WorldSBK: Assen preivew
The TT Circuit Assen is a track that breathes history. Racing in the area began over 90 years ago, and the first ribbons of tarmac that would go on to form the modern circuit were first constructed in 1955, before the modifications took place that sculpted it into what it is today: a track of legend, where memories have been made and tempers frayed.
The final chicane, especially, is a corner synonymous with last lap lunges. Most recently in WorldSBK, it was the point at which local rider Michael van der Mark edged out Leon Haslam to take his spectacular second podium of the weekend in 2015.
Last season, it was Jonathan Rea who broke records on his way to becoming the second most successful rider of all time at the Dutch track, as the reigning Champion did the double and took both wins in spectacular style. Eventual title runner-up Chaz Davies on the Ducati was the closest challenger to the Northern Irishman in both races, and the aforementioned heroics of van der Mark saw him take a maiden double podium.
As the paddock heads north to the Netherlands in 2016, it is Jonathan Rea who again heads the standings. In addition, the defending Champion is the only man to have been on the podium in every race so far this season. Davies, however, again chasing down the crown, is in P2 and comes off the back of a outstanding display of both his and Ducati’s goods this season after having taken a double win at MotorLand. More than six seconds separated the Welshman from his nearest challenger in Race 2, and the gauntlet has most definitely been thrown down.
Tom Sykes, the 2013 Champion and Rea’s teammate, sits only 3 points behind Ducati’s Davies in the standings. After being beaten over the line by Rea in Race 1 at MotorLand, the Yorkshireman fought back in Race 2, aided by a small problem for his teammate, and the KRT riders switched places on the podium. After a difficult Dutch Round in 2015 with two fifth places, he will be hoping to keep his great 2016 form rolling and stay on the rostrum in Assen.
One of the men with whom Sykes did battle in 2015 was Honda rider Michael van der Mark, who threw caution to the wind in his mission to stand on the podium and put on a spectacular display of home talent. Van der Mark’s first podium, in Race 1, was also the first ever for a Dutch rider. The Honda rider joined the class at the start of the season as reigning World Supersport Champion and eventually took 3 podiums for the Netherlands in his rookie year. After beating Haslam to the line in the first race, he repeated the feat in Race 2 in a move that saw the Brit have to take to the outside of the gravel trap as the two bikes headed through that famous final chicane. Van der Mark has already achieved three podiums in 2016 by only Round 4, as well as a Pole Position in Buriram that proved another Dutch first. He heads home to Assen with more experience, a more complete package in the bike, and even more motivation to repeat or better his heroics of 2015. The number 60 in rivals’ mirrors no longer means rookie, but real threat for the victory.
His teammate Nicky Hayden is the WorldSBK rookie at Honda this year, but the 2006 MotoGP World Champion is learning and progressing fast. A veteran of the Assen track from his time in the sister paddock, Hayden has also won at the circuit. His victory in 2006 during his title winning campaign was also the 200th win for Honda in the premier class of Grand Prix racing, and the Kentucky Kid is sure to prove a tough competitor first time out at Assen in WorldSBK.
Yamaha head to Assen after a stunning qualifying performance in Aragón where both bikes started on the front row, before finding consistent race pace more of a challenge with the new YZF R1. They will be hoping to turn their one lap speed into a real challenge for wins and podiums from here on. Aprilia, BMW and MV Agusta will similarly be looking to keep improving in Assen, with BMW having gone straight from MotorLand to the Circuito de Jerez to test their S 1000 RR and take it from the top 5 to the rostrum. Aprilia will be hoping that their curve of progress will keep them moving forward too, as Alex De Angelis gets back to full fitness and Lorenzo Savadori gains his footing within WorldSBK. MV Agusta, who had enjoyed good pace in Aragón, will be relying on better reliability after the weekend in MotorLand was tinged with frustration, with potential in the bike ready to be unlocked by Leon Camier.
WorldSBK heads to Holland on the 15th to 17th of April to the legendary track and chicane of the TT Circuit Assen, with Race 1 on Saturday at 13:00 (GMT +2).
When the WorldSSP season kicked off in Australia, there were three names being mentioned in the same breath as ‘title contender’: PJ Jacobsen; by virtue of a crescendo of excellent form in 2015, Jules Cluzel; a consistent and proven challenger, and incumbent Champion Kenan Sofuoglu; a master of the Supersport class.
His new Kawasaki Puccetti Racing teammate, Randy Krummenacher, was more of a question mark. As the paddock now heads north to the Netherlands, however, it is the Swiss rider who heads the Championship standings.
A tyre problem in Australia was a factor that halted Sofuoglu’s charge to the points lead, but the calm and collected rides that teammate Krummenacher has put together so far in 2016 show he is settling into his new paddock well; and that he is a very real pretender to the throne, even as a rookie. Assen is also another track he knows well, having ridden there on 125 and Moto2 machinery.
