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Reigning World SBK Champion, Jonathan Rea, recently visited the Kawasaki’s Akashi plant near Kobe in Japan as a VIP guest.
A tour was organised so that the 29 year old Irishman could meet, greet and thank as many Kawasaki executives, managers and staff as possible for their assistance in helping him and the Ninja ZX-10R equipped Kawasaki Racing Team achieve the top ranking in the World Superbike Championship. This is the story – in words and pictures – of his tour.
KHI – Jonathan what does a visit like this represent to you?
JR - I lead a busy life with my racing and testing commitments plus my wife and I have recently celebrated the birth of our second child. That said, I relish any chance I get to meet people from the Kawasaki family – especially those at the factory who play a part in making the dream of racing success become reality.
The link between KHI and the Kawasaki Racing Team is close in terms of development and feedback. Anyone can see how strong that bond is and the evidence for Kawasaki fans is the new Ninja ZX-10R created as part of that partnership.
We see perhaps one or two KHI engineers at each race. They represent a much larger group of people that create racing engine parts and chassis components and also special one-off assemblies for either my machine or that of Tom Sykes, my team mate.
I saw this visit as a chance to thank everyone in person for their efforts and to share the pride of Kawasaki achieving rider, team and manufacturer world championship honours in 2015.
KHI – You met Mr Kenji Tomida, President of Kawasaki’s Motorcycle and Engineering Company– tell us about this meeting.
JR – It’s not every day you meet someone so senior at Kawasaki and I know he is a really busy person. I was honoured that he took time out of his day to talk to me. He displayed a deep knowledge of racing and how important the overall programme is in terms of success at the race track. He also stressed the importance that our racing programme has to customers along with its engineering benefits.
I only started racing the Ninja ZX-10R in 2015 and achieved my goal of winning the World Superbike Championship. To be invited to KHI and then meet Mr Tomida reinforced the feeling that I am now part of the global Kawasaki family.
KHI – You also visited parts of the Akashi complex during your tour and did some work in the wind tunnel, tell us about that.
JR – The Akashi plant is huge, in fact it’s hard to imagine how vast it is and the area it covers. Just one of the many buildings houses the wind tunnel. It’s a place I am familiar with having tested various possible upgrades and aerodynamic solutions there in the past. As part of this visit I helped test some new ideas as well as having the time to thank the wind tunnel staff for their work.
The room itself is very large and the motorcycle is rigidly mounted in front of a flume that produces the charge of air. In racing we are always looking for that extra edge – however small – to gain an advantage. In the case of aerodynamics we need to find ways of making the rider and motorcycle cut through the air with the least resistance possible.
This can mean small differences in how I position my feet, how I adopt a racing crouch when attacking a long straight on the track or even the depth of the seat foam I sit on; they all make a difference and combined could add up to more speed and the ability to make a pass for position so the reward is very tangible. The cowling of the 2016 KRT Ninja ZX-10R and road going model were developed here and the value of the wind tunnel cannot be underestimated.
KHI – It’s rare for guests to visit the motorcycle production line, what sort of feedback did you get from the Akashi production line staff?
JR – I love engineering so I really appreciated the factory tour. I was with my KRT crew chief, Pere Riba and we witnessed the whole production process from start to finish. That began with robots and automated vehicles selecting or transporting parts to the production area and then seeing motorcycles being made.
The number one priority is quality control and efficiency so we had to be careful and respect the fact that the production line was a working environment. When we got a chance to speak to assembly team supervisors and production line staff I was really pleased that so many of them recognised me. They knew so much about racing and many spoke really good English.
We got close to a Ninja ZX-10R at the end of the production line and gave staff there some T shirts as gifts which they really appreciated. After this we went to one of the quality control areas to see some completed motorcycles being checked and tested. It was really impressive, the standards are so high and the quality control is amazing. The story of how a motorcycle starts as parts and is then assembled and made ready for delivery to a customer is fascinating. The quality level is so high.
KHI – You were guest of honour at several gatherings at the Akashi plant, tell us about those.
JR – Yes I was lucky enough to meet many people in these informal gatherings. It was great to speak to staff from the Racing and R&D departments. The people I met all follow racing closely and I now know a lot of engineers by name. They understand that I am a real motorcycle enthusiast and love riding motocross too on my KX450-F. It was a fun occasion and I made a speech along with Mr Ondo of KHI and my crew Chief Pere Riba. I really appreciated these gatherings and also the special gift that I received from Mr Tomida.
KHI - Tell us about this gift from KHI Jonathan
JR – I have to say I was not expecting a gift so it did come as quite a surprise I have to admit. Mr Tomida very generously presented me with an authentic replica of a Samurai helmet in a presentation case in recognition of achieving the World Superbike title with KRT in 2015.
The quality and workmanship is amazing and perhaps only fitting after what I witnessed in the factory in terms of precision and attention to detail. I have a plan to create a special place for my most treasured trophies and awards. This gift from KHI is at the centre of that plan and will take pride of place in the display to remind me of a very special moment in my racing career so far.
KHI – Finally Jonathan, please tell us about the other areas of KHI that you had some insight into during your time at Akashi.
JR – To be honest it’s is almost too much to take in during such a brief visit. I took the chance to see exhibits in a museum area that represented the breadth and heritage of Kawasaki shipbuilding enterprises that stretches back to the origins of the company.
It does not stop there though; things like rolling stock, aircraft and civil engineering projects such as the Akashi suspension bridge nearby are evidence of the scale of KHI engineering skill. I stood next to a Boing 787 engine made in partnership with Rolls-Royce aerospace which towered over me.
This made me realise that my efforts on the racetrack – along with the combined efforts of all the engineers, production line staff and countless others - combine to create the Kawasaki family that I am proud to say I now feel very much part of.
Thank you Jonathan Rea, 2015 World Superbike Champion.