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Kawasaki’s 800cc AMA Superbike, Will It Be Competitive?

Kawasaki has finally made its decision regarding the 2003 Superbike series known – it will enter Eric Bostrom on an 800cc (approximate displacement) ZX-7RR. Will the bike be competitive?

Kawasaki has based their superbike platform on the current version of the ZX-7RR for years. Its success (with multiple AMA championships from Doug Chandler) has come in spite of its obvious weight problem, which at the street version’s 450 lbs. dry (compared to the street Suzuki GSX-R 750 at 370 lbs.), has made getting down to the AMA Superbike minimum of 355 lbs. (last year) a monumental task. Whether or not the Kawi actually got down to 355 lbs., or close to it, is an unanswered question.

Next season’s weight minimum has jumped to 370 lbs., a figure that Suzuki felt made their option of running a big-bore 750 an untenable one (as revealed in our interview of Don Sakakura on November 1 and November 2, Suzuki will campaign modified GSX-R 1000s). The new weight minimum likely does not carry the same dire consequence for Kawasaki’s superbike platform, and, in any event, Kawasaki does not have a 1000cc machine in its stable.

Tuners familiar with the Kawasaki motor, and the Muzzy Raptor engines (remember those bored and stroked 850cc monsters?) have said that horsepower wasn’t the issue for Eric on last year’s 750, it was torque, or the lack thereof. Longer stroke would have been better for this, but the bigger bore will help, giving an increase in horsepower, as well as torque, and the increase probably doesn’t need to equal the twins. Being “in the neighborhood” might be good enough. Other variables of engine hardware setup to work with the larger bore will likely involve valve diameters, cam specifications, etc. Testing is going on now for best performance and reliability, with a possible shakedown ride at Thunderhill Raceway prior to the December tire test at Daytona International Speedway.

The handling of the Kawasaki last year was never in question, at least after Daytona, anyway. Eric could put his ZX-7RR practically anywhere he wanted, while the Hondas struggled throughout the year to find a balance between front end feel and rear wheel traction. Eric’s considerable riding talent had a lot to do with this, seeing as how he consistently pressured Nicky on his Honda through the season, while dispatching all of the other twins on the grid at most tracks.

The WSB round at Laguna showcased Eric’s talent and hinted at the unexplored potential of the Kawasaki – he was the first inline four on the qualifying grid , beat the WSB Kawasaki crew, and lead race two for four laps before being passed by Colin Edwards, Troy Bayliss and Neil Hodgson, all on twins.

The coming season sees Nicky Hayden overseas in MotoGP, Eric’s main rival last year, race in, race out. Eric’s brother, Ben, will be in Nicky’s spot on the factory Honda team, and promises to be at least as formidable an adversary as Nicky was. With the added benefit of WSB experience, Ben will give his brother and Kawasaki all they can handle, but after that, who is capable of denying Eric and Kawasaki the top spot at the end of next season? Going by last year, it could be up to Ben on the Honda to stop them, unless, of course Suzuki’s 1000s are competitive out of the box or Anthony Gobert rides a Ducati as well as he did a few years ago (you know he will).

Despite the somewhat confusing and unsteady state of AMA racing right now, there is still more than enough going on with teams, riders and equipment to make it worth watching. Remembering last year’s performances by Eric Bostrom aboard the Kawasaki, hounding Nicky Hayden the whole year on the Honda twin, a big-bore 750 from Kawasaki may just be the setup Eric needs to capture the AMA superbike title in 2003.