In 1984 the GPZ 900, the first Kawasaki "Ninja", appeared on the market, and 30 years later, the ZX-10R was crowned as Superbikes World Champion with rider Tom Sykes and the Motocard Kawasaki Racing Team. The Ninja's legend continues.
The GPZ 900R was launched in 1984, marking a turning point in the market, to the point that the press to crowned it as "Bike of the year". It was the first sportsbike with 4 valves per cylinder and liquid cooled engine that Kawasaki commercialised. With a power output of 113hp, there's no real rival as to pure performances. And that's the way the Ninja style was created: performance without concessions.
Promotional photo of the GPZ 900 R. Curiously, this model was not commercialised in the traditional lime green.
Thanks to the successful first model, the Ninja saga augmented with new models: the GPZ 600 R, the first model with perimeter frame, which helped to popularise the 600cc class, and the GPZ 750 R. The appearance of the GPZ in the blockbuster Top Gun in the hands of Tom Cruise as a daring US Navy pilot was a huge success, leading the Ninja into the Hollywood vehicle Hall of Fame.
In 1987 the Ninja started an adventure in the high performance world of racing. Taking advantage of the highly technical regulation of the Endurance World Championship, Kawasaki crafted the ZXR-7, a prototype that was a true racer with headlights based on the GPX 750 R. With a weight around 330lb (150kg) and a power output of 140hp the results didn’t take too long to come, the first podiums arriving the following year.
Racing was the main reason behind the big changes in the first Ninja models. Here's the 1988 ZXR-7.
Soon the bikers started enjoying such great performances when the ZXR 750 R hit the market with factory racing colours. The ZXR 750 R was the first superbike from Kawasaki, and just in time as the new Superbike World Championship was beginning to take shape. The Ninja was destined to make history in this competition.
This lead to a decade of triumphs for the lime green machines with the ZXR 750 R and its successor, the ZX-7RR. The Superbike World Champion in 1993 with Scott Russell, the Ninjas also won four AMA titles, with a victory in the prestigious Daytona 200 Miles, four Endurance World Championships including numerous first places in the French 24 hours races and in the Suzuka 8 Hours, along with more national titles all over Europe and Japan.
The championship won by Scott Russell was a rare feat as the technical regulation favoured the twin engine machines.
The different machines launched on the market were incorporating the technological advantages developed in racing, such as the famous Ram-Air system: models like the ZX-9R in 1994 and the flagship ZX-12R in 2001, the same year that Andrew Pitt clinched the Supersport World Title. In 2003, Kawasaki was back to the Grand Prix arena after 20 years of absence with the Ninja ZX-RR. This MotoGP project ended in 2008 when, due to the global financial crisis, Kawasaki abandoned the championship and its ever-growing costs, ending a successful chapter in the brand's history.
The MotoGP adventure was a beneficial one even with the difficult first years.
A new era
With the Akashi’s new sportbikes generation, the ZX-10R and a heavily revised ZX-6R, the green brand was officially back on the tracks. In 2012, Kenan Sofuoglu won the Supersport World Championship, a series where the ZX-6R stands out as the most popular machine for riders and teams. The bigger ZX-10R is also taking laurels in the strongest national championships, like the two titles won by Shane Byrne in the BSB. Even in endurance the green machines are back on the first step of the podium with seven consecutive victories in the French 24 hours races.
Actually, the ZX-6R is one of the leading machines for the ever competitive Supersport class.
And in the Superbike World Championship, things got better and better: after losing the championship by half a point, Tom Sykes clinched the world title in 2013. In the last three seasons, the Motocard Team Kawasaki riders won one world title, two vice championships, 23 firsts places, 61 podiums, 24 Superpoles and 22 fastest laps. And this year, Kawasaki was the winning machine in the EVO, the class that will be mandatory for 2015. No doubt it’s a promising start for an exciting new project for the team, with Tom Sykes and the incorporation of Jonathan Rea.
Kawasaki is living a golden period and the Japanese brand wants to celebrate with the launch of the most radical Ninja ever created: the H2R, a beast with a 998cc turbocharged inline four that claims up to 300hp!
With the H2R, Kawasaki wants to surprise everybody in the same way the first Ninja model did 30 years ago