As the foundation of Kawasaki’s approach to WorldSBK the Ninja ZX-10RR has been through many stages of development, first as the Ninja ZX-10R and most recently in the RR version. Extensively updated ahead of the 2021 season, the latest Ninja ZX-10RR is homologated for FIM Superbike World Championship racing again in 2022. The offspring from the original brainchild of KMC’s Yoshimoto Matsuda is still going strong.
As the foundation of Kawasaki’s approach to WorldSBK the Ninja ZX-10RR has been through many stages of development, first as the Ninja ZX-10R (which is the main street bike offering from Kawasaki and will be actively promoted by KRT across the racing season) and most recently in the RR version. Extensively updated for 2021 the 2022 Ninja ZX-10RR again features a host of competition focused components, and is homologated for FIM Superbike World Championship racing.
The first major update since the 2019 model, the 2021 Ninja ZX-10RR featured a plethora of road and race oriented improvements, from its striking new bodywork to key internal components such as Pankl connecting rods, pistons and piston pins.
A purposeful front profile features a large intake area for the ram-air system and, for the first time, the Ninja ZX-10RR features internal front winglets that provide approximately 17% of extra downforce making corner entry more predictable while adding a new level of straight-line stability. Improvements in the rear aerodynamic package, including slots on the reshaped seat unit, also contribute to an overall 7% improvement in the drag coefficient.
The use of Pankl titanium connecting rods, pistons and even individually matched piston pins saves weight, allows freer revving and increases durability under demanding conditions whether in a racing environment or being used on a track day.
A finger follower valve actuation system continues inside the engine design with a DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon) coating present on the followers reducing friction and enhancing durability. The new ride-by-wire style 47mm throttle bodies are coupled to lightweight pistons with their attendant reduction in reciprocating mass.
In chassis terms, as well as the usual improvements to the approved WorldSBK racing components a 1mm lower stock swingarm pivot point was adopted in 2021, allowing more adjustability for race use plus a wider handlebar stance and new footpeg mountings. (For the RR this pivot point is adjustable via special mounting plates).
In historical terms, the original ancestor to the latest RR model, the ZX-10R, reached a new career zenith in 2013 when Tom Sykes and the Kawasaki Racing Team won the WorldSBK championship. During that year the Ninja ZX-10R was the bike to have in WorldSBK, achieving ten victories over fourteen hard fought rounds of racing.
Come the 2014 season and the litre class Ninja placed Tom Sykes second in the WorldSBK Riders’ championship, delivering eight race wins for the gritty Yorkshireman. In the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup the Ninja came close to winning the title also.
Rea’s championship win in 2015, in his debut year as a Ninja ZX-10R rider delivered total domination and with the two official KRT machines inside the top three finishing places, the bike proved versatile in the extreme. In fact Rea won on his first outing on the machine at the Phillip Island season opener, a sign of what was to come.
The 1-2 result in 2016 for Rea and Sykes on the all-new Ninja enhanced the reputation of the ZX-10R, while podium success also followed the path of the new bike into the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup class. Cut to 2017 and Rea delivered a stunning third championship in a row, cementing his relationship with the mighty Ninja and securing his place among the Superbike elite.
Subsequent championship wins in 2018 and 2019 for Rea re-confirmed his and this machine’s legendary status. Even early season threats in the form of a serious new challenge from Alvaro Bautista could not deflect Rea or his Ninja ZX-10RR from their winning championship trajectory. 17 race wins for Rea and two more from eventual independent riders’ champion Toprak Razgatlioglu served to double underline that once more Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-10RR was the bike to beat.
In 2020 the KRT Ninja ZX-10RR riders, Rea and new signing Alex Lowes, each scored a race win in the opening WorldSBK round in Australia. Global pandemic concerns led to a long interruption thereafter, and finally a shortened season. The intense European-based restart saw Rea maximise the bike’s potential to win his sixth successive title and get to within one win of the magic total of 100 career race victories.
Rea used the revamped bike to great effect in 2021, scoring as many race wins as the eventual champion Toprak Razgatlioglu and only missing out on a seventh championship crown by 13 points. Rea became the first rider to breach the barrier of 100 WorldSBK race wins in the very first meeting of the 2021 season. He finally lifted his pre-2022 career victory total to a remarkable 112.
Lowes battled injury throughout 2021 but still recorded five more podiums on the Ninja ZX-10RR. Both riders will return in 2022, alongside KRT once again, to maximise their potential inside the official Kawasaki WorldSBK effort.
The Ninja ZX-10RR is still the most successful contemporary WorldSBK machine and one that shares much of its DNA with the machines now on display in Kawasaki dealerships.