Where to now for Tom Sykes?—Tom Sykes’ nine years as a Kawasaki WorldSBK rider will come to an end at the completion of the 2018 season, after official confirmation of what most people in the WorldSBK paddock had expected for some time.
Where to now for Tom Sykes?
After several seasons of rivalry and occasional bad blood between Sykes and teammate Jonathan Rea it seemed like it was time to go for Tom, especially after a particularly troubled period in his personal life.
Add to that his media bust-up with Rea himself after a Brno race collision, and finally a public criticism of Rea’s crew chief, Pere Riba, in a TV interview at Laguna Seca, and an exit seemed more certain every week. Once Rea had not gone to MotoGP after all, and re-signed with Kawasaki in WorldSBK, it seemed even more certain Sykes would move.
The official Kawasaki release says it was a mutual parting.
Having tried to reformat his radical riding style to suit his current bike and the 2018 technical regulations, Sykes has found incredible one lap pace as always, but too often raceday disappointments have become his unwanted new norm—despite a remarkable front-running victory at Assen earlier this year.
“I feel the time has arrived; the moment to make a change in my career and seek new challenges,” Sykes said of leaving his long-time factory slot. “Having the motivation to push to your limits and that of your machine is all the more important when you look for the victory at every race and I feel I have given all I can within KRT. I am now the best rider I have ever been, and I have the experience and performance to keep winning. So now I have decided to make a step away from the KRT project for 2019 and look for new goals and challenges. I will now concentrate to finish on the podium for the last four rounds of 2018. I am determined to enjoy my racing and making this announcement effectively ends all speculation. The timing of this big career decision is never easy but it is especially difficult as my personal life also faces big changes. Regarding this I feel the weight of pressure has been slightly lifted from my shoulders and I am sure 2019 will allow me to operate at full capacity”.
A new start may be exactly what Sykes needs, especially after all his pre-2015 successes has been so attenuated of late that he is a challenger for runner-up spot over a season at best.
It seems a long time ago since Tom was considered, “Mr. Kawasaki” but only Rea can surpass his career achievements on the big Ninjas.
Becoming a KRT rider in 2010, he was retained as a third Kawasaki rider in 2011 because of the influence and support of Paul Bird (when the main KRT squad was also run by his British team).
The once-struggling 2009 Yamaha rookie Sykes became ‘the man’ in his own right in 2013, winning the first Kawasaki WorldSBK crown for 20 years.
He came agonizingly close on two other occasions, either side of his championship win, and he has been second or third every year since 2012, except for his championship win. He has won 36 races for Kawasaki along the way—as well as an all-time record for pole position ‘wins’ earlier this season—46.
A double whammy arrived for Sykes in 2015, in the shape of much more restricted engine specs and a new teammate in the form of super-talented Ulsterman, Jonathan Rea.
New man Rea was much happier to ride the 2015 Kawasaki than the established Sykes was, thanks in part to the first of several tech changes that would draw Sykes’ sharpest racing teeth with each move away from a pure racing machine.
And let’s not underplay the arrival of the versatile and motivated Rea.
Having spent his career on ‘nearly-there’ Hondas, and winning more races than he had any right to season after season, arriving in a proper factory team like KRT saw Rea in the ascendancy from the start.
So, where to now for the 2013 champion Sykes?
With both Yamaha official seats looking like their existing riders, Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes, have filled them, any potential GRT Yamaha squad may not want to sign more than one experienced rider, alongside their main target Marco Melandri. Sykes has probably fewer options than a month ago, but there is possibly Ducati. Or SMR, currently branded Milwaukee Aprilia. Or Red Bull Honda. There are some seats available.
Potential new teammates for Rea after the departure of Sykes include several names from both inside and outside the WorldSBK paddock, but Laguna and Misano rumors—not to mention lots of circumstantial evidence—point at one-time WorldSBK challenger and five-times race winner, Leon Haslam.
He is, after all, teaming up with Rea in the Suzuka 8 Hour, and is already firmly inside the Kawasaki family as the leader of the BSB championship for JG Speedfit Kawasaki. Young Turk Toprak Razgatlioglu looked a possible once, but his return to his current Kawasaki Puccetti Racing was confirmed some time ago.
Zero information had emanated from the official team before Sykes’ departure about their final 2019 rider line up, but given that they have announced that Sykes will not be riding in ’19 we can assume that news of his replacement cannot be too long in the waiting.