Jonathan Rea is confident that returning to an old transmission configuration has gone some way to improving the gearbox issues that were such a continual niggle throughout 2016.
While Rea powered to a second straight World Superbike crown in Qatar thanks to nine victories and a further 14 podiums, the Northern Irishman nonetheless found it difficult to downshift smoothly on the entry to corners that required three or more gear changes.
The 29-year old had spoken during the season of the need to check his dashboard to ensure he had engaged the correct gear before tipping into the corner, an issue that was apparent in his first race crash in Germany.
Yet Rea sampled a configuration he had used at the start of his relationship with Kawasaki at the close of 2014 in a recent test at Aragon, which he described as “amazing”, when compared to what he had used before.
“I'm feeling good with the bike,” explained Rea at Jerez, where has posted a string of impressive lap times while sharing the track with MotoGP machines.
“From the first time that I rode the bike I said that the gearbox was the weakest part of it for me and we needed to improve it. We brought a lot of new parts throughout the season, new engine brake strategies, new shifting electronics strategies, physical parts, we were running into a lot of problems throughout the year.
“At Aragon during the last two hours we went back to the first transmission configuration that we used in my first ever test on the bike and I came back in and said, 'This is amazing guys. Don't touch anything, it's fine.' They said this is the setting you had the first session you ever rode the bike. To find out that it was the same setting we used first was a bit difficult to swallow.
“All year every corner where you needed to backshift more than two gears I was thinking about it and looking at the dash to know that I had finally selected the gear that I'd want before I tipped in. That took a lot of attention away. That's not something that you should be thinking about on the bike.
“In 2015 it seemed fine but this year because of the nature of the new bike it needs to be ridden differently, more stop and go, and because it gives you the potential to stop better and accelerate better, you're braking so much later and deeper. You are asking a lot more of the gearbox because you're that much closer to the limit.
“We got into a critical point this year a lot. The more new software and components, the more curveballs they were throwing up at us.”
Rea was in fine form on Wednesday in Andalusia, posting the second fastest time overall, just 0.125s off the best MotoGP lap of the day, and nearly 0.7s up on Chaz Davies, the next best placed World Superbike man.
“We were basically running a 2017 bike and going through the motions,” said Rea of Kawasaki's plans for this test. “We've been some different specifications throughout the 2016 season that we would need to change for next year. We've run with the generator since Imola and with the single throttle body since Jerez.
“At the Aragon test we used a new shock in the dry so this morning we rushed out in the wet just to back-to-back it and make sure it worked well in the wet. Kawasaki has brought some new engine components and we had a try of that but the changes are for more power and this isn't really a horsepower track. We don't really use sixth gear here so it's hard to draw conclusions on it just yet.
“We have a lot of upgrades to come before Australia. We're expecting an engine upgrade and they're working so hard because we lost some power this year and Kawasaki are keen to get it back.
“With the power lost we're having to push so hard on the front and whereas in 2015 we could be a bit more conservative in the corners and use the power in the straights. Not that Ducati aren't really at a disadvantage, in fact at some circuits they've been stronger than us, and with their engine configuration they naturally have some advantages in terms of being on the side of the tyre and tyre consumption.
“How the twin works for agility means that with engine power they have as strong a package. Sometimes it's not logical for a twin to be on a par with the four cylinders in this paddock but Ducati has been working so much to improve and now it's up to us to step up.”