The arrival of the new Honda Fireblade failed to deliver the goods, the team suffered a huge loss mid-season with the tragic death of Nicky Hayden in a cycling accident and Yamaha didn’t make the step up to challenge for race wins.
Rumblings of rule changes to level the playing field were never far away but none of this should detract from the incredible performance of Jonathan Rea who won his, and Kawasaki’s, third successive title.
Jonathan reigns supreme
Before a wheel had even been turned, it was clear Rea and Kawasaki were the combination to beat after back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016. The Ulsterman was determined to be the first rider to win three successive championships and, ultimately, the result was never in doubt particularly as he took victory in the first five races of the season to immediately open up a sizeable lead.
The 30-year old won the most races, 16, over the course of the 26-race season, often making it look easy, and made the fewest mistakes, only failing to finish two races all season, one of which (at Donington Park when his rear tyre exploded) wasn’t his fault.
They were the only occasions he was off the podium and that allowed him to end the year with a record 556 points, four more than Colin Edwards’ long-standing record from 2002. His 16 wins moved him to a career total of 54 to close to within five of Carl Fogarty on the all-time list and, on current form we can expect that accolade to be his mid-way through 2018. Simply put, Rea is a class act.
Work to do for Sykes
Tom Sykes remained with Kawasaki for an eighth consecutive year but whilst he’s finished in the top three of the championship every year since 2012, winning the world title in 2013, the last three seasons have seen him upstaged by Rea; indeed, this year saw him finish some 183 points adrift of his team-mate and only win two races compared to the aforementioned 16 of Rea.
No-one knows more than the Huddersfield rider that he needs to work even harder in 2018 in order to stop the rider on the other side of the garage running away with things once more.
Ducati – close, but not quite
Chaz Davies was expected to lead Ducati’s attack with Marco Melandri coming out of retirement to join him and whilst the former did offer the closest challenge to Rea, winning seven races, five no-scores plus three lowly finishes meant his challenge fell short. The combination was lightning quick at some circuits but struggled at others and that’s an area that will need to be addressed in 2018.
Melandri, returning after a year out of the sport which is never an easy task, had a solid year and did well to win one race, also finishing on the podium an additional twelve times. More often than not, he was disputing third and fourth places though and so will be expecting to make a greater challenge next year.
The Yamaha duo of Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark both had solid years with the Briton coming out on top in fifth overall after taking four podiums to van der Mark’s two. However, whilst they were more consistent and competitive this year they still found themselves stuck in the fourth to sixth bracket more often than not.
Further improvements are required to the R1, whether that be more input from the manufacturer or help from the new rules that are due to come into place, if they are to push for the race wins.
Tough season for Honda
With a brand new CBR1000RR Fireblade, big money sponsorship from Red Bull and Nicky Hayden and fellow former MotoGP rider Stefan Bradl on board, Honda were expected to be major contenders in 2017 but in pre-season testing, it clear the new machine wasn’t what everyone had hoped it would be.
Both riders were at least two seconds off the pace and whilst Bradl had to get accustomed to the characteristics of a WSB machine after five years in MotoGP, Hayden had been a constant front runner in 2016 with more of the same expected in 2017. However, the team – and the sport – was dealt a massive blow in June when the American succumbed to injuries in a cycling accident in Italy, which, understandably, hit everyone hard.
Bradl only had six top ten finishes all year, picking up just 67 points to finish in a lowly 14th overall as he also picked up a number of small injuries along the way. Hayden wasn’t replaced with the team instead using various riders including Davide Giugliano, Takumi Takahashi and Jake Gagne and it was a difficult year for all concerned.
Best of the rest
Xavi Fores (Barni Ducati), Leon Camier (MV Agusta) and Jordi Torres were the best of the rest and were regular top six finishers whilst the Milwaukee Aprilia pairing of Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori would have been hoping for considerably more than their overall placings of tenth and 11th overall in the final table.
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.