Why doesn’t Kawasaki race in MotoGP?

It's been more than a decade since Kawasaki last competed in MotoGP. Given its success in WorldSBK, could it make a return?

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR

AS THE 2019 MotoGP World Championship heads to the Red Bull Ring for this weekend’s Austrian MotoGP, homegrown manufacturer KTM is preparing a whole weekend of celebrations in the interests of patriotism to honour of the series’ newest entrant.

With Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki, Aprilia and KTM all now basking off that MotoGP glow – if you believe everything they say - is it high time for other manufacturers to consider following suit?

Why did Kawasaki withdraw from MotoGP?

The only bona-fide manufacturer to have competed in the modern MotoGP era and then withdrawn, the firm's decision to exit the series was the big news during the winter of 2008-2009. 

At the time, the biting global financial crisis was in full flow and middling results in MotoGP just didn’t add up to the number crunchers even though it had a contract with Dorna (from which it was made to honour in part by deferring the already-designed 2009 ZX-10RR bike to skeleton privateer ‘Hayate’ team in its place) and a rider deal in place with Marco Melandri. 

Ironically,  that interim bike proved quick despite the disjointed process of getting it to the grid and limited resource, with the retained Melandri regularly inside the top ten and even getting a podium in France.

Despite this, it stood by its decision, arguing it could make a more focused impact by diverting attentions to smaller but greater in number projects – in short WorldSBK.

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday

Having surmised that parallel struggles in WorldSBK and MotoGP harmed sales more than they’d gain by doubling the resource and financial pool in an effort to win in both, the decision was taken to focus on the series that had a direct impact on bike sales.

Ironically, the reason it is now experiencing the success that many think shows the KRT factory would be competitive in MotoGP is the reason as to why it is successful in the first place. 

As inevitably tempting as it would be to walk into an advertising pitch with a manufacturer that has won both WorldSBK and MotoGP titles in the same year, the sacrifices or the huge influx of resource it would need wouldn’t make it worthwhile overall. 

Put into figures, for a top factory team it is estimated to cost £30-40 million per year…

It’d need to title challenge in MotoGP to make it worthwhile

It’s easy to forget now just how much of an underdog Kawasaki was in WorldSBK less than a decade ago. A challenger for wins in the 1990s – which included one title win for Scott Russell in 1993 – between 1998 and 2010 it accumulated just four wins, finishing bottom of the full-time manufacturers for much of the 2000s.

However, ever since 2012 when ‘Team Green’ transformed into a regular contender for wins following a number of operational changes and, the ZX-10R has become the Superbike ‘du jour’ around the world, winning various national titles even before Tom Sykes won in 2013 followed by Jonathan Rea in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

With such a huge reputation to take to MotoGP, from this position anything less than wins – or even a title challenge – would be considered disappointing as 2014 WorldSBK champions Aprilia are finding to its sizeable cost now. 

The “MotoGP-style” name drop

With Ducati raising a few eyebrows by launching the Ducati Panigale V4 R with the intention of then homologating it to compete in the World Superbike Championship, the interpretation of the rules that once explicitly ruled out so-called homologation specials was tested. 

However, rather than argue too hard against it, KRT has reportedly formulated a plan for its own, one which will essentially draw on some MotoGP-style technology and aero features on a ZX-10RR. It’s not MotoGP but it’s exclusive yet production-based. Like marvelling at a Porsche 911 GT3 before purchasing a Cayman.  

MotoGP is too expensive

Bringing us full circle, money is the (primary) reason why it withdrew from MotoGP and the most ‘full stop’ of an answer as to why it won’t come back.

Indeed, MotoGP is indeed a financial gamble. Get it right by winning on track and the promotion needs little input but get it wrong and the negativity is counter-productive and you’re still just putting two bikes on the grid at a wealthy cost, regardless of whether it’s starting 1st or 24th.