Jack Kennedy on the frustration and opportunity of a British Supersport return

A return to British Supersport has led to “frustration” for four-time champion Jack Kennedy, but his opportunity with Honda is far from a dead end

Jack Kennedy, John McGuinness, 2024 Honda Racing UK.

Although it might be fairly in-vogue in MotoGP and WorldSBK at the moment, a move to the factory Honda team in British Superbikes is not normally one that a rider might feel negative about. Yet, for Jack Kennedy, there could be justification for not feeling totally fulfilled by his switch to ride red.

Kennedy’s career has been quite the rollercoaster. The 2012 Brands Hatch finale of the British Supersport Championship encapsulates it in one race: Kennedy had lost it, then won it, and then lost it again, as his title rival Glen Richards retired, only for Kennedy himself to retire from the race a few laps later.

A trip to the World Supersport Championship never really saw Kennedy able to deliver on what felt like significant potential at that level, and he then returned to the national scene, where he finally won the British Supersport title in 2018. He repeated in 2019, and secured a move to the Superbike class for 2020, only for the TAG Racing team he had signed with to switch from Superbike to Superstock as a result of the Covid pandemic and compete in that class with only Dan Linfoot. Kennedy was back in Supersport in 2021, and won again, and seemed to complete the circle with Mar-Train Yamaha - who he had lost with in 2012 - by defending the title in 2022.

2023 saw Kennedy back in the British Superbike class and with the Mar-Train team. It seemed like a match destined for top-class success, and Kennedy showed speed at times in the season, enough to fight for top positions, and he did so from the first round at Silverstone. But, in the end, Mar-Train decided to sign Danny Kent for 2024, and Kennedy was left out once more, having to find his way back to Supersport. 

“I feel like I deserved to stay [in the Superbike class],” Kennedy said, “but obviously the [Mar-Train] team wanted to make a change, and I suppose that’s just the way racing goes sometimes.

“I’m still on good terms with the team - there’s no point burning any bridges because you never know who you might need or race for again in the future. So, it was a little bit hard to take, but I’m over it now.”

Returning to Supersport was not an easy decision for Kennedy, and not one he made with complete enjoyment. “I can’t deny that it does come with frustration not to stay in the [Superbike] class, and not to stay in the team that I was with,” he said. “But, I’ve been in the game that long now that I just sort of take it on the chin in a way, and just see it as business.”

The Honda CBR600RR’s return to Europe for 2024 was one of the major pieces of news from EICMA 2023. The bike also competed on the world stage last year, but with little success - Tarran Mackenzie’s victory in Most being the solitary standout result for the MIE Honda team in a season marred by an underpowered, uncompetitive motorcycle.

At the same time, Kennedy is returning to a revitalised Supersport class, with Ducati Panigale V2s and Triumph Street Triple RS 765s joining the traditional cast of 600s in the middleweight division.

Despite this, Kennedy has confidence in the Honda project, even if its machinery is derived from a decade-old technical platform. “I think it’s a privilege to ride for the factory [Honda] team. I know that Honda are going to turn out the best 600 that they possibly can, and there’ll be no stone unturned with it. So, I’m really excited to see what sort of package they can put out, and I’m really excited to ride for the factory team as well. 

“I’m already experiencing how professional they are as a team, how much they look after you and how much they’ve got their riders’ best interests at heart. So, it’s a really nice feeling and I feel as though I’ve made the right move.”

Another factor in Kennedy’s positivity about moving back to Supersport in these circumstances are the possibilities that riding for Honda opens up for him beyond 2024. “There is the prospect of moving back up [to the Superbike class] with the team - there’s a lot of potential to progress with the team, and the two-year agreement was that if we do a good job for Honda and we win the championship then we can talk about riding a Superbike for the year after.”

Along these lines, Kennedy had also been given assurances by Honda Racing UK team manager, Havier ‘Harv’ Beltran, who told Kennedy that he “can test the Superbike throughout this year as well when we go testing,” the Dubliner said.

Such assurances have mental benefits right now, as well as potential career perks down the line. “I think all this information and positivity about Superbike is great for me to hold onto and something to look forward to for the future when we do a good job.

“It’s great to feel some loyalty, and like I say the team really seems to have the riders’ best interests at heart, and they look after you well. So, it’s a breath of fresh air, really, because, as we know, the racing paddock doesn’t really have a lot of loyalty. So, to feel some and see some is a breath of fresh air - I feel like I’m in the right place.”

The transformation of the Supersport class in the last couple of years has been a revolution. The 600s that the class was built on in the 1990s have been decreasingly popular since the mid-2010s in the minds of the consumer, and therefore in the minds of the manufacturers, too. Eventually, a solution was found in the form of ‘balance of performance’, which is a common thing in sportscar racing and has now made its way into production motorcycle racing. In the case of Supersport, the role of BoP is to ensure that a 955cc V-twin Ducati Panigale V2 can race fairly against a 765cc three-cylinder Triumph Street Triple RS 765, the 798cc three-cylinder MV Agusta F3, the remaining four-cylinder 600s from Kawasaki, Yamaha, and now Honda, and, in the British Championship example, a four-cylinder Suzuki GSX-R750, as well.

The balancing rules were probably just about spot on from the perspective of Ben Currie last year, who ended up taking the British Supersport crown in a relatively comfortable style, not entirely dissimilarly to how Nicolo Bulega had cruised to the World Supersport Championship on the same motorcycle. For those not riding a Ducati, especially the one prepared by the Oxford Products team for which Currie raced and will race again in 2024, the opinion is likely to be that there is work to be done.

For Kennedy, the revolutionised and revitalised Supersport class with the new balancing regulations makes the category, ultimately, slightly more appealing to drop back into. It offers effectively something different to the class he raced in before, with new bikes run in some cases by new teams, in addition to the introduction of full slick tyres and other technical changes.

“I think it’s exciting with all the new manufacturers in, the new rules, slick tyres, and you’ve got auto-blip,” Kennedy said. “So, I think it’s a new sort of playing field. I’m excited to go back and see if I can be as strong as I was when it was the old rules. I think there’s a lot has changed in the class…I feel like the class is sort of refreshed, so that’s good for me because I’m not going back into something that is the exact same as when I left. That keeps it exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do.”

Kennedy will get his chance to do exactly that when the 2024 British Supersport Championship kicks off on 20-21 April at the Circuito de Navarra in Spain.