My heart skipped a beat, leaving me breathless the first time I saw that Green: glinting, candy-lime, with golden flecks, sunlight bouncing off my friend’s ZX12R. My heart still does that little dance when I see the colour, slightly different; a beautiful lime green, as it zips past my television screen. Amidst the blacks, reds, blues, gold and whites, it is that green that calls out, screaming power, thunder just waiting to be unleashed. So, two Sundays ago, while I watched the World Superbike Championship at Silverstone, my heart was doing more than just skipping. I sat fingers crossed, as I watched Tom Sykes and Loris Baz push their Kawasakis. I felt as if the team was finally on the cusp of success – something that has eluded them for a long, long time.
Team Kawasaki hasn’t had it easy. Their success over the past 10 years has been limited to a rare, off-chance podium finish. Until now. Kawasaki is slowly becoming a contender, pushing the other teams just as hard, fighting for a place on the podium. This season, the team races its ZX10R model – a high-performance 4-stroke, in-line 4 liquid-cooled, 16-valve DOHC engine. It comes with a lighter aluminium twin-spar frame, big piston front forks and horizontal back-link rear suspension – a tuned, more-powerful variant of the street version. The numbers say it all.
The team has already seen 7 poles – a Tom Sykes record. There have been 11 podiums: two wins, five 2nd places, and four 3rd places. Of these, Sykes has recorded 8 podiums: one win, four 2nd spots, and three 3rd spots. The Superpoles aren’t the only records Kawasaki has set this season. Baz became the 2nd youngest winner with his victory in Race 1 at Silverstone. He also became the youngest racer to set a maiden fastest lap in the second race. The team last saw success at this level in 1997 when Simon Crafar and Akira Yanagawa scored 12 podiums.
In so many ways though, these figures scream, “About time!”. And Silverstone brought together all their hard work during two unbelievable races under frightening weather conditions. The podium proved to be a tough taskmaster for Sykes, eluding him yet again. A brilliant start in the first race came to naught as Mother Nature decided to bring rain. The race restarted, and soon it became a Kawasaki-on-Kawasaki fight, as Baz and Sykes battled for position at 2nd and 3rd. But the lead was to change hands several times in what became a wild run to the finish, the racers battling ever-changing conditions, wet to dry and then towards the end, wet again. But it was the heart-thumping finale that set the tone to Silverstone. Baz crossed the finish line in the 1st spot by 0.383 seconds followed by BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet’s Michel Fabrizio and Ayrton Badovini. Jonathan Rea came 4th. But just as Badovini crossed the finish line, he fell, bringing down Rea as well. Carlos Checa came 5th.
I had barely caught my breath, recovering from the mad first race, when the 2nd race began. The leaders and their challengers struggled as the weather worsened. The rain and a slick circuit brought down the riders, including Sykes and Checa, like bowling pins – horrifying heart-in-mouth crashes. It was enough to call it a day. The flag was out after the 8th lap, the conditions too dangerous for racing. The winners were announced on the lap count back: Sylvain Guintoli (Pata Racing Team), Baz, and Jakub Smrz (Effenbert Liberty Racing Ducati). Half points were given to the top 15 riders.
The madness we call Silverstone came to a close and Kawasaki is now 4th in the Manufacturers’ Standings with 253.5 points – its best result in a very long time. Tom Sykes, despite two distressing races, now stands at the 3rd spot with 222.5 points behind Max Biaggi (274) and Marco Melandri (263.5).
It is a fine day for a team that saw tragedy earlier this season, as its star rider – a talent waiting to burst forth – crashed in a terrifying accident during the Imola test. Joan Lascorz is now in rehab, his racing career uncertain. It brought me much warmth then, when Baz, after scoring his maiden victory dedicated his win to Lascorz. Baz said of the first race and Lascorz, “At the beginning, it was full dry and I was missing grip, but when I saw the rain coming, I kept pushing to the front. It was hard at the end because it was wet, but I stayed on the bike and I’m really happy. A big thanks for the team and our thoughts go out to Joan Lascorz.”
The season now moves into its final stages. There are four more races to go. Next up is Moscow’s debut on the calendar. It is a track designed for F1 and MotoGP races, and currently pending FIA certification. Moscow is unknown territory and the Championship is at stake. Biaggi will look at increasing the point-gap; Checa and Sykes are close behind. Kawasaki has what it takes, but the BMW overshadows it in speed and power. Where will this season take us? The Kawasaki fan within me screams for my favourite team’s success. Kawasaki’s moment in the sun is nearing. Fingers crossed, here’s to the racing green.