exactly how to extract the best out of the bike and we have changed many things,” he explained.
“It was clear that when we arrived here the track grip level was much worse than the last time, so it required a little bit of a different set-up. Our testing philosophy this winter – testing big items and not getting carried away with the set-up – has really made sense here.
“It was the same track, same part of the world but a different character this time,” he added.
“We had a new fork specification to try and a different engine character.
“We are just using the tools in the toolbox now and understanding more about the new Ninja ZX-10R. We have been working calmly and methodically and if the starting lights went out at Jerez tomorrow we would not be seventh.”
Rea dominated the championship last season after joining Kawasaki following a long and loyal association with Honda.
He won an incredible 14 races to stamp his authority on the series, leaving his rivals trailing in his wake as he wrapped up the title at Jerez in September with two rounds still remaining.
Rea became Northern Ireland’s first motorcycling world champion since Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid won the Formula 1 and Formula 2 World Championships in 1986 respectively and paid a selfless tribute to the former road racing legends by donning their helmets during his celebratory slow-down lap at Jerez.
He is guaranteed to receive a hero’s welcome in Belfast at the sold-out Cornmarket Motorbike Awards in Belfast, where the prestigious Joey Dunlop trophy will be presented to the winner of the feature award at the Ramada Plaza Hotel.
Following the sparkling bash, Rea will resume his pre-season preparations with a further test next week at Aragon in Spain before flying to Australia in readiness for the traditional season opener at the iconic Phillip Island circuit, where he made a dream debut for his new Kawasaki team a year ago with his maiden win at the spectacular venue in race one.