The 2016 World Superbike Championship may not have been a classic season by any stretch of the imagination but there can be no denying that the performances of Jonathan Rea were nothing short of superb. The Northern Irishman became the first rider since fellow Brit Carl Fogarty in 1999 to retain his crown although he had to wait until the final round to seal his second world title.
Now 29, Rea signalled his intentions from the off with a superb double at the season opener at Phillip Island and, quite simply, he never looked back. He only failed to finish two races all year long and out of the 24 that he did finish, he was on the podium in 23 of them.
It was also the manner in which he performed that stood out. Measured and controlled throughout, Rea had a level of performance that was above those of his rivals and whilst he still had to work hard, he practically had one hand on the title from the very beginning.
Nowhere could his talent be seen more than at the end of year tests where he lapped quicker on his ZX-10R Kawasaki than half of the of the MotoGP field and it would take a brave man to bet against him winning his third WSB title in 2017.
Rea’s team-mate Tom Sykes undoubtedly deserves praise for the ground work he did to develop the ZX-10R in 2010 and 2011. Back then, the bike wasn’t competitive but huge strides were made in 2012 when he finished second overall to Max Biaggi, only missing out on the title by half a point. The title followed in 2013 with the runner-up spot again taken in 2014.
Since Rea joined the team though, he’s had to play second fiddle and whilst the duo share equal status for the Japanese team, onlookers will agree that, at this moment in time, Rea is the superior rider. Indeed, it’s a scenario not too dissimilar to that in the Mercedes F1 team where Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have been dominating proceedings.
Like them, Rea and Sykes don’t see eye to eye and it’s fair to say their relationship has been strained at times but they’ve remained professional and ultimately delivered the 1-2 in the Championship that Kawasaki would have wanted at the beginning of the season.
Rea’s sportsmanship at the final round in allowing Sykes to take the second place he needed was an incredibly gracious act but a nod to the role Sykes has played in the success of the team. However, if he’s to repeat his title success of 2013, he needs to make changes over the winter months and work harder than ever to ensure he gives Rea a closer run for his money next year.
Sykes claimed second place overall by just two points from Ducati’s Chaz Davies and had it not been for a slow start to the season, the Welshman could well have given Rea more of a challenge never mind finish runner-up. With 11 wins during the season, including six in a row at the final three rounds, the combination of Davies and the Ducati Panigale became the package to beat and could well mean 2017 sees a closer title race.
The former World Supersport Champion, and the Italian factory, need to improve their consistency though and ensure, like Kawasaki, the bike performs equally well at all of the circuits. If those fourth, fifth and sixth place finishes can be converted into podiums, we could have another British World Superbike Champion.
Honda best of the rest:
As we have become accustomed to in recent years, the depth of competition in WSB in 2016 wasn’t like what it used to be and the British trio of Rea, Sykes and Davies were head and shoulders clear of the rest of the field. Indeed, the gap from third placed Davies to fourth placed Michael van der Mark was some 178 points with the Honda rider just edging out team-mate and former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden.
The duo were the best of the rest but the Ten Kate team will certainly be hoping that the all-new Honda Fireblade will allow Hayden and new recruit Stefan Bradl to get a lot closer to the flying Kawasaki and Ducati riders next year.
The return of Yamaha to the series was expected to give it a much needed injection but , in the hands of Sylvain Guintoli, Alex Lowes and the Pata Crescent Racing team, they failed to deliver. The R1 didn’t have the pace to run with its rivals whilst too many crashes for the riders, which resulted in Guintoli missing five of the 13 rounds, left them constantly playing catch up.
The Frenchman did end the year strongly with a podium to end the year in eleventh overall but Lowes could only manage a best finish of fifth and just four finishes inside the top six. The experience has seen Guintoli jump ship and move to British Superbikes whilst 2017 will be a big season for Lowes. With a season now under their belts with the R1, Crescent Racing will be hoping the Brit can step up a gear, or two, in 2017, with the signing of van der Mark also expected to move them up the order.
Were you impressed by Rea’s performances? What were your highlights from WSBK 2016? Why not share your comments below…
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.