An exclusive interview with 2013 World Superbike champion Tom Sykes on adapting to new rules in 2017, his rivalry with Jonathan Rea and targeting a second world title

Crash.net:
Hi Tom, if it's as cold as it is now, does that make the test data less valid because of the tyres?

Tom Sykes:
It's relatively cold but the track temperature is acceptable. It changes some information which we might need for the race weekend but from the testing and development point of view we can get the job done. It's relevant but the lap times wouldn't help us for a race weekend.

Crash.net:
How different is the 2017 bike to the one you rode last year?

Tom Sykes:
For the exact differences I'd have to refer you to someone technical at Kawasaki, but in terms of performance there have been some changes. Some good and some that I'm not so keen about but we're here to find the correct balance.

But it's all coming from a high level because the Kawasaki has been the most consistent bike over the last few years.

Crash.net:
Can you be more specific about those differences?

Tom Sykes:
Well, we're looking for more power and there are also changes in the inertia of the bike but there I don't really want to say which way it went but probably not my favourite way.

We're 1,2,3 in testing though and with lap times not being relevant it looks like it coming good for us.

Crash.net:
The 2013 and 14 bikes were right in the sweet spot but changes in the 2015 seemed to alter that - what were the details of that?

Tom Sykes:
As I said before it was mainly to do with the inertia. Now I'd classify the new bike as more of a user-friendly bike. It's a balance between being a road bike and a race bike and in the past I'd say that it was more of a racing machine.

It's not just that though, it's also the rule changes and the bike is becoming more standard and basic. In the past I had a gearbox for every circuit I went to but now you have to make a gearbox last a season in terms of ratios.

A lot of things are changing and taking a lot of those nice parameters away from me. In 2013 and 2014 there was a lot more feeling of being in a racing environment. If you needed to change a gearbox you could change the internals so that they were absolutely sweet for every corner.

We could also have a bit more freedom with the geometry and chassis of the bike and like I said it was all more towards a racing environment whereas now I have to admit that it's a little disappointing because I think that in the past me and my granddad had the option of making more changes out of the back of our transit van than we have now.

I'm just being blunt. Don't get me wrong, it's still technical and everything but there are a lot less variables, a single gearbox and all your adjustment coming from the sprocket sizes. It's almost like being in the olden days. It's always too short or too long with the odd corner being OK.

Crash.net:
Does this year's bike feel like something which is closer to being compatible with your style than last year's bike?

Tom Sykes:
No, unfortunately for me it's a step away from last year's bike for whatever reason. But that's something I need to work on, I need to get my style towards it which I think is a big shame because I feel that my style is quite unique and more towards what I would class as a racing style more like what you'd get in MotoGP. Unfortunately we'll have to move away from that and I'll have to adapt and change myself.

Crash.net:
Michael Laverty mentioned that you have a very unique superbike oriented style...

Tom Sykes:
Yeah, but unfortunately that's gone a little bit now. I was always able to get into the corner fast and out of it fast so I never spent much time on the side of the tyre but now things are changing and I need to adapt. I'd definitely say that it's more the riding than the racing that I need to work on.

But don't get me wrong it's still difficult and hard to master but it's just that I feel that style is harder for me. I'm having to be more flowing and for me I feel that I'm losing time because I spend a long time around the circuit with a neutral bike. I'll just keep working on it.

Crash.net:
So it's your style rather than the bike that you're mainly working on at the moment?

Tom Sykes:
Yeah, we're making changes based on my feedback but at the same time I'm trying to adjust my technique and change some variables in my style.

Crash.net:
Looking back, how do you feel about last season, to me it looked stronger than 2014?

Tom Sykes:
I honestly feel disappointed for whatever reason, be that the change in the championship or circumstances.

Last year we were able to get back towards our history by a very, very small percentage and that small percentage gave me a massive increase and I managed to take the championship to the last round. I think the year before we missed it by four races or something.