That said, reigning Champion Sofuoglu was spectacular in Aragón. Crossing the line with a comfortable margin and taking command of the race from pole, only PJ Jacobsen momentarily got past the Turkish rider, with a move that shortly after saw him hit the gravel and crash out of contention. The American has been a consistent scorer in the first few rounds until MotorLand however and will be looking to put the DNF behind him with another challenge for the podium as soon as possible.
Jules Cluzel suffered a more difficult race in Aragón than he did during his spectacular Thai victory, but still came home 4th to secure another good haul of points. His fight back from the lower echelons of the top ten to get back nearer the podium positions at MotorLand was a great example of the determination he also needed over the winter to recover from his injuries sustained in Jerez last season, and proof if any was needed that the Frenchman intends to challenge for the crown once again.
2011 125 World Champion Nico Terol also showed fantastic form at MotorLand in the first of his home Rounds in 2016. His first podium in WorldSSP came by virtue of an impressive ride from 8th on the grid, eventually crossing the line in a comfortable 3rd place, possibly proving the springboard for a lot more podium challenges over the course of the season.
The other key protagonists of the WorldSSP Race in Aragón were the ESS riders, who joined the grid for the first time. San Carlo Team Italia in particular staged an incredible duel just outside the podium positions, and the riders from the FIM Europe Supersport Cup seem set to add a great deal of excitement to World Supersport this season.
Last year the Dutch Round saw a classic last lap clash between Sofuoglu and Cluzel at the final chicane. The TT Circuit Assen looks ready to stage another incredible battle as WorldSSP heads north to the Netherlands, with the lights ready to go out on Sunday at 11:20am (GMT +2), after the grid is decided in Tissot-Superpole on Saturday.
In Aragón at the start of the European season, Leandro Mercado returned to the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup with a bang. Having spent a year in the World Superbike category, the Argentinean went back to STK1000 and gloriously charged to victory from seventh on the grid. In fact, Aragon marked a remarkably impressive start to the campaign for the Aruba.it Racing – Junior Team, as Mercado and Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s 1-2 finish splendidly completed a weekend on which Chaz Davies won both World Superbike races on his premier class bike, fielded by the same Feel Racing squad.
With eight races still to go, Mercado’s closest challengers all come from Italy. On a grid consisting no less than 21 Italian riders, seven of them feature in the top ten of the riders’ standings. The aforementioned Rinaldi is second overall from Raffaele de Rosa (Althea BMW Racing Team), who has now finished seven of his most recent eight races on the rostrum. Fourth is Riccardo Russo from Frenchman and PATA Yamaha Official Stock Team partner Florian Marino, who is looking to bounce back at Assen following a tough opener in which he finished fifth from pole position.
After Round 1, the manufacturers’ title chase sees Ducati hold a nine-point advantage over BMW, while Yamaha is a further three points adrift for third overall.
Last year at Assen, the race was similar to Aragon 2016 in that a red flag came out in the early stages. On that occasion, it was Roberto Tamburini who suffered the unfortunate misfortune of clipping the bike of 2014 winner Kevin Valk on the pit straight at the start of Lap 2. This would prove to be Tamburini’s only retirement of the season, causing him to jettison the championship lead; one can only ponder how the season could have panned out had Tamburini, who finished eventual runner-up to Lorenzo Savadori, had not suffered this hardship at the second race. With that fresh in his mind, his season affectively starts now, having crashed out of the opener in Spain while running fourth and fighting with de Rosa on the final lap. Other notable names have even more ground to make up, as the likes of Jeremy Guarnoni and Marco Faccani both failed to score in Round 1.
As Assen stages its 25th anniversary weekend of WorldSBK, the more superstitious riders may be aware of the fact that, over the last six years, the winner of the Dutch STK1000 race has gone on to claim the title on four occasions: Ayrton Badovini in 2010, Davide Giugliano in 2011, Sylvain Barrier in 2012 and Lorenzo Savadori last year. Mercado, on the other hand, had his hands full during the title-winning season of 2014, as his Assen race ended in fifth place and almost 11 seconds behind the winner.
Two Dutch wildcards feature this weekend. Danny De Boer pilots the #4 Yamaha YZF R1 with the SWPN team, making his 17th start in STK1000 but his first since 2013; De Boer, now 26, has won the Dutch Superbike Championship three times and now returns to the scene of his Superstock 1000 debut in 2007. His fellow wildcard will be Nigel Walraven on the #111 Honda CBR1000RR SP with Stichting Walraven Racing: his first venture into the paddock since his season-ending MotorLand crash of 2015.
Sunday’s 14-lap Superstock 1000 race will begin at 2:20pm local time (GMT +2).