With the news that Michael van der Mark has signed for BMW, WorldSBK commentator Steve English turns his attention to who will be paired with the Dutchman in 2021
It’s a race for all the marbles. In a battle to stay on the WorldSBK grid for 2021, Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) and teammate Eugene Laverty are going head-to-head to show they deserve the chance to stay with BMW alongside Michael van der Mark next year. The 2020 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is only young, but already, the swords are out for 2021.
In a straight up fight, who comes out on top? In Superpole, it’s Tom Sykes but over the course of the remaining six rounds of the season it’s harder to bet on the 2013 WorldSBK Champion; you’d edge towards Laverty’s consistency. In an era of television that has been dominated by reality TV shows, we’ve seen hopes of music careers made and dashed. A magician can walk on stage as a nobody and leave as a star. As it stands, both riders will need to pull a rabbit out of the hat to keep their seat.
Both are closer to the end of their careers than the start and are now drinking in the last chance saloon. The pressure is on and they need to perform. It’ll add a fascinating dynamic to the rest of the 2020 season. When BMW returned to WorldSBK, they hired Sykes to lead their programme but until the end, Laverty was in contention for a seat with the team. A host of injuries in recent years have left him battered and bruised. Now, he needs to make sure that he can hit the ground running.
At the recent Catalan WorldSBK test, the shift in focus was clear for both riders. Lockdown is over and it’s time to get back to work. When asked after day one why he’d, uncharacteristically, gone for a one-off lap time at the end, Laverty said: “I’ve got one eye on the news. I know what I need to do and that’s improve on my performance on the Q tyre in Superpole. I need to qualify better and give myself a better chance in the races. I feel very good in terms of tyre life and our potential for the race but I need to do a better job of making sure I don’t have to come through the pack.”
The biggest issue for Laverty with the Q-tyre is that he can’t take profit from it. His riding style is much more flowing than Sykes’ and that works against him, and the electronics package of the BMW. For Sykes, the goal is to get the bike stopped and open the gas as hard as possible on the exit. His mid-corner speed has always been very low compared to his rivals but for one lap with the specialist tyre he is incredible and can generate his lap time.
Without draping himself off the bike, as a rider would need to do with a style to generate corner speed, Sykes hasn’t been bitten by the electronics. Laverty has and now he needs to make a step forward: “We tried some new electronics strategies for this test,” explained Laverty. “It helped us to find more grip and made a big step forward for me for both single lap and my race simulation.”
While Laverty was focused on making a step, Sykes was pleased to just get back out on the bike and joked “I’ve suddenly seen what retirement is like and it’s not for me just yet!” The 2013 Champion is ready to get back on track and prove his doubters wrong. The time sheet at testing showed that he’s lost none of his speed but until we get back on track, Sykes won’t have an opportunity to prove he’s made a step forward with his potential for races. At the opening round of the year in Australia, pole position was Sykes’ reward but top ten finishes were the end result. BMW will always be happy with pole positions but will they be happy with falling backwards during a race?
That’s the big question mark for this season. With one rider likely to fall back through the field and the other coming through the pack it will be a season of contrasts at BMW. How far either rider can go by the end of the season will determine who gets kept for 2021 and who gets cast aside.
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