By Christian Tiburtius

An exclusive interview with Kawasaki's World Superbike Championship leader Tom Sykes, who holds a one-point advantage over Sylvain Guintoli with four rounds to go...
Other riders live in Andorra or Monaco, but you have decided to go for Leamington Spa?

Tom Sykes:
That's correct, yeah. Leamington Spa's a beautiful little town. I'm a bit of a family man; I like socialising with them there. My wife's from nearby in the Midlands and I also wanted to be centrally based for the airports and motorways.

I reckon I've got the best of all worlds there, I've got a lovely town, great countryside and I enjoy where I live very much. Each to their own though, some riders like to go to these tax free havens but I prefer Leamington.
Are you ever recognised there?

Tom Sykes:
I'm a bit of a people watcher, I enjoy relaxing in the coffee shops there when I'm not doing training or DIY. I've been recognised the odd time, but I'm not recognised a lot. That's the thing with motorcycling, you spend half your time in leathers and a helmet and nobody's really seen you. I'm doing well, I'm certainly not in Valentino Rossi's league for being recognised though.

I enjoy it when I am recognised, of course I do, it's great that you get fans who are so supportive and behind you. They sometimes seem to feel a bit embarrassed as if they feel they're disturbing you, but they shouldn't do because I'm someone who doesn't mind giving time to them.
Why do you race with the number 66?

Tom Sykes:
There's no real reason, I used to race with 36 and other numbers, I ended up with 66 because it looks symmetrical and it's kind of grown on me and now it's of great value to me.
Is it true that you tested the Suzuki MotoGP bike before signing for Rizla Suzuki [in BSB for 2008]?

Tom Sykes:
Yeah I did. I think it was just a bit of a gift from Suzuki at the time, something that Paul Denning organised. By the time I'd managed to get a few laps on it it'd gone 5 o'clock in the evening and it was too cold for the Bridgestone tyres for a novice. It was a shame and I would have liked to have got a better opportunity to test it in better conditions. Obviously now I'd like to have a go to see where I stand.

It certainly didn't reflect any offers or plans. I only had about 8 laps, I'd much rather have had a test in better conditions.
Was your wild-card ride in WSBK which got you your first full time WSBK ride?

Tom Sykes:
I was told I was being considered before that but I think it was my performance in the wild-card rides which put me on the map for the full time ride with Yamaha in 2009.
Looking back, how do you think you did with Yamaha?

Tom Sykes:
Not very well I think. Too many things went on behind closed doors that people don't see that made me look bad. It's a shame because I was grateful for the chance, I know as well as many people behind those doors that things could have been a lot better though, and should have been.

I started off in pre-season testing at the sharp end as quick as Ben [Spies, team-mate] and that gap between us in the results wasn't a true reflection of ability in my opinion. I feel I was given a bad set of cards throughout the season.

When I started riding the bike in Portimao, the bike was almost standard. I was third fastest in the tests and it felt easy to do those kind of lap times so I know what the potential of me on that bike was and we were quite far from that.

I believe things happen for a reason though and that experience made me stronger mentally and that reflected in my championship challenge last year.

In a way it's made me who I am, but it took me an extra two years to build myself back up from that year. I wasn't able to get a competitive bike and almost had to prove myself again.
But the results didn't seem that bad at Yamaha...

Tom Sykes:
I was getting some fairly good results. At Qatar, a circuit I'd never been to, I finished fourth and I finished fourth at Assen too. Then for some reason I was finding it difficult to finish in the top five, top six and then top seven and was always slipping back. Like I said, without going into detail, I understand why that was now.

It's just that I understood where I could have been that year from the results I got on a wild-card ride, riding a bike which wasn't full superbike spec and then all of a sudden I'm on a full superbike and struggling to get results. That did knock my confidence but I think it had the effect of making me stronger mentally.
Are you a rider who likes to build up to speed?

Tom Sykes:
I feel that I'm a lucky rider in that I have a quite sensitive feel and can understand where the limits are. So if I'm starting a project I always try not to cross that line. When I get the bike where I need it to be though then I feel I can go out and set a fast lap time straight away. I feel I'm able to judge circumstances well but yes in a way I do often build things up.
Are you a head rider or a heart rider?

Tom Sykes:
A bit of both. Obviously I think I can ride with my head so as not to overstep the mark but at the end of the day every rider is there to win and I'm not shy to push the boat out if I need to.
Did you feel that Paul Bird helped save your career?

