Legend backs Tom for title tilt as rider knows bike and team
Four times world champion superbike racer Carl Fogarty is expecting Tom Sykes to overtake his superpole record – and he couldn’t be happier.
The legend from Blackburn, who won the world superbike championship titles in 1994, 1995, 1998 and 1999 riding for Honda and Ducati, clocked up 21 pole positions during his career, but Huddersfield racer Sykes is closing in fast.
The 27-year-old went to the top of this season’s FIM World Superbike Championship rankings with a ‘double’ at Imola in the last round after the man on bike No66 recorded his sixth superpole of the season.
As he competes at the Moscow Raceway this weekend in round eight Sykes is in the position, with eight rounds remaining this year, to overhaul Fogarty having taken his career tally to 17 by topping the qualification times in Italy.
“In the last couple of years Tom has really started to come through and he came so close last year,” said Fogarty.
“And he is in a group of British riders who have come through at the same time and are doing well, which always helps.
“Having been with Kawasaki a while now Tom knows his bike well and he is getting better all the time – so you have to feel he can win the title this year.”
Sykes, who cites the man known as ‘Foggy’ as one of his main inspirations to take up racing, plainly enjoys the discipline of qualification and setting fastest lap times.
Notching number 17 in Italy put Sykes level with American star Doug Polen, who racked up his poles in just two seasons of racing for Ducati in the Superbike World Championship when he won the title in both 1991 and 1992.
Fogarty is the next target four in front, but Sykes will have to wait until another year to outstrip Aussie Troy Bayliss, who excelled on the Ducatis in the noughties, taking 26 poles and may have to race for a good while longer to match the man from Wollongong, Troy Corser, who recorded 43 poles in his almost 20-year career in racing – notably at one stage in the saddle for Fogarty’s Petronas team.
However, Fogarty feels that taking pole position has to be the means to an end.
“It’s funny, but it is not something that I ever felt that I was particularly good at,” said Fogarty, the most successful World Superbike racer of all time in terms of the number of championships and number of race wins.
“It certainly wasn’t something I enjoyed and I was always more concerned about the race and making the podium than I was about doing a great time over one lap in qualifying.
“To have managed pole over 20 times surprises me and I am sure I didn’t collect too many of them over the couple of years when I won the championship twice in 1998 and 1999.
“However, Tom does seem to like to test himself over one lap and he knows his bike well.
“But in the end what you have to do is back that up in races and what you are eventually judged on is race wins and titles.”
Last year Sykes came within half a point of winning his first world crown, pipped by Aprilia rider Max Biaggi in the last race of the season at French circuit Magny Cours.
However, Fogarty felt that Sykes – who goes to Russia ahead in the rankings by six points from Aprilia’s Sylvain Guintoli – had exceeded expectations last year and was definitely capable of handling the pressure of significantly raised expectations in the current championship.
“While Tom missed out last year, I don’t think anyone had really expected him to get that close to winning the title,” said Fogarty, whose own racing career was ended in 2000 after a sustaining multiple injuries in a crash at Australia’s Phillip Island circuit.
“What he did really well was to make the most of other riders’ mistakes, and last year his bike was not the fastest and everyone was looking to the Aprilias.
“But having done as well as he did I think the expectation changed going into this year and the pressure has been put on Tom as a potential title winner.
“The great thing is that he handles that pressure so well.
“He is a nice lad with a really down to earth approach and he simply gets on with the job.
“No-one will be more delighted than me when Tom wins the title.”