After racing a Ninja in WSS and MotoGP Andrew Pitt got the chance to ride Tom Sykes's WorldSBK Championship winning ZX-10R back in 2014... Words: Andrew Pitt Photography: KRT

After not getting my request in early enough for the chance to do some laps on Tom Sykes’ Championship winning ZX-10R after the thrilling finale at Jerez, it came as a pleasant call from Kawasaki’s Martin Lambert while getting ready for the final WSSP race of the season.

Two-times world champion Andrew Pitt throws a leg over the Tom Sykes 2014 WSBK Ninja ZX-10R...

Two-times world champion Andrew Pitt throws a leg over the Tom Sykes 2014 WSBK Ninja ZX-10R…

He simply asked me if I was interested which didn’t need any consideration at all and all I needed to do was make sure I was free on the 17th or 18th of November for the two available days on track for the journalists at Motorland Aragon. Of course it was going to be Jonathan Rea’s hotly anticipated breakout test on the 2015 ZX-10R.


Check out our other Throwback Thursdays here…


Since I was at Almeria on my standard ZX-10R for the four days leading up to the first day on track I pushed Martin to get me out on track on day one just so everything fitted together a bit better for me and not having to wait around for a full day. He kindly obliged and got me third on the list on day one. 

"Upon arrival at the circuit the KRT team manager Guim Roda informed us all that everything would proceed as normal and there would be no waiting or trying to get moved to the second day."

“Upon arrival at the circuit the KRT team manager Guim Roda informed us all that everything would proceed as normal and there would be no waiting or trying to get moved to the second day.”

Pulling the curtains back in the hotel room on Monday morning revealed that it had poured rain all night and was continuing to piss down. Upon arrival at the circuit the KRT team manager Guim Roda informed us all that everything would proceed as normal and there would be no waiting or trying to get moved to the second day because they had their own things to test which also meant that under no circumstances were we allowed to crash either of the two bikes.

Guim apologised for not being able to control the weather and after a technical briefing with one of the Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) technicians it was time to get suited up. Holy shit, I thought because rain hadn’t really ever entered my mind because it just doesn’t rain in Spain and since I stopped racing you can very happily choose to simply not ride in the rain. The benefit of retirement my mate Neil Hodgson and I always say to each other, and to make matters worse I only had a dark visor.



Tom’s Crew Chief Marcel Duinker was calling me over and the warmers were off and it was time to go out on the Number 1 Kawasaki ZX-10R Factory World Superbike. It brought me back to my days racing for the Factory Kawasaki team in World Supersport and later Motogp although this time the Germans running out of Bavaria had been switched to Spaniards out of Barcelona.


“Just as I was about to pull the clutch in and nudge it into gear Guim lent over and told me in no uncertain terms, ‘Do not crash this bike’.”


Just as I was about to pull the clutch in and nudge it into gear Guim lent over and told me in no uncertain terms, ‘Do not crash this bike’. With that ringing in my ears I headed out with a quick thumbs up for encouragement from my mate and new KRT rider Jonathan Rea who was present in pit lane.

"I had a slight issue because Marcel had forgotten to tell me how to get the pit lane speed limiter off so I rode around the first 3 corners pressing every button I could find until it cleared and went off."

“I had a slight issue because Marcel had forgotten to tell me how to get the pit lane speed limiter off so I rode around the first 3 corners pressing every button I could find until it cleared and went off.”

The moment I got onto the track I had a slight issue because Marcel had forgotten to tell me how to get the pit lane speed limiter off so I rode around the first 3 corners pressing every button I could find until it cleared and went off. Only later did Danilo (Tom’s Electronics and data guy) tell me all I needed to do was change into second and it switched off automatically. Finally up and running I had to remind myself not to use the clutch on the downshift  because the ride by wore system took care of all of that which is an absolute pleasure to ride once you get used to it.


“The first thing you notice though is the smoothness in the way the bike comes off the turns when you open the throttle.”


The first thing you notice though is the smoothness in the way the bike comes off the turns when you open the throttle. The No 1 Superbike almost feels like a cross between a V engine and the big bang Yamaha. Danilo has worked some real magic with the electronics and the fuelling to certain cylinders and when he opens to butterflies to all four cylinders to create the bottom part of the power and the early throttle opening towards the characteristics of a V engine while keeping the advantages of the inline 4 screamer engine once it starts stretching its legs up top. The early part of the throttle opening when it feels like the M1 Yamaha is hard to tell if it is related to lean angle or throttle percentage opening or rpm or a combination of all those things and more, and I am sure they are more than happy to keep their strategy to themselves.