Tom Sykes:
That's quite a statement, but all I will say is that I'm very grateful to Paul Bird. Dipping your hands in your own pocket's a massive thing and I have a lot of respect for him for doing that. I'm sure Kawasaki are too.

I think Paul Bird saw something in me which I surely appreciate and allowed me to show my potential. I don't see him often but I see him as a friend and I hope the feeling's mutual. I still speak quite a bit with my old crew chief Johnny who's working for Shane Byrne in the BSB championship
There seemed quite a jump in performance when the team went from being run by PBM to the current Provec team.

Tom Sykes:
The bike was the same, it was the new model of the ZX10R. Obviously it was developed a bit over the year, but it was the same model of bike.

The Provec team is Spanish/Catalan and has a very international feel and has a great mix of nationalities. We've Spanish people, Japanese engineers, my electronics man's Italian, one of my mechanic's Italian and my crew chief's Dutch. Straight away the ingredients are different to the PBM team and the atmosphere is different too but obviously one that's working well.

Now it's the main effort from Kawasaki so it's maybe also a bit more formal so has more focus. It's the same input from Kawasaki but they just have more of a say so. I just turn up and ride the bike though and chill out in my motorhome afterwards.
You seemed to often fade in the race from a fast initial speed?

Tom Sykes:
We've now got a package which allows us to show more of my level and I'm grateful for that. Everybody's seen how fast we can be over one lap and now we're altering the settings to let's say sacrifice the one lap speed to be better over a race distance.

We've improved the settings of the bike, everybody was pointing the finger at myself for tyre management but we're seeing this year how different it is. Our tyre life this year is much stronger. Everybody was saying it's the electronics but that's just someone talking who doesn't know about racing. It's mainly the suspension settings.
Has [crew chief] Marcel Duinker played a big role in the improvement?

Tom Sykes:
I don't know because I've had a good relationship with all my crew chiefs so I've been lucky in that respect.

All I can say is that Marcel's very clever and has his head screwed on and he comes from a very technical background anyway. He's able to change my comments into a better bike. I don't want to compare him with other crew chiefs though, I just want to say how he operates.
Marcel seems to have a very good sense of humour, is that where the connection started?

Tom Sykes:
Not really. It helps that he's got a sense of humour, there's no question about that. But we behave in a professional manner in the garage and we've even started to have a bit of a joke. Outside the garage though we can relax with each other, have a cup of tea and be a bit light hearted. I always need my Yorkshire tea, if there's a Yorkshire tea about there can never be too much trouble, I don't like any of this dishwater stuff.
Do you like to keep the roles in the garage separate?

Tom Sykes:
Yes, exactly. I'm employed by Kawasaki to race motorcycles. I like to get involved, they respect and listen to my opinion but I know where my limit is. At the end of the day I'm employed to ride a motorcycle. Nobody comes stepping on my toes and I don't go stepping on theirs and we get along just fine.
What would you say are you main strengths as a rider?

Tom Sykes:
I think I can understand the limit very well and don't overstep the mark.

I'm very focused, everybody thinks I'm a big joker and I do like to joke but I'm at least as focused as anybody else on the grid. I have my own little mental routines I use to fire the engines up.

I don't really like to say about my strengths though because it sounds as if I'm building myself up and I don't like to come across in that way.
Did you feel that your ride at dominant ride at Donington was a turning point?

Tom Sykes:
No, not really it was just a chance for myself and Kawasaki to showcase where we're at. I still believe that we've been very unlucky this year in that I started off with three cracked ribs and a broken left wrist and I wasn't able to showcase our potential until a couple of rounds in. We've also had a couple of technical problems Even at Silverstone we were actually incredibly strong but had two rain affected races. We had the double at Imola too so that wasn't an exception.
Did you feel that you were riding too cautiously at Silverstone?

Tom Sykes:
Silverstone was difficult. Everyone could see that I was able to ride the bike very fast in the dry and you could see that I came from fifth position to first in a couple of laps. I had a good feeling with the bike but as soon as the rain came down and the level of grip dropped slightly, I wasn't able to manage the bike correctly and couldn't maintain a fast lap time, it's really that simple. Some people pass comment but I know exactly what my limits were and I couldn't risk doing anything stupid. I can't control the weather.