Everyone loves an underdog and, over the last decade at least, underdogs haven't come more perennial than Kawasaki. It's a status that makes Tom Sykes's achievements with the manufacturer in 2012 all the more poignant.
Indeed, Kawasaki's statistics of five wins, sixteen podiums and nine pole positions look impressive even before you consider that the Japanese marque had previously managed just two weather-affected WSBK wins between 2001 and 2011, but thanks to Sykes – and Loris Baz -, Kawasaki went from underdogs to top dogs in almost the blink of an eye in 2012.
It's difficult to believe now, but Sykes very nearly didn't even have a ride coming into the 2012 World Superbike season, a somewhat disappointing 2011 campaign with the new ZX-10R apparently putting him on the cusp of unemployment.
However, Kawasaki opted for rider continuity and instead chose to reshuffle behind the scenes, enlisting Provec to take over the running of the factory outfit in an effort to unlock the potential of a bike that had shown flashes of pace in its first season, albeit not consistently.
The changes were immediately evident during testing, Sykes frequently appearing towards the top of the timesheets before the season got underway. It was promise he fulfilled early on by claiming pole positions and podiums in the opening two rounds, the latter something he had only previously achieved once before coming into the season.
However, if it was a novelty to see a 'green machine' performing so well at the start of the season, it wasn't long before we began to expect that Sykes would dominate qualifying day, the Briton's startling one-lap form carrying him to nine pole positions in 14 attempts in 2012.
Eventually, Sykes was sipping the winners' champagne, though his impressive turn at Monza would be overshadowed somewhat by an early stoppage that left him with just half points for his efforts - few could have predicted how critical that moment would become later in the year…
Ironically, even though the idea of having a Kawasaki battling for wins on a regular basis would have been almost unthinkable before the year, Sykes's excellent qualifying form did at times bring into focus some relatively lacklustre race days where the ZX-10R appeared to struggle for pace over a longer distance.
Nonetheless, Sykes kept plugging away, so much so that when Max Biaggi
and Marco Melandri allowed errors to creep into their title campaigns, the 27-year-old would – almost from nowhere – find himself within striking distance of a late championship challenge.