Can he still cut it? That's the most common question that was asked in Qatar about Tom Sykes as the 2013 WorldSBK champion signed off from Kawasaki
Over the course of 228 races, Tom Sykes made himself into a Kawasaki legend. It's easy to look at the last four years and to only see the success that Jonathan Rea has achieved on the green machine, but before 2010 the Japanese firm were struggling. Chris Walker's win in the wet at Assen was a bright spot that punctuated ten years of failure.
From the turn of the millennium until Sykes joined the team had three wins, a home double at Sugo in 2010 by wildcard rider Hitoyasu Izutsu, and Walker's famous result. These weren't lean times for Kawasaki, this was a famine. With only 19 podiums in the ten years prior to his arrival, it's remarkable what the Englishman has achieved with the team.
“It’s the end of a great era,” reflected Sykes. “It’s been a great time and I feel that we’ve done a great job together. We've all grown up a lot together. We had the chance to be three-time world champions and I’m very, very fortunate to be able to say that I’m a world champion.”
Highs and lows
That championship is both a blessing a curse for Sykes. Speaking before his final races with Kawasaki, he admitted that four years of being Rea's teammate have seen him taking an emotional battering. In Sykes' mind there are reasons for it, and they revolve around the engine and the regulation changes in recent years. Winning the title proves to himself that he can be the best in the world, but it also gives a rider a hunger to get back on top. That belief, which can drive a rider to a title, can also be eroded by defeat after defeat.
“It’s not like I’m doing a bad job. I've still been able to win races, I’m just not doing as good a job as Jonathan. Having been world champion and won lots of races, it makes it easier for me to accept the performance compared to Jonathan. I can accept it. The fact is we’re riding the same bike and he's riding it better than me. I feel his riding style puts him where he needs to be. He’s absolutely executing at 100%, though but I can go to bed, put my head on the pillow, and accept that on the same bike, a very talented rider is beating me.”
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