Growing rumours suggest that Rizla Suzuki's BSB star Tom Sykes will replace Noriyuki Haga at Yamaha Italia for the 2009 World Superbike Championship.
As previously reported, Haga will sever his Yamaha ties and switch to Ducati Xerox next season in place of the retiring Troy Bayliss - and it appears that Yamaha's factory team has lined-up Sykes to replace its departing Japanese star.
Whilst Haga is a veteran of 226 World Superbike races, winning 30 of them and finishing on the podium 83 times, Sykes - currently holding second in the British Superbike Championship - has made only four WSBK starts.
But the 23-year-old made an instant impression during his wild-card rides at Brands Hatch and Donington Park, comfortably running inside the top ten from his very first WSBK session and leading the field in race one at Donington last weekend, before securing a debut podium with second position.
Whilst the WSBK paddock was still coming to terms with Haga's still-to-be-announced switch during last weekend's European round, Sykes' name was increasingly mentioned as a possible replacement - rising above more proven alternatives. It may or may not be relevant that Sykes is good friends with former Yamaha Italia rider Jamie Whitham.
Sykes finished second in the 2006 British Supersport championship before graduating to the BSB class, where he finished 2007 as the highest placed rookie on a Stobart Honda.
Troy Corser currently partners Haga at Yamaha Italia and the team is now expected to make a determined effort to keep the double world champion for 2009, when Yamaha will enter an uneven-firing 'big bang' R1.