Jonathan Rea feels his Kawasaki team-mate and rival Tom Sykes is 'riding the best he's ever ridden' and expects him to battle back stronger in 2017.
The two-time World Superbike champion heads into the new season hunting an unprecedented third consecutive title and is fully anticipating tough challenges both from within his Kawasaki Racing Team and rival manufacturers.
Having beaten team-mate Sykes to the title for the past two seasons since switching to Kawasaki, Rea feels the Yorkshire rider will be his main rival with highly motivation in 2017.
“I really feel that he's riding the best he's ever ridden and his lap times are getting faster and faster. I'm sure that me coming into the team has given him huge motivation,” Rea said.
“He had been the number one guy at Kawasaki for many years and since I arrived making the bike work with a completely different riding style and winning the championship for two years, I'm sure he's learned a lot from that too.
"He's riding as hard as he's ever ridden and in the heat of battle he's got a lot more fight than I've ever seen him have before. I really think that he's one of the strongest guys for the championship again this year. Together with myself and Chaz he was one of the only riders to have dominant form this year.”
Rea says despite the two rider crews working largely independently under the Kawasaki Racing Team banner on each side of the garage it produces a competitive environment which pushes the development of the Kawasaki ZX-10R leading to a clean sweep of riders' and teams' world titles for the past two years.
“I've got a lot of respect for him, he's really fast and also when he puts his head down at the start of a race he rarely makes any mistakes,” he said. “He's a good team-mate because we can both push the development of the bike forward.
“I don't know how healthy it is but it's certainly very competitive. Both sides of the team work pretty independently to be honest and he's got a very unique and extreme riding style whereas mine's a little more old school so our setups are never too close together. What works for him doesn't work for me and visa versa.
“But there is certainly a competitive edge because we have access to the same resources, ride the same machine and it's our crews job to give us the best machine they can and from then on it's up to us.”