Tom Sykes says he is hopeful of a strong performance on race day after qualifying on the second row of the grid for the latest rounds of the Bennetts British superbike championship at Croft.
The Rizla Suzuki rider, currently one of the form men in the series, spent much of qualifying fine-tuning his bike as conditions in the North East continued to improve and made it through to the final top-ten shootout without major issue.
Although he was unable to break onto the front row, he was still pleased with the fifth quickest time and said he was now focused on securing solid results in what could be his final Croft outing for some time following the news that he will move up to World Superbikes with Yamaha next year.
“I was working on finalising the front end set-up of my Rizla Suzuki through the fast section,” he said after qualifying. “I'm not overly concerned as I'm confident in my team and we have a plan of action for tomorrow. I'd have liked to be front row but I know can still do it from the second row of the grid. I'm really looking forward to racing in front of my home crowd.”
At a circuit more to his liking, Japanese team-mate Atsushi Watanabe came close to joining Sykes in the shootout, failing just a tenth of a second shy of the top ten as he qualified in eleventh place.
“I am quite happy today, I have been faster and faster which is good,” he said. “I am a little disappointed not to make it into the final qualifying session as I was very close to it; just 0.11secs off. I am on row three of the grid which is not so bad, I can get a result from there. After Cadwell Park, Croft is an easy circuit.”
Rizla team chief Jack Valentine admitted that it had been an usual weekend to date, with mixed weather conditions leaving riders facing a challenge each time they took to the track, but he was happy with the performance of both of his riders following the qualifying session.
“It's been an interesting weekend so far with very little dry track time,” he said. “Free practice this morning was delayed due to an oil slick on track and a smattering of rain made the conditions treacherous. Tom sat the bulk of the session out while Atsu put in a few laps but admitted it was difficult out there.
“Tom's fifth place isn't a problem as we know he is good off the line and we have a direction to go in for tomorrow. He picked up his first podium finish in Superbikes here last year so he is going all out for an even better result this time. He is very much on a confidence high at the moment and I feel we are on for a good result.
“Atsu has worked very hard with his Rizla Suzuki team and he has steadily improved. He is starting to get to grips with the UK venues and the weather. I think he will grab the top 10 finish that he wants tomorrow. I feel we are in for some close exciting racing and Rizla Suzuki will be in the middle of it.”