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EXCLUSIVE interview with WSBK champion Tom Sykes

Crash.net sits down with defending 2014 World Superbike Champion Tom Sykes to discuss the achievements of the past few months, the season ahead and his rather candid views on the new regulations...
Crash.net:
Firstly Tom congratulations - not only on becoming world champion, but becoming a dad…

Tom Sykes:
Thanks. To be honest it's been full on. Winning the world championship was fantastic and then becoming a father for the first time shortly after. The beauty was that I didn't have any serious commitments after the season. So I was able to enjoy the sleepless nights - if that sounds right! - for the first few weeks.

Now we're getting back to the 'business' period, but we've got a nice routine and it's all working out. I couldn't be happier. I'm very happy, relaxed and more motivated than I've ever felt. I'm itching to get racing.

Crash.net:
Will the whole family be joining you at the races this year?

Tom Sykes:
They'll be at all races, including Australia, it's already booked. Apart from the paddock life, racing for me can be quite lonely. So I like to have my family there, have a meal and relax. It was a no brainer.

Crash.net:
You've just been presented with the coveted RAC Torrens Trophy. How proud are you to receive such a prestigious prize, especially given it has only been awarded on seven occasions in more than 30 years?

Tom Sykes:
I feel very proud and honoured to be invited for this award and also receive it in the RAC Clubhouse, because we know how prestigious it is. For me to be recognised with, let's say, key people in the industry, it's nice. It adds a little extra to all the effort put in to win the world championship.

I'm proud to have shared the ay with my family, my Granddad, some really nice people and having a nice lunch in a great city. It can't be much better and I'm enjoying the time!

Crash.net:
Does it feel like a fitting way to close the chapter on your 2013 achievements?

Tom Sykes:
I was speaking to Barry Baxter about this and we could have done it a bit earlier but I was so busy. Then there was talk of maybe March, but then I thought 'hang on, we'd be well into 2014 and already have had the first race'.

So like you've just said, I thought, 'let's close it off and enjoy it, because last time I raced I became world champion and it's before we get into the 2014 season'. So we've done it just in the nick of time.

Crash.net:
Prior to winning the title last year, you came across as very relaxed and confident, but then there was that wonderful flood of emotion you released once you crossed the line. Has winning the world championship truly sunk in yet?

Tom Sykes:
Yeah it's sunk in, but again it's just my mentality and who I am. I don't obviously flaunt my success. I know a lot of riders would. But it's sunk in now. I'm a very, very proud and happy man.

Certainly towards the end of last year was really, I think, about keeping cool. I feel quite lucky in that I've had some hard years in the past and that really set me up to fight for a world championship. To fight for a world championship is quite easy when you know your capabilities, but can only fight for tenth. So that was quite an easy stepping stone.

I'm grateful for my past experience and looking forward to doing it again. A lot of people say it's more difficult to defend it, but the way I'm looking at it is completely different.

Crash.net:
Yourself and Kawasaki has been out testing already this year – where have improvements to the bike come from?

Tom Sykes:
Just small things on the bike to make me a little bit more comfortable. Honestly not too much. We've got limitations on where we can go, but it's generally just to try and improve the lap time a little bit. We sacrificed our lap time to be a bit more consistent in 2013. It's finding that balance. We're talking quite minimal things and just understanding how best to manage our small rule changes for this year.

But in general it's just to stretch our legs a bit in Almeria. In Jerez we'll have a few more components to test and then onto round one.

Crash.net:
What about you as a rider, where do you feel you can improve?

Tom Sykes:
As a rider I'm always improving. There are a couple of areas - I won't go into detail where I think I can improve - but all the time… Even when I won the world championship in the last race in Jerez, the first test afterwards, whether I was relaxed or something, I suddenly found myself doing something different on the bike that improved the lap time.

In terms of improving as a rider, there are only two little things I'm going to try and work on. That will take a little time.

Crash.net:
Looking ahead to this year, your obvious objective will be to defend your title. However, as someone who has established a reputation as an outstanding qualifier, there are some notable landmarks within your grasp in 2014… are these records that matter to you or spur you on?

Tom Sykes:
I expected I wouldn't be as strong in Superpole in 2013 in order to improve in other areas. But for me I just want to progress on my achievements. Last year I had nine wins, blah-da-blah and it would be nice to beat those achievements.

Apart from that, losing the title in 2012 - I'm kicking myself. But for half a point I could already be sat on two world titles and attack Carl Fogarty's great records. As it stands I've won one and it would be nice to be at the level that Carl had, but it's difficult to do. All I'll do is stick to my guns and do what I know.

Crash.net:
There are a series of new regulations coming into force for 2014, most of which were announced after you had re-signed with Kawasaki. You have previously stated you're against the new regulations – has your opinion changed at all or do you remain firm?

Tom Sykes:
Yeah I stand firm on that. The rules that they have done for this year are obviously minimal, just like engine cap, but the gearboxes for me are stupid. I don't understand why they'd do it. You've still got three gearboxes and at the end of the day, if you've still got a small selection why not have an open selection? It's very strange.

