With Jonathan Rea’s future firmly set at the Kawasaki Racing Team, the focus this past weekend at Laguna Seca was on the future of his teammate, Tom Sykes.
The Yorkshire man had spared few words in the media for his team and teammate in the days ahead of the California round, and he certainly wasn’t holding too much back once he was at Laguna Seca.
You could almost smell the smoke emanating from Sykes, a result of the bridge that was being burned behind him.
Sykes is 99.9% not riding with Kawasaki for the 2019 World Superbike Championship season, and he finds himself as one of the top picks in the paddock in the rider market.
Chaz Davies is another top rider who is highly sought after in the paddock, and he is likely to remain at Ducati…though Kawasaki would surely have been keen to get their hooks into the Welshman.
A Davies/Rea combo would be nigh unstoppable, and the move would have gut Kawasaki’s biggest rival, Ducati, in its bid to unseat the dominance displayed by Kawasaki in WorldSBK.
At Laguna Seca, Sykes was widely tipped to be headed into the arms of Yamaha, and with GRT stepping up from World Supersport to World Superbike, there will be two strong Yamaha teams for Sykes to chose from next year.
A move into PATA Yamaha would require a seat to be vacated by either Alex Lowes or Michael van der Mark. And while MVDM has had some ties to KRT, which would mean a straight swap for him and Sykes, that does not seem to be the case.
The more likely scenario is for Leon Haslam to return to the WorldSBK paddock, taking a ride within the factory Kawasaki Racing Team for virtually zero dollars, similar to the deal that Marco Melandri penned with Ducati Corse for the 2017 season.
Haslam showed good pace on the Puccetti Kawasaki at the Donington Park round, and with his paycheck likely tied to contingency or simply just personal sponsorship opportunities, he is a solid bang-for-the-buck rider for Kawasaki.
As such, the Bothan spy network tips Lowes and Van der Mark to stay put at PATA Yamaha, with the duo starting finally to see the fruits of their labor on the Iwata machine.
Meanwhile for Sykes, with no room at the “factory” team, a move to the GRT Yamaha squad might be seen as a step-down for the former WorldSBK champion.
However, the equipment should be on-par with the PATA boys, and the money might spend, as the other name linked to GRT is surely coming with some financial backing (more on that later).
Another possibility is for Sykes to make a move to BMW equipment, but this has its own complications as well, as it hinges on what equipment Shaun Muir Racing uses next season, as the team is looking to drop Aprilia after the 2018 season concludes.
With possibilities from both BMW and Ducati, the SMR’s choice will be dictated to some degree by which riders are onboard – something SMR is already familiar with, in the guise of Lorenzo Savadori.
One thing is for certain, one way or another, BMW seems certain to be on the grid next year, with Markus Reiterberger returning to the WorldSBK paddock with the German manufacturer.
Where does this leave Tom Sykes? It’s not clear. He is the man in the paddock with all the options, but at what cost are teams willing to take?
Once called Mr. Superpole, Sykes sway in WorldSBK has waned with Jonathan Rea coming to KRT, and with Chaz Davies making progress with the Ducati Panigale R.
The realities of the market will dictate as well, as how many teams are capable of paying the freight for a factory-level rider? Especially when there is no shortage of young talent, eager to prove their mettle.
We should hopefully know the answer to all these questions at the end of WorldSBK’s nearly two-month summer break. Stay tuned.