Tom Sykes the DIY expert finally assembles all the tools to win World Superbikes title
Down-to-earth rider from Yorkshire keeps his feet on the ground as he heads for glory
Thursday 17 October 2013
If Tom Sykes wins the first major championship of his career at the World Superbike finale in Spain on Sunday, the 28-year-old Yorkshireman will climb from his 200mph Kawasaki ZX-10R and celebrate by returning home to tackle a spot of DIY work.
"I'm not one of those riders who lets success go to his head," Sykes said as he prepared for today's practice sessions at the Jerez circuit. "I'll be coming home after the race to restore some stable doors for my wife. I'm a home-owner now, and in five weeks' time we'll have our first child. I'm a very grounded person."
Sykes is only 14 points away from claiming the garland. Just a third place in the first of the two races on the 2.75-mile Jerez circuit, or two lowly ninth places, would enable him to give Kawasaki their first World Superbike title in 20 years. It would also bring the championship back to Britain for the first time since James Toseland won it in 2007, in a series where British riders have dominated seven times in the last quarter of a century.
"We tested twice at Jerez in the winter and we have some good information," Sykes said. "I'm confident with our situation. I hear people saying that I need X-amount of points or I need to finish in this-or-that position, but we just need to go there and work on our own thing and see what happens after two races."
Sykes' doughty attitude to the job in hand isn't entirely explained by the fact that he comes from the same county as the likes of Geoff Boycott. He has toiled for 10 long years at the Supersport and Superbike coalfaces without ever gaining a championship. His sheer, blinding speed has long been evident, but until this year Sykes has never had what racers call "the package", that elusive mix of machine, set-up and team personalities which is necessary for success.
Last year his Kawasaki had the speed but burnt out its Pirelli tyres too early in races. "For one lap we've been very, very fast," Sykes said. "But this year we've worked hard to make that into a better race. Last year our package was not fast at the end of a race. This year we have discovered some of the science behind making our bike consistently fast."
Prevously Sykes was known as the king of Superpole for his ability to qualify at the head of the grid. This year he has maintained that reputation, but has backed it up with nine race wins. Two of those came at the previous round at Magny Cours in France, a demoralising blow for his rivals from Italy's Aprilia factory, the Northern Irishman Eugene Laverty and the Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, who languish 37 and 38 points respectively behind Sykes.
Watching Sykes perform at Jerez will be the man who first gave him a taste of what 100mph felt like on a motorcycle, his 74-year-old grandfather Peter Brook. When he was around 13 years of age, Tom slipped into his grandmother's leathers and clambered on to the pillion seat of Peter's Suzuki TL1000R. Grandpa Peter pottered out of their home town in Huddersfield and then opened up the 135bhp V-twin superbike as they reached the Yorkshire moors.
"I'm sure we did over 100mph," Peter remembered. "Yes, I suppose today people would look at that and say it was madness to do that with a youngster on the back, but to us it seemed really safe."
Last year Tom lost the title by only half a point to Aprilia's Max Biaggi. This year his task should be easier, and he has the security of knowing that he has already signed again for Kawasaki in 2014 to keep the wage packets flowing and fund work on his house near Leamington Spa.
"I love anything manual – woodwork, messing about with concrete, building walls, painting," Sykes said. "When I was trying to break into racing I worked as a labourer."
If Sykes wins the title, Kawasaki will flaunt him at the winter's glamour motorcycle shows in Milan and Paris. "But I'll be enjoying Christmas dinner with my family,' he said. "You might call it boring, but I'm grounded."
Superman: Sykes in numbers
Current World Superbikes standings:
1 Tom Sykes (GB) Kawasaki 411
2 Eugene Laverty (NI) Aprilia 374
3 Sylvain Guintoli (France) Aprilia 373
4 Marco Melandri (Italy) BMW 339
5 Chaz Davies (GB) BMW 270
Sykes's season highlights:
9 race wins
8 pole positions
12 fastest race laps
242 laps led (almost half of all laps run this year)
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