Quietly going about his business in 2021, achieving top ten results and bagging his best finish of the year in the final race of his rookie season – Kohta Nozane could be one to watch in the near future…
The 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship season is over, thus meaning that for this year’s rookies, their first year of WorldSBK action is now also banked. One rookie who showed potential throughout the year was Kohta Nozane (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), with the Japanese rider and his radical riding style lighting up the track at various points. So, how did Nozane’s rookie season compare to others, the expectations and what can we look forward to in 2022?
SEASON IN REVIEW: plenty to be proud of, plenty for Japan to be excited about
In comparison to the other rookies coming into the Championship for 2021 – such as Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) and Tito Rabat (originally Barni Racing Team before substituting for Mahias at Puccetti), Nozane’s expectations weren’t as high. However, the Japanese rider certainly delivered, with a top ten in the opening round at MotorLand Aragon in the Tissot Superpole Race. Points in seven of his first nine races, it was a solid start to Nozane’s year.
However, bad luck struck when he crashed during testing at the Circuito de Navarra in Spain, forcing him to withdraw from the UK Round at Donington Park. Nonetheless, he scored points in all of the remaining rounds, with a highlight coming at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, when he finished as top Yamaha in Race 1 in 11th before he was back in the top ten (the first time in a full-length race) in Race 2, with tenth. The 26-year-old also demonstrated wet weather prowess at times and at the all-new Pertamina Mandalika International Street Circuit, took a career-best seventh, losing out on a first top six result to teammate Garrett Gerloff.
HIS OWN WORDS: Nozane talks tough
Speaking about the final round of his rookie season in Indonesia, Nozane commented on the difficulties of Race 1: “I had a very difficult time in Race 1. The conditions were very tricky as sometimes it was raining, sometimes it wasn’t, and my final result was not good. Then I hit the reset button and focused fully on Race 2, which was run in the wet. I like these conditions but it was my first time at this track in the rain, so it wasn’t easy.”
Elaborating about Race 2 and looking to next year, a podium is the next target: “It was the same for everybody though, and I was confident I could do well. In the end I achieved my best result of the season, a seventh place result, after running my best race so far in WorldSBK. Next season, though, I will need to make a step up and the target for 2022 is to make it onto the podium for the first time.”
IN COMPARISON: how does Nozane stack up with this year’s rookies and ones from before?
So, how does it compare to the other rookies? Well, Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) was far and away the best rookie in 2021, although he did at least have the advantage of knowing the circuits, as well as having the newly crowned World Champion as a teammate. The next-best rookie was Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing), who surprised many by showing his potential right at the end of the season, running in the leading group and bagging a podium in Barcelona.
However, it’s Nozane who takes the bronze medal in the rookies’ battle, finishing ahead of 2014 Moto2™ World Champion Tito Rabat who had a disappointing first year in WorldSBK, and 2017 WorldSSP Champion Lucas Mahias – although the Frenchman was sidelined from Portimao onwards. Nozane also beat Isaac Viñales (Orelac Racing VerdNatura), Jonas Folger (Bonovo MGM Racing) and Loris Cresson (OUTDO TPR Team Pedercini Racing), all of which knew the majority of the circuits.
In comparison to other riders from other years, Nozane finished 14th overall in the standings, the same as Federico Caricasulo did in the same team in 2020, whilst it was also the same as Michael Ruben Rinaldi in 2018 – albeit Rinaldi only competing in the European rounds and not in a three-race format. Tom Sykes was 14th in 2010, his first year on a Kawasaki, whilst it was also the same position as fellow countryman and rookie Shinya Nakano achieved in 2009, although he missed the final three rounds of the year. In short, Nozane’s not done a bad job at all given how stacked the field was in 2021, as well as having to learn the circuits, the tyres and the WorldSBK-spec R1. Tasked with plenty, the 2020 JSB1000 Champion in Japan has had a solid season.
Can Nozane mount a podium charge in 2022? Find out with the 2022 WorldSBK VideoPass!