Tom Sykes is to part ways with Kawasaki in the WorldSBK championship. The 2013 WorldSBK champion is to leave the team and manufacturer with which he had virtually all of his success in the series.
Sykes' departure has been coming for some time. The Yorkshireman has been increasingly unhappy in the team ever since Jonathan Rea joined Kawasaki. Since Rea arrived, development of the bike has been moving away from Sykes and towards Rea, understandably, given just how dominant Rea has been on the ZX-10R, winning three titles in a row and on his way to a fourth.
The situation has deteriorated even further throughout the 2018 season, as Sykes has struggled for results. After nine rounds and eighteen races, he still only has a single win this year, to go with five other podium finishes. Yet he is still capable of banging out a blisteringly quick lap, taking four poles from nine Superpoles, and further extending his unrivaled run of 46 poles in WorldSBK̇. He has long displaced Troy Corser as Mr. Superpole in the WorldSBK series.
Though we already know who will take Sykes place in the KRT squad - Leon Haslam is to make a return to WorldSBK to partner Jonathan Rea - where Sykes ends up is still an unknown quantity. Sykes has been in talks with many teams inside the WorldSBK paddock, though he has yet to find a place to settle. Rumor has it that Sykes' financial demands were too great for the Pata Yamaha squad, who look set to re-sign their current pairing of Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark. Several other teams are still an option - Honda, Aprilia, the SMR squad - as is a return to the BSB series.
Below is the press release from Kawasaki announcing the split:
Tom Sykes and KRT to finish sporting relationship at end of 2018 season
After nine successful years on Ninja machinery and with the official factory Kawasaki Racing Team in WorldSBK, Tom Sykes and the Kawasaki Racing Team have mutually agreed to end their sporting relationship at the end of the 2018 season.
Credited with changing the way Kawasaki approached the rigours of superbike racing while playing a large role in the development of the Ninja ZX-10R racing package, Tom will seek a new challenge for 2019 having delivered maximum effort across a total of nine years of racing and development on Kawasaki machinery in WorldSBK.
As the 2018 season is far from over, Sykes is still pushing with KRT in a bid to add to his landmark 2013 WorldSBK championship, the first title for Kawasaki after 20 years following the 1993 success of Scott Russell. Not simply a winner, Tom also achieved championship second place status in 2012, 2014 and 2016 with the 2012 attempt being closest ever runner up finish at just 0.5 points between himself and a second world championship.
With the remainder of the 2018 season yet to be completed the most successful Superpole winner in WorldSBK history still has a chance to increase his amazing tally of qualifying and race successes on KRT machinery. Fully motivated and with the full support of the Kawasaki Racing Team and his pit crew, Tom remains a racing force to be admired by fans and feared by rivals in equal measure.
Tom Sykes: “I feel the time has arrived; the moment to make a change in my career and seek new challenges. 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”.
Guim Roda - KRT Team Manager : “It has been a busy few weeks recently and for sure we have talked many hours internally. In the most recent rounds Tom’s concentration was not able to be the best, as he was dealing with a big decision - apart from some family points to solve - this has taken a lot of his concentration over the past two years. I hope this final confirmation will give us room to finish the year in the same way we dominated in Assen. We have big job to do until end of year, so is not time to say good bye yet. Of course this is an announcement of intentions for 2019 but the more important is to work hard to finish the year with the same determination that we started with”.
Ichiro Yoda - KRT Senior Engineer: “We understand Tom wishes and we agree it is time to take different ways in WorldSBK. Myself and all KHI engineering group have big respect for the job done since beginning of WorldSBK project 2010 and of course for the one still have to do to end of year. His sensors to go fastest lap, develop components and understand details of bike feedback to improve the package have been very useful those years, we will be always thankful for his efforts”.
Steve Guttridge - KME Racing Manager : "We've got a lot of history and thousands of happy miles with Tom over the years. His efforts both on the track, testing, developing plus within the press and at public occasions with the fans has made a really positive impact on Kawasaki. He is so popular because he always gives 100%. It is sad to lose such a great brand ambassador within KRT but I understand it's time for him to face his new goals and motivations. Whichever direction he moves onwards, we want to help him create his best possible future and that means of course starting again on pole in Portimao as the season resumes!"