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WSBK Rider of the Year vote: 1st
30 December 2012
1. Tom Sykes
Team: Kawasaki Racing
Bike: Kawasaki ZX-10R
Championship points: 357.5
Championship position: 2nd
Everyone loves an underdog and, over the last decade at least, underdogs haven't come more perennial than Kawasaki. It's a status that makes Tom Sykes's achievements with the manufacturer in 2012 all the more poignant.
Indeed, Kawasaki's statistics of five wins, sixteen podiums and nine pole positions look impressive even before you consider that the Japanese marque had previously managed just two weather-affected WSBK wins between 2001 and 2011, but thanks to Sykes – and Loris Baz -, Kawasaki went from underdogs to top dogs in almost the blink of an eye in 2012.
It's difficult to believe now, but Sykes very nearly didn't even have a ride coming into the 2012 World Superbike season, a somewhat disappointing 2011 campaign with the new ZX-10R apparently putting him on the cusp of unemployment.
However, Kawasaki opted for rider continuity and instead chose to reshuffle behind the scenes, enlisting Provec to take over the running of the factory outfit in an effort to unlock the potential of a bike that had shown flashes of pace in its first season, albeit not consistently.
The changes were immediately evident during testing, Sykes frequently appearing towards the top of the timesheets before the season got underway. It was promise he fulfilled early on by claiming pole positions and podiums in the opening two rounds, the latter something he had only previously achieved once before coming into the season.
However, if it was a novelty to see a 'green machine' performing so well at the start of the season, it wasn't long before we began to expect that Sykes would dominate qualifying day, the Briton's startling one-lap form carrying him to nine pole positions in 14 attempts in 2012.
Eventually, Sykes was sipping the winners' champagne, though his impressive turn at Monza would be overshadowed somewhat by an early stoppage that left him with just half points for his efforts - few could have predicted how critical that moment would become later in the year…
Ironically, even though the idea of having a Kawasaki battling for wins on a regular basis would have been almost unthinkable before the year, Sykes's excellent qualifying form did at times bring into focus some relatively lacklustre race days where the ZX-10R appeared to struggle for pace over a longer distance.
Nonetheless, Sykes kept plugging away, so much so that when Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri allowed errors to creep into their title campaigns, the 27-year-old would – almost from nowhere – find himself within striking distance of a late championship challenge.
That said, even though Sykes has notched up two more wins at Moscow and Portimao, the fairly substantial 30.5 point gap to Biaggi coming into the final round at Magny-Cours meant the advantage remained very much with the Italian rider.
What followed of course was a nail-biting climax to the season, Sykes's late title push almost carrying him all the way to what would have been a shock victory. In the end just half a point would make all the agonising difference…
Indeed, the miniscule margin for error is brought into perspective when you consider Sykes suffered just three DNFs over the course of the season, none of which were self-inflicted (two mechanical problems and being swiped out of a podium finish by Ayrton Badovini at Aragon). Add Sykes's half points at Monza and it's incredible to think how different things could have been…
Nonetheless, there is little denying that Sykes came of age in 2012, the potent combination of his faultless performances and Provec's efforts in turning the ZX-10R into a competitive package deserving considerable praise.
You certainly seem to agree as well, Sykes achieving a remarkable average 9.6 rating out of 10 in this poll – the highest average score we have seen.
Better yet, Sykes didn't even pout about missing the title by such a tiny margin and has instead channelled his emotions into an effort to come back even stronger in 2013.
Then again, there is little chance we will be considering Sykes and Kawasaki underdogs again anytime soon!
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2011: 5th
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2010: 6th
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2009: 12th
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2008: N/A
Top 10 WSBK Rider of the Year 2012:
2. Max Biaggi
3. Marco Melandri
4. Chaz Davies
5. Sylvain Guintoli
6. Jonathan Rea
7. Eugene Laverty
8. Carlos Checa
9. Loris Baz
10. Leon Camier
Do you agree the poll results? If not, why not? Leave your comments below...