THE 2013 World Superbikes Championship starts tomorrow with Huddersfield racer Tom Sykes firmly in the frame as a leading contender.
A mere half a point separated the 27-year-old from the crown last season as Italian Max Biaggi managed to grab the fifth-place finish he needed to take the title in the last race of last season in the final meeting at Magny-Cours.
Kawasaki Racing Team rider Sykes won that final race and, given Biaggi’s retirement, would appear to be in the box seat to take the 2013 honours.
But Sykes is not letting any outside pressure come to bear on him.
“It definitely does not bring pressure,” insisted Sykes, as he geared up for the season which starts in Australia at the Phillip Island circuit.
“I will still continue to do my own thing and ultimately we will do our own thing as a team.
“To be honest it is great to be put in the category. That is what we have worked so hard for and to be mentioned as a favourite is quite nice.
“It would be nice to come away top this year.”
However, Sykes felt in the 2012 season he and his team were pushing at boundaries they had not expected to break through.
“I think we all exceeded our expectations last year,” said Sykes.
“But we worked so hard throughout the season, and worked on our issues.
“We found ourselves in a really good situation and, of course, we had a little bit of bad luck at times, but who doesn’t? It’s racing, sometimes things do not go your way.
“To lose out by half a point was a little bit of a tough cookie to bite, but having said that we had a great fight right until the last race with a great rider like Biaggi.
“But we have another chance in 2013, and I think what happened last year has made everybody in the team a little bit hungrier.”
But when it came to the wire at the end of last season Sykes produced the victory he needed at Magny-Cours to force the title issue and he rated that as his best win last term.
“Race two at Magny-Cours in the final round was special, because everything was going on,” said Sykes.
“No longer was it a race win, it was a potential championship decider, and I think I managed the race quite well.
“I led the race from start to finish and you know there was a lot of pressure on my shoulders.
“I knew I had to win, but at the same time I did not want to make any stupid mistakes just in case Max did.
“So I was quite happy to hold off a strong charge from Jonathan Rea and Sylvain Guintoli and win the race.
“It was a championship decider and I did all I could, and the team did all they could, so that was the most rewarding of wins.”
Sykes’ ability to get to the front of the grid in qualifying last season was a key to his success, but again he is relaxed about grabbing the Superpole slots this term.
“I have no secret to Superpole – I enjoy going on track just by myself,” explained Sykes.
“It is basically me and the Kawasaki. The team have done their bit and they pass the bike to me and I enjoy it.
“I used to love playing time trials on the games when I was growing up.
“It is all about putting that one lap together. It was great watching Troy Corser (all time SBK Superpole winner with 43 career pole positions) and everybody.
“It’s just self-belief. I feel that when the bike is working I can get a fairly good result out of it. In terms of natural feel I am quite confident with it and I am happy to try and break some circuit records.”