After visiting Donington early this month, this weekend the Motul FIM Superbike World Championship now moves to the Netherlands for round five at the historic TT Circuit Assen.
The Assen venue has been a part of WorldSBK ever since 1992 and despite missing out in 2020 after the pandemic took hold, it’s back in emphatic style for 2021. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with BRIXX WorldSBK) leads Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) by just two-points in what is a huge title scrap; but will the pendulum swing once again this weekend?
Three wins in the last four races, nine podium finishes from the opening 12 and finishing every single race inside the top six, Toprak Razgatlioglu is in the form of his life. The 24-year-old Turk has found consistency that has seen him leap ahead in the Championship standings. Assen is a circuit where Toprak took his first Superstock 1000 win back in 2017, whilst in WorldSBK, his record reads three ninth place finishes and a tenth – not spectacular but Toprak is a different rider in comparison to just two years ago.
“I like the Assen track, but it feels like it has been many years now since I have ridden it! So this year it will feel new maybe, and also it will be new for me with the Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK team as I have never ridden the R1 here. It was disappointing to miss it last year due to coronavirus, but now we can return. I liked the circuit in the past, but like I said, I never rode so far with the R1. But also Donington was the same and it was no problem! I think I will be able to fight again for a good position, and the aim is always to fight for the win, but we will see. I like Holland as a country and we will try for our best position as always, and see what is possible during the races.”
The last time Jonathan Rea came to Assen, he was also trailing in the Championship – although that was by 39-points to Alvaro Bautista and Ducati. With 12 victories, he is level on Assen wins with the legendary Carl Fogarty, both British aces being maestros around the legendary Dutch venue.
“I am really happy to be returning to Assen after its absence last year. It is a really unique layout, a high speed circuit with fast corners and quick changes of direction. I never got to ride the ‘real’ old Assen but the modified version is, for me, incredible. One of the nicest and most flowing circuits on the calendar. I have great memories there and the fact that there will be lots of fans is a huge bonus because Assen and the fans go together perfectly! I had some nice battles there in 2019 and I am looking forward to more this year. I hope we can capitalise on it being a good circuit for me and the bike. The target is to win but we need to work smartly and calmly to put us in the best possible shape to compete come the races.”
After a podium at home and a solid performance at Donington Park, Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) heads to Assen, the only circuit he’s taken a pole at – hoping to conjure something special up and be in the victory fight.
“Assen is a fantastic track and one of my favourites on the calendar. Speaking as a British bike racing fan, we’ve always had a close affiliation with the Dutch circuit. My first experiences of it were from my time in BSB. It is also a place I claimed my first WorldSBK podium at in 2014. As we didn’t race there last year this will be my first experience of Assen on the Ninja ZX-10RR. The target for this weekend is to fight for the podium – and have a lot of fun doing it with my ‘Team 22’ Kawasaki Racing Team crew.”
Heading into the round in fine form are the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team of Tom Sykes and Michael van der Mark, with the latter at home and ready to put on a show in front of the Dutch fans. Van der Mark has an impressive seven podiums at Assen and on the last visit, he beat Jonathan Rea to second in a final run to the line to give the home crowd what they wanted. After achieving a first podium with BMW at Donington Park, will he go one step further than his last Assen appearance?
Michael van der Mark
“Assen is a special race for me, my home race, and I missed it last year. It definitely is one of my favourite tracks, also because I really enjoy the fast and flowing bits. Especially the last part of the circuit is great; it’s fast and flowing and with the last chicane there is always really nice action there. We are making steady progress with our BMW M 1000 RR and at Donington we had a really good weekend with both of our BMWs with finishing on the podium in the Superpole race and Tom also reaching the podium in race two. We now want to continue this progress and of course it would be really nice to even do a bit more at my home race. It is also fantastic that we will have fans at the grandstands for my home round. I am really looking forward to it.”
For Sykes, he’s aiming to make it three consecutive podiums in 2021 at a track he took his last win at three years ago; will the BMWs once again be a prominent feature at the head of the field?
