Tom Sykes, the 2013 WorldSBK Champion when he was an official KRT rider, had a first test on the Kawasaki Puccetti Racing ZX-10RR he will ride in 2023 during a short test at Jerez yesterday.
The supposed two-day test proved to be largely an afternoon affair on the final day only, for Sykes as well as most of the very few other riders there.
Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes (KRT) plus two-day rider Scott Redding (BMW M1000RR) were the only other regular WorldSBK riders on show. Rea was fastest, Redding second on the newly homologated racebike (complete with big aero changes), Lowes placed third and then Sykes was fourth fastest - but just over a second from Rea’s fastest time.
Not bad for a rider on a privateer bike, in his first tricky and weather complicated test session with factory bikes as his only reference.
Of the overall WorldSBK comeback experience, Sykes told bikesportnews.com, “It was nice to be on familiar territory. The test itself, honestly? I was talking to a friend before the test and he asked me my expectations. I gave him my answer, and we went past that answer.
"I am really happy, to be honest, because all things considered, it was really nice to get to work with all the Kawasaki Puccetti Racing team to start the relationship. And just really try to understand some key points. Unfortunately there was a bit of disturbance from track conditions.
"The test was very compressed but, honestly, I was pleasantly surprised with the end result. From here we know we have got a clear plan. Overall, we know where we can work forward now. I am happy and looking forward to more time with the team and track time with the bike in the next test.”
Being only just over a second from Rea, who had set a 1’39.911 best lap, Sykes really did appear to have exceeded his expectations, especially after setting only 34 laps, as opposed to 50 for Rea and Lowes, and 91 for Redding, who rode in all weather conditions.
No qualifying tyres or anything like it, said Sykes. “Because we only had those laps I think I used two, maybe three, sets of tyres, but honestly even if there had been some there was not the level of push from myself in being able to utilise anything like that.
"We needed to get some laps on X, Y and Z, and I did not want to jeopardise that at any stage. Credit to the team, it was a very hectic and compressed test and the main goal was to come away with some information and build.
"Obviously you could see on the track that there was some commitment from other riders, going very well, so we know the benchmark and we will look at that another day. To be honest, that kind of thing was spoken about before the tests. After 34 laps and to have that kind of distance between us, is only positive, to be honest.”
Sykes has an all-new tech crew, but so far all good with their working relationship. “It is a complete fresh crew and that is why I have come here. I am very relaxed, very open, not pushing too many boundaries on the track, just literally getting the first information and the first understanding, and building from here.
"I think Manuel (Puccetti, the team manager and owner) has done a very nice job, also to take of some stress from the guys. It has been nice. We have had dinners together. He took advantage of the track conditions not being perfect and spent some time on team bonding. Now the ice is broken we will work towards our goals next season.”
Now, what are those goals, exactly, Tom? Suddenly, Sykes gets all coy.
“Thank you very much for asking but I will keep those quite close to my chest,” said Sykes. “But, without putting my goals on the table for everyone to see, I want to come back and enjoy my racing. To enjoy my racing… I will be wanting some results as well.
"We will see. There are key areas we need to improve but, honestly, to be where we are after a very busy 34 laps just gives a little bit of extra confidence to that prospect. Obviously now I am in a satellite team and I want to do the best I can.
"Manuel shares the same goals and we will try to push forward together. No big concerns at this moment in time. We have understood a lot here and we will understand a bit more next month in Jerez. Hopefully there will be another test after that.”
Exactly what Sykes was going to get in terms of support for 2023 from Kawasaki is unknown to him, at this stage at least.
“Your guess is as good as mine but honestly, all I can say is that I have a good history with Kawasaki and we go back a long way together,” stated Sykes. “We have a lot of respect for each other. I know they value who I am and what I can do. Also, some extra feedback. We shall see.
"I would like to think that there is going to be a good level of support, and from the moment Manuel knows that there are areas that can be improved. He is very motivated for this and that is why, considering the overall look at this test, I am quite happy with the end result. There is a margin for improvement and a number of people know this, so that can only help the next stepping stone.”
Sykes (37) has started 349 WorldSBK races, has one world title, 114 podiums of all kinds, including 34 race wins and - famously - a record 51 pole positions.