As he prepares for the first World Superbike round of 2017, Tom Sykes believes he is “close to where we need to be” after spending the winter testing period adapting his riding style to the needs of Kawasaki's ZX-10RR.
The Englishman has acknowledged in recent weeks that a move away from his late-braking style to a more flowing approach - more in line with team-mate Jonathan Rea's way of attacking a corner - was necessary to extract the maximum from his 2017 package.
New regulations stipulate that World Superbike engines can no longer run batteries, and the subsequent changes to Kawasaki's engine character meant Sykes could no longer brake late and square the corner off as he pleased.
Quipping that the change has been a 'ball-ache', and has taken much adjustment, the 31-year old is nonetheless confident that Kawasaki has suitably reacted to the ominous threat posed by Ducati in the second half of 2016.
“I mean it's a ball-ache,” smiled Sykes after his KRT squad's team presentation in Barcelona on Thursday.
“Basically it goes against what I believe in my style. Unfortunately many things have changed and I have to take a step back. It's more of a, let's say, riding style than a racing style and it's taken some getting used to.
“I feel we've done some good work on this and got a lot of information during winter testing. I hope now we can go and continue in the same way for Phillip Island and the rest of the season.
“In the past when I was racing I was able to brake later, stop faster, turn the bike faster and then exit faster. But now I have to think more in advance. I have to brake a bit earlier. I have to go a little more easy in the corner and keep the speed. Really it's a more flowing style. That's the way to describe it.
“In some areas I don't believe this but it's a style that we need to do. The characteristics of our bike are not so towards what they were in the past. We need to make some changes and try and fight with Jonathan.
“His riding style and this ZX10-RR, along with the changes in the rules, are in great harmony. It's basically trying to react to this and be stronger.
“I've been working on it during all winter testing. Just trying to recover the lap time after a certain amount of laps. I feel like we've done a good job. It's always difficult to tell in winter because the track conditions are very cold.
“Everything becomes easier and faster so we'll only really see when we get into the mix and get into the race conditions.”
On the changes Kawasaki has made to the bike over the winter period, Sykes continued: “There are a lot of really small things, like a little bit more power… stuff like this.
“It's only a very small increase in power but finally the small increase is a big benefit on track. Really, stuff like this and fine tuning the bike really. I feel like we're quite close to where we need to be and now we just need to keep working. Ducati did a great job last year and I feel we've reacted quite strongly. Hopefully this is enough.”
Finding himself powerless to stop Chaz Davies marching to an impressive seven wins from the final eight outings at the close of '16, Sykes says both he and Kawasaki recognised the need to react to the threat posed by the Bologna factory.
For him, the results in the subsequent months have been positive. “Honestly speaking, Jonathan won the championship last year,” said Sykes.
“The personal opinion of mine is that without the mistakes of Chaz - he's done it two years consecutive now and also last year -, without those mistakes, with the crashes he had, he was probably the one that could have won the championship.
“Considering the summer break Ducati were very clever. I'd say the most clever of the manufacturers and they did a really important test and almost embarrassed everybody. Except for the wet race in Germany, if the second race was 30 minutes sooner, then Chaz would have won eight races from eight. That would have been pretty special.
“So he's probably the reference at the moment. Like I say he'll look to start the season at least as strong as he finished, if not stronger. But the question is, have Kawasaki – Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea – done enough in the winter. I think the answer is yes. I think we've really addressed some small limitations we had and made things a little bit easier.”