Tuesday, September 16, 2008

WSBK: Tom Sykes Bags Factory Yamaha

Tom Sykes has pulled off a major coup by bagging a seat on a Santander Yamaha Italia machine for the 2009 World Superbike championship. This is the ride that was vacated when Noriyuki Haga signed for Xerox Ducati. The likeable Yorkshireman, nicknamed "Grinner" because he is always smiling, has impressed with his rides on the Rizla Suzuki in BSB, plus a couple of excellent WSBK wildcard rides.

This is fantastic news for Sykes, who was one of the crop of youngsters who exploded onto the BSB scene last year, along with Cal Crutchlow and Leon Camier. Many people rated Sykes as the best prospect as he is the least erratic of the trio (though the other two are also hugely talented and will surely arrive in a world championship series in the next couple of years.) His first year in BSB was on the Paul Bird Stobart Honda, where great performances secured a switch to the semi-factory Rizla Suzuki team in BSB for this year. Three wins in the British Superbike championship, along with a 2nd place finish behind Troy Bayliss as a World Superbike wildcard, have brought about his dream move to the Yamaha Italia team in World Supers.

Conspiracy theorists are already rubbing their hands with glee and claiming that the signing of a relatively cheap rider like Sykes frees up much of the budget that had been paying for WSBK legend Nori Haga, and that this money is now available to re-sign Troy Corser for another year. Corser is universally acknowledged to be the best development rider in WSBK, and had been hotly tipped to switch to the new BMW squad to help develop their bike next year.

However, Yamaha have a new bike too, and the most interesting thing about the new R1 is that it has a "Big Bang" engine. To briefly explain what a big bang engine is, it is an engine that fires all of its cylinders in a short time period, with the little bangs from each cylinder's combustion so close together that they blur into one big bang. This is in contrast to a conventional "Screamer" engine, where the cylinders are fired with an even spacing, which makes a higher-pitched screaming sound. Big bang engines are more rideable and have better traction. Nobody seems to be quite sure why this is, but for more info check out this article on big bang engines penned by Julian Ryder for Superbike Planet. (Incidentally, this isn't the first Yamaha superbike to use a form of big bang technology. A strange, hybrid big bang engine was used in BSB for a while, as explained on Crash.net.)

The new Yamaha engine means that anyone buying an R1 roadbike will benefit from the same big bang engine technology as Valentino Rossi uses in MotoGP. And this new technology means that surely Yamaha will be desperate to retain Troy Corser to make the 2009 R1 work on the racetrack. That is the current gossip, anyway. Sykes is confirmed, Corser is not. It will be no surprise if the Aussie re-signs for Yamaha in the near future.

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