Sykes: “I want to win races”.
Barcelona. Tom Sykes is something of an institution in the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team and has been involved with the team from day one. In 2021, the Brit enters his third season with BMW. After two years on the BMW S 1000 RR, he now takes to the track on its successor, the BMW M 1000 RR, a bike, in the development of which Sykes was heavily involved. In an exclusive interview after the tests at Barcelona, Sykes explains the progress that BMW Motorrad Motorsport has made with the new bike, his goals for 2021, the highlights offered also by the series version of the BMW M 1000 RR for road use and what BMW models he enjoys riding away from the racetrack.
An interview with Tom Sykes.
Tom Sykes on the new BMW M 1000 RR
Tom, you just completed two days of testing at Barcelona. How happy are you with those two days?
“With the arrival of the new BMW M 1000 RR the whole of the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team has been very busy over the course of the winter months. The whole BMW project has put a lot of work into this new bike and it was very clear to see from the moment I saw the bike in the workshop and also the first laps on it that it’s obviously more aimed to the track than to the road focus. I was very happy to get the test days at Barcelona and on the other hand it was also very good to come across some of our competition because we are more clear now on some of our limitations and keep working on those. But in general, the first signs for me are quite good. Now we just need a little bit more time to get the package ready for the racing season.”
What areas of the bike have you mainly worked on at the Barcelona test?
“We have been confirming chassis items, so we have been working for example with a different swing arm, a different geometry of the bike and different things with the chassis. In general, it has been very positive at the test at Jerez and then Barcelona. We’ve been able to reconfirm some items. The guys have worked very hard over these past months and there are a lot of different small alterations which we just need to work through and make sure we get everything for a good base in the coming weeks for the Aragón test.”
What are the areas you are happy with already and where is room for improvement?
“Definitely, credit to everyone involved, we already have made a good step with the engine. Now this just means we need to work with the chassis set-up and some of the electronics to allow us to take the best from this engine. So that’s a very positive thing because last year we did not have that luxury. Now we have the engine where we can utilise its performance and we are also making steps with the braking side and with quite a number of other things. From now we just need to work on areas where we can get the power of the BMW M 1000 RR to the track. That’s why we need to keep working and try to take advantage of that increased performance.”
You have been closely involved in developing the BMW M 1000 RR. What do you like most about the new bike?
“I obviously like the engine, the lightness of the engine that makes the handling really quite agile. I like the chassis and how that is working. The BMW’s approach with the chassis means it is more easily adjusted for the WorldSBK project. The braking performance is up, the new winglets help us in some sectors of the circuit and the list goes on. Like I said, they have done a great job and big credit because to release this M version after only one and a half years of the latest S version just shows the mentality and the approach to the racing project that BMW has. That is very nice to know.”
The BMW M 1000 RR has its roots in racing – is this something also ‘normal’ people benefit from that ride the series version on the road?
“Oh yes, very much. I think that everything we do on the track, although it is on a close circuit and at high speeds, it’s all about fine-tuning, finding the perfection, getting that nice finesse in the handling, the braking, the way we apply the throttle, the power delivery and so on. And there is absolutely no question that that only benefits the road users – whether they want to use that M version on the street or on the track. What we do on the track only improves the end result for the consumer who buys it.”
To release this M version after only one and a half years of the latest S version just shows the mentality and the approach to the racing project that BMW has.“
You are going into your third season with the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team. How important is continuity like that for a rider?
“It is very important for the rider but I think even more for the team and the manufacturer, especially with a new bike. If you don’t keep the consistency you can lose track of the whole story of where you started and where you want to go. It really is that simple. So I think for the whole project, from both sides we were very keen to keep that continuity. I think myself, BMW and the whole of SMR, we all understood that continuity of the whole package and the value that we can all put into the whole project. So for me that was the most logical thing and I think we have a lot of respect for one another as well. We value each other’s comments and feedback and it’s a very nice working environment.”
Being in WorldSBK for so many years as you are – are there areas where you personally still can improve as a rider?
“Always. That’s what racing is all about. It’s for development, it’s to break records. It is the same as when a manufacturer brings a new bike to the table. The rider’s got to respond to that bike because sometimes that bike might be very, very strong in some areas but lacking in one or two other areas. Generally in racing, you can always improve a package quite strongly but there is always a small trade as you can, let’s say, make nine areas better but then you might sacrifice one area. So it’s all about adapting and taking the best from the whole package available, whether that’s the team, the rider, the bike. That’s how it works.”
Tom Sykes on the BMW R 18
As we already spoke about road bikes. What are your favourite series models from the BMW range?
“That’s quite simple: obviously I like the BMW R nineT just because of the retro-style of that bike, and the boxer engine is always a pleasure to ride. I have one of those and for me it is familiar with coffee runs in the UK. When the weather is nice I like to just go out on the road and really have a nice, steady approach. But of course, as soon as I got the first sight of the BMW R 18, that was on my shopping list and I am very grateful because I was able to get one quite soon. I already took it for a ride but during the winter months in the UK it was quite a chilly ride. I, however, had the chance to ride the bike at an event in Germany through a fantastic city, taking it all in, the sun was out and I had the chance to enjoy that bike in full glorious sunshine. For me, that’s just a beautiful motorcycle. It’s what I like to do. I spend a lot of time chasing lap times so when it comes to my private life, BMW R 18 or BMW R nineT, they just perfectly fit to exactly what I want to do on the road.”
You’re well known for your good mood. Are you really in a good mood most of the time and how important is it to keep the spirits high?
“Yes, I am generally in a good mood because I have a lot to be grateful for. One of that is what I do for a living. This is my hobby, which I really enjoy. I always try to have the most fun because when I was a kid if someone would have told me that I could do my hobby for my living then of course I would have accepted and been very happy. So yes, I enjoy, I laugh and joke a lot and I am generally happy. Of course, we can have some challenging times, but then it’s important to keep the spirit high as the fun times will come again.”
Yes, I am generally in a good mood because I have a lot to be grateful for.“
How will you spend the following weeks until the first round at Aragón to prepare for the season?
“Now it’s head down. We got a lot of information from the tests and the last test for me was more about information because we certainly did not get the best yet from the whole package in terms of lap time performance. So I will go up to the team’s workshop back in the UK, I want to sit down with my crew chief and my mechanics and to work through the bike. We have tried many different things, from slight alterations to riding position and lots of other small things. So I’ll have a good chat with all those guys, work through what we have done, what was good, what was bad, look at things that we can do to potentially improve again. But I will also be on it with the training and with the preparation. And I will also spend a lot of time with my two daughters as well. Because when the racing seasons kicks off, and with the traveling restrictions it could mean that I am away from home a little bit more than normal so also catch up with family time and then get ready, round one!”
And what are your goals for this season?
“Goals are to get back to winning races again. I want to win races, I want to be a bit more consistently at the front. I want to ideally be fighting for the podium every weekend again. That would be the goal. I’ve never been wanting to say ‘championship, championship’ because for me, a handful of riders are there to take the championship. The target is always to win races, to fight for the podiums, then obviously the championship is the end result of those efforts. With BMW releasing that M version it is quite clear that they have the same target, so we will all work towards that. And like I said: race wins, there is no substitute for that; that’s what motivates me on a morning.”