Tom Sykes secured a double podium in the latest rounds of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Croft, although another win for Leon Haslam means he has now moved ahead of the Rizla Suzuki man in the points standings.
Sykes, buoyed by his strong performance in the World Superbike Championship at Donington Park and the news he will move up to the world stage next year, qualified fifth on the grid in the North East but a storming start to the opening race saw him leading by the time the field completed the first lap having dived past pole-man Cal Crutchlow at the Hairpin.
He held the lead until lap seven when he lost out to Leon Haslam at Tower and, seemingly struggling with his bike through the high-speed Esses, he slipped back down the order to lie fourth going into the final lap. A forceful move on points leader Shane Byrne however saw him clinch a podium position at the Hairpin as he took the flag in third place.
A good start again in race two saw Sykes quickly up to second place and by the mid-way point of the race he had hit the front with his bike appearing to be more to his liking through the second 20 lap encounter. Leading until the final stages, Sykes lost out to Haslam for the win and ended up taking the flag in second place for another podium.
“A big thank you to my Rizla Suzuki crew and to PJ, my chief mechanic,” he said. “They worked hard and made the double podium result possible. In the opening race I was struggling for grip and feel so PJ made some major changes to the chassis geometry for the second race that really worked. I only wish I could have rewarded the boys with a win.
“It's tight in the race for second in the Championship and now I'm four points behind Haslam. I'll be looking to get those points back with interest at the next round and as long as there is a mathematical chance of winning the Championship I am not going to give up, it's still all to play for.”
Team-mate Atsu Watanabe failed to make it into the top ten in either of the two races despite admitted that the Croft circuit was more like the venues he is used to back in Japan, and while team boss Jack Valentine admitted he had hoped for more from his Japanese man, he was happy once again with how Sykes performed.
“I am happy to have achieved two strong podiums but disappointed that we didn't get a win at the same time,” he said. “Tom was brilliant in race two but a lack of grip with three laps to go allowed Haslam to nip past him and take the victory. The race for second place in the Championship is going down to the wire and while Shakey is still within reach, then we will keep going for the wins and see what happens.
“Atsu tried hard but ended up in no-man's land. He needs to dig in and get into the group just in front fighting for seventh – tenth and that will bring on his performance. He can run the lap times and has a fast bike so will be eager to score more top tens in the last two rounds.”