Kawasaki Racing Team rider Tom Sykes enjoyed one of the best racing seasons of his career in 2012, taking second overall in the World Superbike championship and coming just a half point shy of the title. Considering his previous placements in the series (13th in 2011, 14th in 2010 and 9th in 2009), the move to contention for the overall came as a surprise.
Sykes has been racing professionally since 2003, but didn’t complete his first full season in British Supersport until 2004. He finished fifth overall that year, and repeated the achievement again in 2005. In 2006 Sykes finished as runner-up in British Supersport, in what was to be his best professional showing until 2012.
In 2007 he moved to British Superbike and earned respectable results, taking sixth in the championship that year and scoring fourth in 2008. The following year Sykes moved to World Superbike, teaming with Yamaha alongside Ben Spies. His stint with the tuning-fork brand was short lived though, and by 2010 he’d moved to Kawasaki.
Team Green has long struggled in the World SBK grind. Since 1988, the inaugural year of World Superbike competition, Kawi has amassed 41 race wins, 181 podiums and 30 poles. For comparison, the current leading WSBK manufacturer of all-time, Ducati, has 313 race wins, 781 podiums and 161 poles.
The ZX-10R has languished for years before finally reaching competitive maturity under Sykes. Previous success for the marque proved anomalous, like the 2006 Race 1 Assen victory by Chris Walker. It wasn’t until Sykes won in the rain at Nurburgring in 2011 that the winless streak was broken. And that good news came after Sykes was supposed to be sacked, along with the Kawasaki team Paul Bird Motorsport. But Kawasaki took the SBK program in house, retained Sykes after all, and the results speak for themselves.
During the opening round of the 2012 season at Phillip Island, Sykes took a 4-3 result and followed that up with a pair of second-place finishes at Imola. He limped through Round 3 at Assen, pulling out of Race 1 with mechanical issues and then nabbing sixth in Race 2. It wasn’t that Sykes didn’t have the speed though, because he was the pole-winner in all three of the opening rounds. Finding the pace to last an entire race was the challenge.
In Round 4 at Monza, Sykes finally made the top step, albeit in unusual circumstances. Race 1 was allowed to start, but was quickly called off and cancelled due to unsafe track conditions. Later, in Race 2, riders were called off track with eight laps remaining while Sykes was running in the lead, giving him top honors. Following the madness at Monza, the British rider posted a number of podium finishes and top-10 results, but he really gained ground in the final rounds of the year.
At Moscow, he went 1-2 and then earned another race win in the penultimate round at Portimao. During the finale, Sykes was well within reach of the overall title and he pushed heroically to finish 3-1 at Magny-Cours, but Aprilia’s Max Biaggi bested him by just half-a-point in the standings for the championship.
Overall, Sykes earned nine pole positions, four race wins, two second-place and four third-place finishes. He became the most improved rider on the grid, piloting one of the most improved machines. Thanks to his 2012 results, the Yorkshireman now sits as a major contender for the 2013 title.
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Memorable Moments of World SBK 2012
First WSBK Round at Moscow Raceway
2012: Tom Sykes’ Breakout Year
World SBK and MotoGP Under One Roof
Joan Lascorz at Imola
Wet Weather/Dubious Track Conditions in 2012
Biaggi Wins 2012 Title by Slimmest Margin Ever