Jonathan Rea will be a race winner in his debut World Superbike season, his team manager Ronald ten Kate reckons, while Carlos Checa and Ryuichi Kiyonari are among six who can claim the overall title.
Champions in 2007, Ten Kate Honda endured a mixed 2008 season having signed three World Superbike rookies in Checa, Kiyonari and Kenan Sofuoglu, while they struggled occasionally with a new Fireblade bike that they were forced to continually develop through the season.
Nonetheless, the team still won five races in 2008, while former MotoGP rider Checa heads into the new season as the best placed rider that hasn't changed teams over the winter.
With a year's experience of the bike too, ten Kate is certain that the team is better prepared than ever.
“All in all, I think the line-up is better,” he told Crash.net
. “We know that Jonathan Rea is very capable of riding a Superbike and besides that, Checa and Kiyonari have one year of experience under their belt.
“Most importantly, though, the Fireblade is in its second year. Last year we received it very late, so that can't be an excuse this time and I really see this year as the year that we harvest all of the work we did last season.”
Citing Checa and Kiyonari as amongst five or six riders who can challenge for this year's title, ten Kate goes on to add that while Rea has been impressive in testing so far, his 'steep learning curve' means the team merely want to see podiums, maybe a win, this season.
“I am confident that they [the riders] will be up there from the first race,” he added. “World Superbikes is more competitive than ever, so I can easily name about ten people who can win a race, but that narrows down to five or six people when it comes to the championship. This includes both Carlos and Kiyonari.
“The first year for Jonathan in World Superbikes should be a learning year, because this learning curve will be very steep. In Kyalami, and in Portimao, though, he showed he can be right up there at the front so, without putting pressure on him, I expect him to be finishing on the podium and I predict he can win in his rookie season.”
Looking back at Rea's introduction to the World Superbike paddock, having raced in the World Supersport Championship in 2008, ten Kate is adamant that the decision to have him gain experience lower pressure surroundings was entirely the right one.
“I think the first year in Supersports gave him the chance to learn about the tracks, but also about international racing. It was a year away from home, which is very different, so as a person I think he is ready for it and as a racer we will see how he can do in his rookie season. The choice of a year on Supersports first was a correct one - we just have to see how good he can be on a Superbike.”