After threatening to dominate the World Superbike series in the early part of this decade, 2013 WSB champ Tom Sykes has been somewhat overshadowed by team-mate Jonathan Rea in the past two seasons.
As the World Superbike technical regulations have been dumbed down, Sykes’ secret weapons have slowly been blunted. Over the past two years, rule changes have seen the level of engine tuning drop in an effort to reduce costs and level the field and this year that goes even further with the banning of split throttle bodies.
With Sykes’ extreme, hard braking and rapid acceleration style, the closer the engines become to their stock counterparts, the more it hampers his riding.
“The more the engine is designed for racing the fast I am, because my style is all about extreme stopping and extreme acceleration,” Sykes explained. Getting it into the corner and then out of the corner as fast as physically possible. That’s how I ride.”
But the technical landscape has now changed, and this has led Sykes to consider a change of riding style as he looks to return to winning ways in 2017.
“After a season of struggling in 2015 we thought maybe it was a one-off year,” he said. “Last season made it clear. We were always working hard but mid-way through 2016 we sort of thought ‘wow!’. It’s something I kind of realised and I wasn’t willing to accept it, but I had to, I knew I had to change my style.”
The new mentality has seen Sykes focus on altering his style to suit the new technical reality. “I have not been chasing lap times in testing, I have been trying to understand things about the life and durability of the tyres,” he explains.
If Sykes can change his style enough to give him workable grip over race distance, he could be a lot more title trouble for Rea and Davies than anybody suspects. But as it stands, that’s still an ‘if’; a big one.
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