Tom Sykes expects to be back fighting at the forefront of the World Superbike grid in 2016 thanks to a revised Kawasaki that he can “race,” not merely “ride”.
2012 WSBK champion Sykes suffered his worst campaign since 2011 last year, finishing a distant third in the championship as Kawasaki teammate Jonathan Rea raced to the title in his first year with the team.
Sykes, however, was quickest on both days of collective testing at Jerez this week on the updated 2016 ZX-10R machine that he believes suits his riding style much better.
And while the Yorkshire-born rider was quick to downplay the importance of topping the timesheets, he says the new bike should allow him to return to his best form after a tough 2015.
“For me it’s definitely a massive step up [from the 2015 bike],” Sykes explained to Motorsport.com.
“Last year I felt like I was restricted; like I was having to ride the bike and not race it; that it was taking away some of the strong points of my riding style.
“But now I feel like I can race it again. Winter testing has shown that we’re a lot stronger over a race distance compared to last year.”
More “depth” in 2016
Looking back on 2015, a season dominated by Rea, Sykes admitted that last year’s WSBK field lacked “depth” – giving his fellow Kawasaki rider a clear run at the title.
“Last year I was struggling with the bike, and Chaz [Davies] had a lot of technical problems that definitely hindered his chances,” said the 30-year-old.
“So there was no-one to really push [Jonathan] Rea, we perhaps missed a bit of depth [on the grid].
“But a lot of new riders have joined this year on capable machines, so now we have depth as well as quality.”
Asked to name who he expects to form the strongest opposition to Kawasaki in 2016, Sykes singled out works Ducati duo Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano – but said he expects a crowded field at the front.
“Chaz was on great form last year, he was the strongest rider in the second half of the year, so he’s going to be strong,” said Sykes, “and Davide is coming back from injury, and he’s always been fast.
“So there’s the two Ducatis, we’ve got two new Yamahas, the core set-up of that bike is strong, and BMW is back too.
“There are lot of riders to compete with, and on any given weekend I think there are a big handful of riders who can win races.”