As for the EVO class, as a racer, I'm well against it. It's more like a Superstock class. We've had a great Superstock series for years in World Superbikes, it's produced great racing and been a great feeder class for World Superbikes.

Superbikes has always been quite open rules. It's still production based. Looking at Carl Fogarty's bikes, Aaron Slight's bikes - they are as far away from EVO as you could ever get. More so than what I'm riding now. So it's a shame it's going that way. I don't agree with it. Being a racer I like to take hundredths of a second from the suspension, gearbox setting. Everything. They are taking away nice tools from the best riders.

There is no point me worrying. I'm not going to be able to change things. Unfortunately, especially in the Superbike class, riders' opinions aren't taken into consideration. We're just the clowns that ride the bikes.

Crash.net:
Do you wish there was greater input from riders?

Tom Sykes:
It would be nice. At the end of the day everyone is maybe forgetting that Grand Prix is a fantastic philosophy, but it was always two-strokes. The Superbike championship has always been 600cc Supersport and 1000cc Superbikes. It's actually Grand Prix that's moved.

There was always the argument that, 'you can't do this [in WSBK] because you're coming towards Grand Prix'. But Grand Prix have gone exactly towards Superbikes: 1000cc four-strokes and Moto2 is 600cc, basically Supersport. They've almost stepped on the toes of Superbike and now it's under the same management Superbike has been penalised to try and make Grand Prix stand out again.

It's a shame because it means Superbike riders have to ride something that is not as exciting.

Crash.net:
Have you felt the difference on track under the new rules? A lot of people have singled out Aprilia and Kawasaki as maybe having to hang back slightly to ensure it doesn't broach the engine limit.

Tom Sykes:
No! You watch. Kawasaki, touch wood, have always been great [for reliability]. I know some riders have made comments about some manufacturers having to cut back. I think they'll be a surprised by the Kawasaki performance on engines.

I'm not worried about the engines. In testing we've tried [high] mileage and our performance is at an incredible level. I'm excited for this and we'll see what happens. I know Aprilia will have to take a step back but at the end of the day it is what it is.

I don't agree with the engine limit. We all saw in Supersport what happened. They had engine limits at Imola, people are pushing boundaries and you actually spend more money because they blow an engine up and have to rebuild it.

Rather than just checking tolerances and changing parts, engines were expiring. Next five riders were crashing. Getting injured. Destroying bikes. Anyway I think from a performance point of view we're in a good state, but some will have to take a step back.

Crash.net:
In terms of rivalries, there are some top riders changing teams this year - Melandri on an Aprilia, Laverty on a Suzuki… Where do you expect the competition to come from?

Tom Sykes:
Straight off the bat I would say Sylvain [Guintoli] and Marco are going to be strong. Sylvain has got the same deal as last year. A lot of people overlooked his performance, which was good. He performed well especially considering his injury. Marco is Marco. A great rider who knows how to fight for world championships and his bike has won the world championship before. So they are good.

Eugene finished second to me last year. The Suzuki has potential so you'd like to think he'll be there. Alex is reigning British champion so he should be learning. Loris on the other Kawasaki. There is a fair list.

The two Honda riders - I keep seeing tweets about how they've got a lot of work to do. I know they've been saying that for a number of years now so maybe they might nail it. A couple of good riders on board, let's see what they can do.

I'm looking forward to it. It should be a good year with a lot of riders up front.

Crash.net:
Not long now…

Tom Sykes:
I can't wait. Got the test next week then we all get on the flight to go.
by Ollie Barstow


Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Kawasaki launches its 2014 WSBK campaign [pic credit: Kawasaki Press]
Kawasaki launches its 2014 WSBK campaign [pic credit: Kawasaki Press]
Tom Sykes is awarded the RAC Torrens Trophy [pic credit: LGM Photographic]
Kawasaki launches its 2014 WSBK campaign [pic credit: Kawasaki Press]
Guintoli, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Guintoli, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Davies, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Iannone, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Melandri, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Davies slides, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Iannone, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Barrier, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Barrier, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Melandri, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Iannone, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Barrier, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
West, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014
Melandri, Jerez WSBK/MotoGP test, November 2014

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shamarone

February 01, 2014 4:56 PM
Last Edited 298 days ago

re: "The Superbike championship has always been 600cc Supersport and 1000cc Superbikes. It's actually Grand Prix that's moved." re: "Grand Prix have gone exactly towards Superbikes: 1000cc four-strokes and Moto2 is 600cc, basically Supersport. They've almost stepped on the toes of Superbike and now it's under the same management Superbike has been penalised to try and make Grand Prix stand out again." the missus calls him hubby, the babies call him daddy, others call him World Champion (that's Mr. World Champion to you)... I call him GENIUS.

Nick636

February 01, 2014 3:40 PM

Very nice read. Tom raises a very valid point about evo. The BEST riders want to go FASTER and faster. (Kinda what I said the other day about wanting to see records, wanting to see them go faster...) To do that they used to go to motogp. But now it is no longer the best riders who graduate but the most well-sponsored... so wsbk got faster and the motogp fraternity,teams, riders and fans threw a fit. The world of PAY RIDERS created a need for wsbk bikes to get faster in a sense.



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