JEREZ, Spain – Tom Sykes and his factory Kawasaki have taken the 2013 World Superbike title after two hard races at the classic Spanish circuit. It’s Sykes’ first title (after a heart-breaking loss by 1/2 point in 2012) and Kawasaki’s first since American Scott Russell did it for The Green Team in 1993.
On the day, Sykes’ closest competitor for the title, Ireland’s Eugene Laverty on a factory Aprilia, took both victories. Sykes grabbed a third in the first race (sealing the title) then finished behind Laverty in Race 2. Aprilia’s other factory rider, Sylvain Guintoli, took a fourth and a third, sealing third place in the title circuit behind his team-mate.
Sykes and Laverty both finished the season with nine victories, while Guintoli, hampered for the last half of the season with a nagging shoulder injury suffered in a training accident, had only one. Still, the French rider had actually led the points chase for the better part of the season thanks to his amazing consistency. Laverty started and finished strong but had a mid-season slump, else he’d likely have been face to face with Sykes for the title instead of staging a come from behind challenge in the last few races.
“Words cannot describe how I feel,” beamed the cheerful Yorkshireman. “World champion, podium in the [final] races and it has been an absolute pleasure to race with these guys this year. It was good for the championship that it got decided at the final round again, especially at this beautiful circuit, with these great fans. My team is mostly Spanish so it is a home round for them. The championship win has not fully sunk in yet but it will do soon, I’m sure.”
Sykes’s success makes him the fourth British rider to win the WSBK title, following on from Carl Fogarty, Neil Hodgson and James Toseland.
In Race 1, Sykes had a reasonably quiet run to his crown, third the whole distance, as Laverty took off in the lead and BMW’s Marco Melandri (rumoured to be replacing Laverty at Aprilia in 2014) hounded him. On the second-last lap Melandri put a typically hard pass on Laverty, and the angry Irishman responded with an equally hard pass on the last corner of the last lap to grab the win. He later said he “was happy to be sat with ‘the two most respectful guys of the top four’ come the end of the day … referring to Sykes and Guintoli and definitely excluding Melandri.
In Race 2, Sykes led up to 2/3 distance, when Laverty passed him and eased away. The two were followed by Guintoli (Melandri didn’t start, saying he was in too much pain from the ankle he’d injured at the previous race event), and the three pretty much pulled away from the rest of the field.
Who will be where in 2014 is hard to say. Series owner Dorna have decreed considerable changes to bike specs in the next two seasons, Aprilia is in rough(ish) financial shape at home and their racing financial commitments are in doubt, Ducati’s Panigale has been a disaster and of course the factory is in turmoil after this year’s purchase by Audi … lots to fall into place yet.
Sykes is safe with another year on his Kawasaki contract, and Guintoli appears to have another year set with Aprilia. But second-place finisher Eugene Laverty has nothing lined up for next season, although he’s been linked to a couple of Moto GP rides – including a possible Ducati spot now that Luigi Dall’Inga, Aprilia’s racing chief and a fan of Laverty, has defected to Ducati.
World Superbike Championship after 27 of 27 races:
1. Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Factory Racing, 447 points
2. Eugene Laverty, U.K., Factory Aprilia Racing Team, 424
3. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Factory Aprilia Racing Team, 402
4. Marco Melandri, Italy, BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBKTeam, 359
5. Chaz Davies, U.K, BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBKTeam, 290
6. Davide Giugliano, Italy, Factory Althea Racing Aprilia, 211
7. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 188
8. Loris Baz, France, Kawasaki Factory Racing, 180
9. Jonathan Rea, U. K., Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 176
10. Jules Cluzel, France, Fixi Crescent Suzuki, 175