That small increase gave me the chance to ride a bit closer to my capabilities but over the season I've got to be relatively happy because I finished second when I was still fairly restricted on the bike.

Yes I was beaten fair and square but in the back of my mind I'm feeling that I'm still not getting a fair crack at the whip. At the moment Jonathan is riding extremely well because the character of the bike suits his style a treat whereas if I had the choice I'd change a lot of things.

I think that if the parameters were open he'd probably still be riding a similar bike to what he is now whereas I'd be going in a different direction and then I'd feel that we were on an even playing field. At the moment I don't really feel as if I can utilise my style and technique anywhere close to their potential and that's the most frustrating bit. I have to accept that and try and deal with it.

Crash.net:
In the second race in Thailand last season it almost seemed as if you were drawing a line in the sand with Jonathan, was that the case?

Tom Sykes:
Not really. It was just a moment when I was able to ride the bike with more of my capabilities. It was nothing major really, it was a nice race but we still had those limitations and impairments and the guys behind me probably had better speed. I was just able to get in and out of the corners good and that disturbed them from getting past. It was a race that got to the last few laps and I wasn't going to give in.

Crash.net:
Does the big difference in style between you and Jonathan mean that there is less data sharing?

Tom Sykes:
No, it's probably useful.

That's the plus side from Jonathan. When he joined the team he was certainly riding a lot different but he's definitely picked up by referring to the data a lot because we were a good reference. You can see over the years straight away how he's managed to adapt his style a lot more to what we were doing. It's definitely benefited him so it was a good thing for him and he certainly managed to learn and adapt quite fast.

Crash.net:
So hopefully as you change your style to a more sweeping one his data will be more useful to you.

Tom Sykes:
Yeah, when we get down that road, yeah hopefully.

Crash.net:
I guess the atmosphere in the pits is now better than it was with Loris Baz.

Tom Sykes:
Yeah I think so. Don't get me wrong, we're competing at the top level so we're always trying to find a balance but I'd say that we've got a very acceptable working relationship inside the garage for all team members and there certainly isn't an issue there. It's certainly competitive but it's more than healthy.

Crash.net:
Apart from JR and Chaz, who do you see as your main threats?

Tom Sykes:
I think Marco's going to be strong given his pedigree, bike and surroundings. There's Eugene coming back to the championship who I fought for the title in 2013 but we'll see. At the moment I just want to stick to my own issues.

Crash.net:
Are you able to explain the second race grid rules to me?

Tom Sykes:
No, I was hoping you'd be able to explain them to me. I'm not a big fan and I still haven't got my head around them but what can I say, it's a rule, it's been put in place, it's the same for everybody and we've got to deal with it. I still haven't figured out what it's about and I don't think I'll waste my energies on trying to do so either.

I wasn't a fan of what they were doing in BSB but at least in BSB you're getting rewarded for your efforts. In WorldSBK you're getting penalised to try to make the race better without considering the safety aspect.

Crash.net:
Given that the first 3 finishers in race one will be demoted, do you think there'll be any sandbagging for 4th place so that they start in pole for race 2?

Tom Sykes:
No, no I wouldn't think so but there are loads of possibilities and variables so I'll leave that one for you.

Crash.net:
Lastly a choice; 2 races on the Sunday or one race on each day?

Tom Sykes:
Again, it seems like the rules change quite frequently now, formats are changing. You try to voice your opinion in this paddock and you get shot down. I like to think that I've got a bit of experience but for that reason I just shut my mouth. I think there's a lot of fear of rocking the boat in this paddock and that's not my game so I'll stay diplomatically silent on the issue.

I'll stay in my motorhome and then go racing. I always liked the races on a Sunday and I always found that I was strong in that format. It seems like now it sometimes doesn't help us having the race on Saturday. I also enjoy some of the aspects of the two-day format though so, pros and cons, I'll sit on the fence and let the boys in the office decide what to do

Crash.net:
Thanks for your time after the long day testing Tom.

Tom Sykes:
Thanks very much, no worries.