With Mark Bracks
During the week leading up to the opening round of the 2019 Motul FIM Superbike World Championship, it was noticeable on first sight of the 2013 Superbike World Champion, Tom Sykes, that there is a renewed vigour and spring in his step. A beaming smile with a “heeey-oop” heavy in a Yorkshire twang, rather than the more sullen demeanour we witnessed last season.
The last couple of years have been especially challenging for the 33-year-old, not only having to contend with a dominant team mate in his business life, but the real challenges had come in his personal life. That is now behind him and Tom has now come full circle after the break down of his marriage, with a new lease on life.
The “old” Tom Sykes has returned
Signing with the new look BMW Motorrad WSBK Team, led by the vastly experienced Shaun Muir, and complete with factory support from Germany.
The head of BMW Motorrad, Markus Schramm, stated on the weekend that BMW is in the WSBK field for the long haul, and won’t be happy until they have at least one World Championship trophy in the Bavarian locker.
2019 marks Sykes’ 11th full season in the WSBK paddock, a period that has yielded one championship (in 2013), and five top-three championship positions since 2012, including 34 race wins on the green beasts, as well as being Mr Superpole over the last six years.
Also for the first time in a number of years, the second fiddle is no long his as he is the lead in the BMW orchestra. Last year was Sykes’ worst season since 2011, with only one win (at Assen), but with consistency he still managed to wind up fourth overall, behind his teammate Jonathan Rea, Chaz Davies and Michael van der Mark.
The BMW project to join the 2019 title was only finalised back in May last year, so there is still a lot of forward progress expected and demanded by all concerned in the team.
Additionally, off-track happenings in his private life did not make for a happy person in recent seasons. The combination of the two pressures, in business and at home, had taken their toll on a guy that used to be the joker in the paddock.
Tom Sykes, will be joined by BMW faithful Markus Reiterberger, and is ecstatic with the new uniform and the S 1000 RR. Last week gave plenty of indications that the old Tom is the new Tom.
MCNews.com.au caught up with him for a chat over the weekend.
Tom Sykes Interview
Mark Bracks: Tom Sykes, first up, sum up round one for us.
Tom Sykes: “Yea, quite good. I’m really happy with where things are progressing, the whole of the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team is working really quite flawlessly, so I’m really just enjoying riding the S 1000 RR. We’re certainly making progress. In a lot of areas, wow, working on the chassis, electronics, suspension, there’s a lot of stuff. So we’re just slowly working through it.”
Mark Bracks: Have you worked with Shaun before?
Tom Sykes: “No this is the first time.”
Mark Bracks: What’s the biggest – I know they are both in-line fours,– what’s the biggest difference between the BMW and the Kawasaki?
Tom Sykes: “Well, you know I could really go into detail, but it might give the game away, let’s just say that the engine characters are quite different, but certainly something which I’ve been looking for, and like I said it is proven. I enjoy riding the BMW, so we’ll just work around what we’ve got and keep improving.”
Mark Bracks: What stage is the engine development at? Full race pack engines?
Tom Sykes: “I’m the wrong person to answer that, I like to think there’s plenty more in the tank, and I think when you take into account, that when the green light was given on this project, the time to start doing a lot of research into the tuning aspect was obviously quite limited.
“It’s probably not the place to say too much, but what I will say on the other hand is that [considering] when the green light was given, where we are at now is absolutely incredible. Given my experience I’d probably say that no one else could have done any better, the work the guys have done to turn up here at Phillip Island with all the parts and the spares, and get on the grid and to be as competitive as we are, is a credit to all them boys involved.”
Mark Bracks: Where’s your best and worst corners here?
Tom Sykes: “The main sector when you need big melons would do it pretty well, through the hayshed and through that area. I’m not shy when it comes to there, our worst area is the straights really, a couple of the guys in the box were thinking the last sector is probably not as sharp as it should be.
“I said don’t worry we’re missing a little bit down the straight, which is obviously most of the last sector, but you know I’ve got some experience behind me, and like I said to the boys, on the quiet, I really feel we’re doing our job through the corners, so the rest will come naturally as we develop the engine on the S 1000 RR.”
Mark Bracks: This really has invigorated your passion and penchant for racing, hasn’t it?
Tom Sykes: “The last few years have been difficult on and off the track, obviously I just enjoy racing motorcycles and I just want the opportunity to show my potential again. Personally, now things are getting a lot clearer after my recent private life dramas, and I’m now putting that behind me. That clarity is also influencing my on-track action, and like I said really really enjoying it all. You know the S 1000 RR is a bike which I’ve probably been looking for, for a couple of years anyway, like I said it’s so early in the development stages that to be where we are is really impressive and I’m grateful for this opportunity from SMR, and BMW.”
Mark Bracks: So your personal life and professional life is in the best spot for a while?
Tom Sykes: “For at least probably three years at least, so you know it’s now where I can hopefully start to work again and make things happen. You know what, it’s one of those ‘on the business side of things’, it is what it is. I don’t think it’s a big problem swapping the teams, but on the personal side, I really feel like I’m getting rid of a black cloud that’s been following me around, so that’s certainly going to help on the business end of the equation.
“I think what’s good is that it is a clean slate, a real clean slate and I’m just grateful that I’ve got so much experience to not get lost in the early stages of development, because it’s very easy to do. I think with my experience and the quality of the team and the manufacturer around me, we’ve been able to work together very efficiently, in this respect.”
Sykes claimed seventh in Race 1 at the 2019 opening round at Phillip Island, before taking 11th in the Sunday Superpole Sprint Race, with a strong start marred by running wide on the opening lap and losing a number of positions. The final race of the weekend saw Tom Sykes claim 13th place, with a total haul of 12 points to kick off the season.
Shaun Muir – BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team Principal
“We’ve got to be realistic and we have probably reached our goals for the first time we have raced the BMW S 1000 RR. So we are very happy. We have had no major incidents and I think that we have proved that the bike is going to be competitive very soon. We clearly have our limitations at the moment and we will work hard on sorting them out in the break until the next races. Both riders rode very well and both have been very patient to understand that we need to work for the development parts to come through. So from my side the overall summary is that we can look forward to a very competitive bike over the course of the season. We just need to be patient and wait for that to arrive.”
World Superbike Standings following Round 1, 2019
- Alvaro Bautista Ducati 62
- Jonathan Rea Kawasaki 49
- Marco Melandri Yamaha 30
- Alex Lowes Yamaha 30
- Michael van der Mark Yamaha 29
- Leon Haslam Kawasaki 24
- Sandro Cortese Yamaha 19
- Chaz Davies Ducati 15
- Tom Sykes BMW 12
- Eugene Laverty Ducati 12
- Toprak Razgatlioglu Kawasaki 10
- Michael Ruben Rinaldi Ducati 9
- Leandro Mercado Kawasaki 7
- Jordi Torres Kawasaki 7
- Markus Reiterberger BMW 7
- Leon Camier Honda 6
- Ryuichi Kiyonari Honda 1