Added with the lighter crankshaft effect on the corner entry and the extra confidence and stability you get running into the turn the bikes actually makes you want to ride it more and more. Even in the wet I would have been happy to do another 20 laps even if my teeth were chattering. I would have taken the extra big piece of foam Tom has on the back of the seat I assume to hold him in place simply because personally I like a bit more room to move around on the seat and the bike. Tom typically brakes really hard and late, he stops the bike to turn it, then gets the bike up and accelerates as hard as possible out of the turn. Even in the wet I could see the bike is set up to be very stable on the brakes and very stable on hard upright acceleration. Tom would explain in a little more detail later on when we chatted why this was the case. 

I had one little moment on the gas when I was accelerating onto the long back straight from low rpms in second gear when I was almost upright and again like David’s bike I thought I was past the risky point and I was able to safely keep opening the throttle when suddenly it stepped out really quickly. My feet stayed on the foot pegs on tom’s bike but still I had to close the throttle and take a little more care next time around. You get to around 40% throttle it you feel like you are hooked up and maybe the suspension is reaching a hard point or the link even reaching a hard point but the tyre can’t manage it anymore and it lets go. 

"Even in the wet I would have been happy to do another 20 laps even if my teeth were chattering."

“Even in the wet I would have been happy to do another 20 laps even if my teeth were chattering.”

Being a factory Superbike I expected some really big hit of power at the top end and the bike to really take off but we all know that is not the best way to keep a tyre consistent over race distance and the smoothness in the way the bike builds power is very impressive. You go from the big-bang style early part of the corner exit through the seamless transition onto full power of all four cylinders while quickly going up through the gearbox without any real surge but all the while knowing the bike is pulling really strong. You certainly notice how the Superbike keeps pulling in the higher gears just as strong whereas the Evo bike flattens off ever so slightly in the last couple of gears. There are no noticeable flat spots or dips in the power curve and it keep pulling strongly to just over 15,000rpm.


“You certainly notice how the Superbike keeps pulling in the higher gears just as strong whereas the Evo flattens off ever so slightly in the last couple of gears.”


I really like the way Tom’s bike came into the apex while trail braking and the stability on the brakes while downshifting quickly at the end of the straight was simply amazing but most of all fun to see how much later each time you could rush into the turn and still make it around. The only negative was it took some pressure on the lever each downshift to get each gear to go in. More of a mechanical thing but  and something you needed to be conscious of because once I went down three times only to realise it hadn’t gone down the last gear and I had to kick it down a bit firmer next time. A bit notchy is the term I think best describes it. I overheard Jonathan Rea talking about the same thing later in the day when he got out on the bike for his first couple of runs.

"There are no noticeable flat spots or dips in the power curve and it keep pulling strongly to just over 15,000 rpm."

“There are no noticeable flat spots or dips in the power curve and it keep pulling strongly to just over 15,000rpm.”

Again the front feeling was great on the brakes and corner entry and being able to trail brake into the turn in the wet is something I don’t remember doing that often when I raced. I have never ridden on Showa before but I have always heard that if it is the proper factory Showa material it is about as good as it gets and the feeling I had straight away in the wet was pretty confidence inspiring.

It certainly is a testament to KHI, the whole Kawasaki Racing Team and of course Tom Sykes who has been there from the start of this current ZX-10R, that they have been able to deliver such a competitive Superbike over the last three seasons only to miss out on three world titles in a row by six and half points to the almost prototype Aprilia RSV shows how good the base bike has been. This is obviously back up by the fact that Salom won the Evo class and the Stock 1000 European title should have also been claimed by the ZX-10R only for the Perdercini rider to crash on the last lap of the race in Magny Cours while in the lead and throw it out the window.



I ended up going five seconds faster on Tom’s Superbike than the Evo bike but I know probably only half of that is relevant because I was getting better each lap with the conditions and getting my brain up to speed again but I felt much more in control at a faster speed. Unfortunately I got the ‘IN’ board but one of the few times in the wet I wanted to actually keep going because they have done such a great job with the bike.

I had managed to bring both bikes back in one piece and therefore Guim would probably invite me back next year to hopefully ride another Championship winning Kawasaki but for now it was time to grab a quick chat with Tom and his side of the garage.

"Unfortunately I got the ‘IN’ board but one of the few times in the wet I wanted to actually keep going because they have done such a great job with the bike."

“Unfortunately I got the ‘IN’ board but one of the few times in the wet I wanted to actually keep going because they have done such a great job with the bike.”


MNA Moto Dry

Team Interview


Danilo Casonato (Data Electronics)
AP: I asked Danilo about the effect he has created with the Drive by Wire system to smooth out the throttle opening.



DC: This is just the effect of the Drive by Wire system where you can manage cylinders 1 and 2 and cylinders 3 and 4 in a different way. Like you said you felt it we can use 2 cylinders with more power and 2 cylinders with less power. On the corner entry we have only one cylinder burning and therefore less engine brake and it is easier to control rather than all four cylinders.


