Portimao WorldSBK test: Sykes rediscovers pace and passion

Picture: GeeBee Images

After losing his factory KRT WorldSBK ride in for 2019, Tom Sykes’ future looked bleak for a time, until he became a factory BMW rider.

Two strong showings on the first day of each of the two recent winter test sessions, with his all-new official BMW/SMR amalgam team, his bike clearly has speed and Sykes clearly still has pace and desire.

Close to the top on day one at Portimao, Sykes slipped back a little. Especially as Jonathan Rea really got motoring on a Q tyre, finishing almost a second up on the next best rider, and almost 1.4 ahead of Sykes. The Yorkshireman was sixth, but did not resort to a Q tyre at the end.

“It depends on what tyres everybody used. I did not use a Q, or a ten lap sprint race tyre,” Sykes told bikesportnews.com. “We have a lot of work to do so we just carried on from yesterday and I am really happy with the way things are going.

“There is certainly a lot of effort going in from the BMW team and we are all working in the same direction, which is really nice. We continued with electronic set-up and also different chassis components, suspension components, fine tuning the riding position. It never stops. There has been quite a lot to do on the bike and I am still pleasantly surprised with our performance, really.”

Sykes, who needs a low inertia, revvy engine to make the most of his ingrained, hard-braking, point-and-squirt hard riding style is making better friends with his new machine every time he goes out on track.

“The good thing is that I am starting to get really a lot more feedback from the S1000RR and here in Portimao it is not my favourite track, the conditions were not ideal, but we have certainly been very productive. We made the most of our time and made big, big progress compared to Jerez.”

Sykes like all his peers also had to learn as he rode in the teeth of two days of strong wind, which got to the scary levels on day two in Portugal. On a scale of one to ten, how windy did Sykes feel it got?

“Ooooff, fairly windy,” grinned Sykes. “I would say that in some of the corners it was getting up to about a seven and quite poor really for the lap times. But some of the issues we had on the bike, in the windy conditions, were slightly amplified. So in a way it was a good thing because at Phillip Island, you could be presented with wind. I feel we improved out set-up to manage this wind a lot better.”

Sykes looks relaxed and happy to be at the start of a new project, which he feels is moving in the right direction, especially as he did not go looking for lap times, yet was still sixth fastest. “I am happy with the consistency but it is hard to judge where everybody is at. I am sat here at the other end of pitlane from most of the others, near pit exit, so I get so see who is riding past.

“There were a lot of new tyres coming past me, so it is hard to judge where everybody is at, but this bike is my focus. I am kind of just benchmarking myself and if we are improving the set-up every time then fair enough.

“Even like today all those components I mentioned, we are also trying things on the braking side. It is a new project and this is day six on track, and in the big picture it is very impressive from BMW.”

Like his peers, Sykes now has two more test days before launching his assault on the 2019 WorldSBK Championship. Riding for a new manufacturer for the first time since 2010, it will be a new experience for Sykes - one of the most experienced riders in WorldSBK.

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