Could a WorldSBK Kawasaki ZX-10RR wildcard be competitive in MotoGP?

Kawasaki reportedly asked if it could enter a WorldSBK ZX-10RR into a MotoGP race... but could such a machine ever be competitive at the highest levels?

Jonathan Rea - Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10RR

Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta has ruffled a few feathers by claiming he rejected a request from Kawasaki to enter its WorldSBK-spec Kawasaki ZX-10RR into a MotoGP race… but could the bike ever be competitive in the upper echelons of the sport or would it just be a publicity stunt?

First, some background. In an interview with GPOne, Ezpeleta revealed he was ‘recently’ asked by Kawasaki if it could do wildcards with its Superbikes, which he rejected by somewhat pointedly referring to WorldSBK as the ‘second division’ of motorcycle racing that should never mix.

It’s an interesting proposal not least because Kawasaki has repeatedly rebuffed suggestions it could return to the series it left in 2009 because of the huge resources it would demand, which it says is around ten times more than WorldSBK.

However, these comments suggest the idea of MotoGP has been bounced around in the boardroom table and there is certainly some method to the madness from a publicity point of view. Indeed, Kawasaki’s dominance in WorldSBK means it is likely reaching the plateau of what it can possibly do to extract more from the project when it comes to selling more motorbikes. After all, what’s the difference between five and six world championships when it comes to the average punter?

Even just showing up to a MotoGP event would generate immense publicity for the brand almost regardless of the result, especially with a talisman as Jonathan Rea on riding duties, a man whom many would expect to acquit himself just fine at the highest levels on the right machine.

For this reason, you can understand why Ezpeleta goes on to say wildcards are ‘reserved for those that participate in MotoGP’ in that Kawasaki getting a disproportionate amount for press for essentially turning up on a shoestring would probably irk other manufacturers.

Where would a Kawasaki ZX-10RR place on the MotoGP grid?

But where would a Kawasaki ZX-10RR helmed by a rider such as Rea really fare in MotoGP?

To give you a rough idea we’ve collected Rea’s qualifying times at the seven tracks both WorldSBK and MotoGP visited in 2019 and compared them with those of the MotoGP grid [see below].

Here it must be pointed of course there are other factors to take into consideration. First and foremost, the two series’ use entirely different tyres – Pirelli in WorldSBK and Michelin in MotoGP – while MotoGP has longer and more free practice sessions. Then there are alternate conditions of each event.

In summary though, Rea and Kawasaki would not be left behind by the pack over a single lap at least with the Ulsterman’s Superpole times on Pirelli rubber mostly placing him on the back two rows, but not always last of all and always only a few tenths short of higher. With some testing on the Michelin rubber, it is plausible that it could nudge the top 15 too.

The data does show one interesting anomaly though at Phillip Island with its long, cambered corners.

Indeed, Rea’s pole winning lap time of 1m 29.413secs compares very favourably with the MotoGP equivalent by placing him sixth on the grid for the 2019 race.

While it’s worth arguing the 2019 MotoGP race in Australia was hampered by windy weather, that same lap time would have placed him right up on the front row in 2018 and well inside the top ten in 2017 too.

Ezpeleta doesn’t mention where Kawasaki was considering a wildcard though one can either assume it would be Japan – where there is no WorldSBK event – or they too have crunched some numbers and highlighted where its bike wouldn’t spanked, such as Phillip Island.

Of course, the reality is hard to predict accurately. MotoGP races are longer and the extra fuel needed would surely change the characteristics of the ZX-10RR and Rea’s approach on it, while a bike over a single lap – especially in the corners – will always be more vulnerable in race conditions when it’s not as powerful in a straight line. Even at Phillip Island the Kawasaki tops out at 311kph, compared with the pole-winning Yamaha of Vinales on 339.6kph, while the Ducati of Jack Miller managed 346kph...

As Kawasaki’s former WorldSBK rivals Aprilia have shown, stepping up to MotoGP on the relative cheap by adapting a Superbike into a prototype is not an easy thing to do, so the chances of seeing ‘Team Green’ back at the highest levels seems unlikely for now.

Qatar - Losail International Circuit
WorldSBK - Rea Superpole Lap Time1m 56.246
MotoGP - Pole Winning Lap Time1m 53.546 (Vinales)
Rea Grid Position24 / 24
Spain - Jerez
WorldSBK - Rea Superpole Lap Time1m 38.247
MotoGP - Pole Winning Lap Time1m 36.380 (Quartararo)
Rea Grid Position19 / 25
Netherlands - Assen
WorldSBK - Rea Superpole Lap Time1m 35.530
MotoGP - Pole Winning Lap Time1m 32.017 (Quartararo)
Rea Grid Position22 / 22
WorldSBK Pole Time (Bautista)1m 34.740 (22 / 22)
Italy - Misano
WorldSBK - Rea Superpole Lap Time1m 34.596
MotoGP - Pole Winning Lap Time1m 32.265 (Vinales)
Rea Grid Position22 / 24
Spain - Aragon
WorldSBK - Rea Superpole Lap Time1m 50.013
MotoGP - Pole Winning Lap Time1m 47.009 (Marquez)
Rea Grid Position24 / 24
WorldSBK Pole Time (Bautista)1m 49.049 (19 / 24)
Thailand - Chang International Circuit
WorldSBK - Rea Superpole Lap Time1m 32.341
MotoGP - Pole Winning Lap Time1m 29.719 (Quartararo)
Rea Grid Position23 / 23
WorldSBK Pole Time (Bautista)1m 31.912 (23 / 24)
Australia - Phillip Island 
WorldSBK - Rea Superpole Lap Time1m 29.413
MotoGP - Pole Winning Lap Time1m 28.492 (Vinales)
Rea Grid Position6 / 22