Yamaha Motor Italia has officially confirmed the signing of BSB star Tom Sykes for the 2009 World Superbike Championship.
The surprise one year deal with an option for 2010 comes in response to Noriyuki Haga's shock switch from Yamaha's top WSBK team to Ducati Xerox, although today's announcement contained no mention of either Haga or current team-mate Troy Corser.
23-year-old Sykes, currently second in the British Superbike Championship for Rizla Suzuki, caught the attention of the World Superbike paddock with impressive wild-card rides at Brands Hatch and Donington Park.
The young Briton scored sixth place in race two at Brands before battling world championship leader Troy Bayliss for victory in race one at Donington last weekend, which he eventually finished in second position.
"Tom Sykes is an excellent signing for the team, he is the most interesting young rider in circulation in the racing world this year," declared Massimo Meregalli. "I've had time to appreciate his riding qualities during the season and Brands Hatch was the confirmation of his talent for me. His brilliant result at Donington strengthened our conviction.
"We know that there will be much work next season because the new YZF-R1 arrives and it will have to learn the tracks. We have a lot of faith in being able to obtain good results quickly and the presence of a young person with a lot of ambition will give new motivation to the team."
Sykes raced in British Supersport for four years from 2003 to 2006, claiming second in the championship in his final year. In 2007, his first year in British Superbike, Sykes finished a respectable sixth in the standings for Stobart Honda, and was named Rookie of The Year.
Sykes then switched to Rizla Suzuki for 2008, with whom he has taken his first BSB race wins and is currently the top four-cylinder rider, a distant second in the points behind Airwaves Ducati's Shane Byrne.
Next year will see the arrival of the uneven-firing 'big bang' R1 in World Superbike competition.
“We are delighted to be able to offer Tom the next step in his racing career with Yamaha's World Superbike Team” said Yamaha Motor Europe Racing Division Manager Laurens Klein Koerkamp. “We are sure he has the qualities needed to be a star rider of the future on the world stage. With the launch of the new R1 just three days ago, we are very excited about the potential for next year. We are looking forward to developing both the rider and the bike for championship success in 2009 and beyond.”
It is assumed that Yamaha will want to pair Sykes with an experienced team-mate, meaning that double world champion Corser could be set to stay with Yamaha for a third season.