Kawasaki will again be a genuine world superbike contender in 2010, according to new factory signing Chris Vermeulen.
The Queenslander, returning to WSBK after four years in MotoGP, completed his first serious hitout on the ZX-10R in Spain last week, and came away encouraged by the progress he made.
“It was a really positive test at Cartagena,” said Vermeulen. “I now have a good base set-up and a solid platform to work from for the rest of the pre-season.
“For sure there’s still a lot of work to be done, and I certainly wouldn’t be challenging right at the front if the championship was starting now.
“I’m under no illusions how hard it’s going to be in 2010, but the goal is to get this thing up the front and I’ll be doing all I can to make that happen.”
After parting ways with Australia’s Broc Parkes and Japan’s Makota Tamada at the end of the 2009 season, the Kawasaki factory team immediately swooped on Vermeulen to steer its fortunes over the next two years.
Erstwhile Yamaha WSBK rider Tom Sykes will be the second rider in 2010, and Kawasaki has also committed to a quantum leap in resources, which is something that impressed Vermeulen when he was being courted to return to the class.
“At the test, there were existing engineers, and they were joined by people from Hayate (Kawasaki’s former MotoGP team) and engineers from Japan, which was great,” said Vermeulen, one of only a select number of riders who have won both WSBK and MotoGP races. “They all started to gel together really well, which is going to be a great thing for me and Tom in the long-term.”
Both Vermeulen and Sykes will race Kawasaki’s unchanged ZX-10R in 2010, which has so far struggled to keep pace with its Japanese opposition, as well as Ducati and Aprilia.
Vermeulen doesn’t need to be reminded of that sobering fact, although he’s really looking forward to racing an all-new machine in 2011.
“I will also be involved with development of the new bike, which is something I am very excited about,” said Vermeulen. “Understandably, there will be a major focus on that bike, but first we’ve got to get through 2010 on the current model.
“If we can consistently challenge for top five spots on that bike I’ll be happy, but things can always change. If I win the first four races, then I’ll obviously have to revise that goal!
“But there are plenty of great riders in the class, and it’s going to be a massively hard year – and the dynamics have changed a little since I was last there.
“But I now feel I’m technically a better rider, and I have a better understanding of how to set-up a bike. That’s the experience I’m looking to bring across to Kawasaki.”
When asked if riding an uncompetitive machine in MotoGP, especially over the last two years, had sapped his confidence, Vermeulen said: “I certainly didn’t lose any belief, and I feel like I can still ride. I’m looking forward to showing the WSBK paddock that I’ve still got what it takes.”
Kawasaki only has one WSBK title to its credit, which was way back in 1993 with American Scott Russell. There were some sprinkled individual highlights after that, mainly due to the exploits of flamboyant Australian Anthony Gobert, but for the most part it’s been a sustained period of mediocrity for the marque.
But with a revitalised outlook and more dollars to spend, Vermeulen is determined to stop the rot for Kawasaki.
“I’m up for this challenge, as are all the engineers and people behind the scenes,” said Vermeulen. “I love WSBK racing and I’m delighted to be back – it’s going to be a sensational year of competition, and I hope we’re battling up the front.”
Vermeulen has two more Spanish tests scheduled before Christmas: at Almeria on December 18-19, then another two-dayer at Jerez on December 21-22.
The 2010 championship kicks off at Phillip Island from February 26-28, with Vermeulen to be joined by countrymen Troy Corser (BMW) and Parkes, who remains in the fold on a privateer Honda.