An instant gelling with Kawasaki's new ZX-10R has led Tom Sykes to describe his mood as “happy, relaxed and motivated” ahead of launching his bid for a second World Superbike title.
The Englishman produced a devilish turn of pace through the winter and found himself top of the timesheets at tests in Jerez in November and February when he wasn't “chasing lap times”, as Kawasaki's new machine quickly got up to speed.
Along with developing a new bike, Sykes is also looking at 2015, a year in which he finished 149 points off the championship winner, as a positive, when he “learnt a lot” from competing in team-mate Jonathan Rea's shadow.
From both crew chief Marcel Duinker's proclamation during the KRT Kawasaki's team launch in Barcelona (“For all our fans around the world I hope you enjoy our green domination in 2016!”) and Sykes' comments to journalists after, the 30-year old from Yorkshire feels he has the tools at his disposal to make a real impression on the new season.
“You have to be,” was Sykes' response to claims that he seemed bullish. “2015 was a step back in terms of my performance. I wasn't able to do what I wanted. It was also a very good schooling year. We learnt a lot.
“I was just trying to do the best I could but unfortunately it wasn't good enough. I was very limited as to how I wanted to ride the bike. I feel it was a bit of a struggle but like I said I learnt a lot from it. In a way I also have got to be grateful. It was a tough season. The riding style of Jonathan and the technical regulations was an utter marriage. They were at one and like I said I think that this year can be different.
“Now we've obviously got better tools from Kawasaki. I'm very happy. I'm very relaxed and motivated and I feel that we have the right package to go racing.”
A consistent issue in 2015 was Sykes' pace at the close of races. It almost became something of the norm to see the 2013 world champion escape at the front in the early laps. On some of those occasions, with Sepang and Magny-Cours notable examples, he was frustratingly reeled back in at an equal rate of knots.
Recent tests in Jerez and Aragon confirmed what he said at the close of 2015. The new ZX-10R is strong after twenty laps.
“In a way no but in a way yes because I've not been chasing lap times and in a way the lap times have come,” replied Sykes to a question on whether his testing times have sent out a statement.
“They have also been very competitive lap times. In a way yes but the real action will start in the racing. Like I said, I feel like everything is there to be a good step better than last year. Then we struggled toward the end of the race and this year I feel that we can improve at the end of the race so, on the back of this information, I'm very relaxed about my racing this season.”
When Rea joined the Kawasaki ranks for 2015 discussions on the relationship between the pair dominated preseason headlines. Yet, tensions only appeared in the public eye at the close of the year, at Magny-Cours and Qatar in particular.
Going into his sixth season with the Japanese manufacturer, Sykes feels Rea's introduction to the team created a division, one which he feels better equipped to deal with in 2016.
“There are a couple of guys inside the team that have already set up that environment. I've always been a team player and I've always worked for the Kawasaki racing team.
“But last year the team got divided quite quickly. We saw the introduction of 'Team 65'. As a team rider you always feel that that is a bit of a statement. At the end of the day this year we know where we're standing and we know how to bring the battle more to the table.“
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