“Obviously I am very much looking forward to Assen. On the back of some strong results for the whole BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team at Donington I am going to Assen trying to keep that momentum going. We have certainly found some improvements with the new BMW M 1000 RR and Assen to me is a circuit I really enjoy. It’s a very exciting track and my target would be to get back on the podium. That’s what I am aiming for and for my team-mate Michael, it’s his home race, so he will be pushing for something extra. Overall I think we have all ingredients to try to make it a successful weekend again. It will also be a pleasure to see fans on the grandstands again after they already cheered us at Donington so I am looking forward to that as well.”
The dark days of Donington Park are behind Ducati as they head to Assen, with Scott Redding (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) some 66 points behind Razgatlioglu in the title race. No podium in seven races, this is Redding’s worst run since joining WorldSBK last year. Two Moto2 podiums in 2012 and 2013, third place in the 2016 MotoGP event, and two wins from the British championship in 2019, Assen may be the turning point Redding needs.
“I’m ready to race on a circuit that has given me great emotions in the past. The TT is a circuit with a great history where I have always enjoyed racing. For the first time in almost two years, we’ll have the chance to race in front of a large crowd and this will be a great boost for me. I have many friends here and I consider this round a sort of “Home-GP”. I can’t wait to get on track on Friday“.
On the other side of the garage is Michael Ruben Rinaldi who, after two victories at Misano, wasn’t in contention at Donington Park.
“I’m happy to arrive in Assen, it is a circuit I really like. I have a great desire to redeem the weekend at Donington, which was not a positive one. We’ve made progress in the last few months, we’ve found our speed but the English circuit has highlighted our weaknesses. In Holland we must find the confidence we had in Misano. I am sure that this is a favorable track both for me and for the characteristics of the bike.”
It was a mixed bag for Honda at Donington Park, with Leon Haslam (Team HRC) riding exceptionally well to get his best result of the year with fourth in the Tissot Superpole Race, whilst Alvaro Bautista (Team HRC) never truly got going. Bautista won the most recent two races at Assen in WorldSBK with a dominant double in 2019.
“We’re ready to go again after a couple of weeks down time. I’ve spent some time at the beach with my wife and kids and I’ve also kept up with my training to be ready for this second part of the season of course. It’s going to be intense because we now have quite a few races coming very close together. So we need to be as prepared as possible. I really like the Assen track anyway and can’t wait to get back on my bike after the break. We collected a lot of data last time out at Donington and hopefully this means we can start with a stronger base this weekend and work hard to take some more steps forward.”
Haslam has taken wins at the circuit in the British championship, as well as three podiums in WorldSBK at the track – two of which came on the Stiggy Honda in 2009 when he was battling for victory with Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga. With some time to recharge and reset, expect Team HRC to be more towards the sharp end at Assen.
“I’m looking forward to going to Assen, a circuit where I’ve had some great results and podiums on almost every bike I’ve ridden there in the past. An historic track, it’s a bit like Phillip Island in some ways, and it’s always been one of my favourites. I have some great memories of the place too, like the double podium back in 2009 with the Stiggy Honda team. So I think the Honda will go well there and I’m looking forward to getting back to work, confident we can build on our recent results at Donington.”
Onto the Independent riders and it is Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) who leads the way after a fine second place in Race 2 at Donington Park – his best result in a full-distance race. Assen is also a track that he now at least knows following his solid substitute ride in the Dutch MotoGP. He’s sixth in the standings and 24 points from third overall.
Chaz Davies (Team GoEleven) is next best Independent in ninth overall at a circuit of which he’s had podiums but never won at. Fellow Ducati rider Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) has been a revelation in recent events and is continuing to improve.
Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) is the next Independent in 14th, as he also continues to improve each round, particularly in Superpole, whilst Tito Rabat (Barni Racing Team) is 15th.
Hoping to be fighting back is Kohta Nozane (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), after he was declared unfit after FP1 of Donington Park due to the finger fracture he sustained in testing at Navarra.
Eugene Laverty (RC Squadra Corse) is next on the BMW M 1000 RR, a past race winner at Assen in 2013, whilst Jonas Folger (Bonovo MGM Racing) and Isaac Viñales (ORELAC Racing VerdNatura) make their WorldSBK debuts at Assen.
Christophe Ponsson (Alstare Yamaha) will hope that he can find form on a circuit he knows, whereas Loris Cresson (OUTDO TPR Team Pedercini Racing) and the returning Leandro Mercado (MIE Racing Honda Team) aim to score their first points of 2021.
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