AP: How do you guys compare to your competitors on the electronics side?


DC: Of course we try to watch what the other guys are doing and take notice but mostly we are always learning and our aim is always to react to what the riders are asking for so I suppose it is the riders that drive the direction of development. 


Kawasaki's moveable office. Looks nicer than what a million dollar will get you in Sydney nowadays.

Kawasaki’s moveable office. Looks nicer than what a million dollar will get you in Sydney nowadays.


Marcel Duinker (Chief Mechanic)


AP: Where do you see the team in terms of competitiveness/strengths and weaknesses?


MD: I think at this level everyone is pretty equal in the end it is just each bike has different concepts and different strengths for example we have an inline 4 screamer so for the last few years we have worked very hard to come as close as possible to the positive concept of the softer V engines and I feel really proud that we were able to do this with our type of engine. Our speed over the whole season in terms of race pace was amazing. The slight changes in the rules didn’t affect us so much this year with engines limited to 8 because the Kawasaki is a strong engine and we lost no power at all.


Even when you're freezing cold and wet you have to push through to enjoy the ride on a WorldSBK championship winning machine...

Even when you’re freezing cold and wet you have to push through to enjoy the ride on a WorldSBK championship winning machine…


Tom Sykes (World Champion)


AP: Well mate I have just taken your bike for a ride so firstly thanks for letting me out on her and I must say I really enjoyed it. What impressed me the most was the smooth connection when started to open the throttle and the ride by wire system on corner entry. The first part of the throttle opening though is really impressive has this been a big point that you guys have worked on from day one?


TS: Well yes because being an inline 4 it certainly is going to be more aggressive on the initial throttle opening and acceleration so we needed to create something where our competitors have strengths. We also wanted to keep the advantages of the inline 4 and I suppose masked some of the difficulties with the nature of this bike. I feel we have managed to do that very well and we have a very good base to start from every time we roll out on the bike but saying that we still have some limitations especially in the wet on the side of the tyre at full lean angle.



This is more from the suspension side of things and most particularly the rear. The electronics give you the confidence to open the throttle but then when you get to about 40% throttle opening on full lean angle you arrive at the physical limit of the traction and then you can’t keep opening the throttle, which then stops you running the lean angle you want or feel you should be able to have and hence carry the correct corner speed.


AP: So you kind of get to that point and just have to wait until you can get the bike up and onto a safer part of the tyre. You can’t keep building speed?


Tom: Exactly and a perfect example of that was the second last round at Magny Cours when leon Haslam rode around the outside where if I had made just a few more degrees of lean angle and increased the corner speed I would have had a highside. It’s unfortunate really because other than that the bike is real nice to ride. That problem that I have just mentioned in the wet is still ever so slightly present in the dry too and we can sometimes find a way around it but place like Qatar and Jerez and Magny Cours where you are on the side of the tyre for long periods of time is hurts us. Our advantage with this bike is there it works pretty well in all departments and that was my goal from day one to make a very usable bike.


Swingarm with adjustable pivot point, factory swingarm, carbon-fibre sub-frame...

Swingarm with adjustable pivot point, factory swingarm, carbon-fibre sub-frame…


AP: Chassis wise are they trying to address this and Showa are they coming with ideas?


TS: Yes Marcel has been picking his brain and coming up with ideas and thankfully both KHI and Showa have come here with some new parts and ideas to try so I am quite positive and hopeful we are going to get there. Without elaborating we have plenty of parts to try and we know what we need and now testing away from the race weekends we can get through it all and get it sorted.


Tom Sykes 2014 WorldSBK Kawasaki ZX-10R Specifications 

ENGINE: Inline four-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC 16-valve, 998cc, 76mm x 55mm bore & stroke, Magneti Marelli Ride-By-Wire EFI with 47mm throttle-bodies and oval sub-throttles, electric motors fitted to throttle-bodies for RBW, lightened crank, KHI camshafts, conrods, pistons, cylinder-head, gearbox, clutch all top secret! Akropovic Ti exhaust system, KHI wiring loom


CHASSIS: Stock ZX-10R frame with bracing around the head stock and an insert for head angle changes. Swingarm pivot point adjustable, factory swingarm, carbon-fibre sub-frame, KHI rearsets, ‘bars, levers and controls, Showa factory suspension, Marchesini wheels, Brembo brakes, SpeedFiber carbon-fibre bodywork


PERFORMANCE: Approximately 220hp@15,000rpm, 165kg


Owner: KRT. Currently based in Amsterdam, Netherlands


Editor’s Note: If you are reading this article on any website other than BikeReview.com.au, please report it to BikeReview via our contact page, as it has been stolen or re-published without authority.


Tom Sykes 2013 WorldSBK Kawasaki ZX-10R Gallery


Shannons March
Share this:Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter