Sykes Ends Rea’s Assen Winning Streak with Dominant Race Two Performance

Tom Sykes finished fourth in the first race of the Dutch World Superbike round, and as such started the second race from pole position on the #66 Kawasaki and alongside Xavi Fores on the Barni Racing Ducati and the factory 1199 Panigale of Marco Melandri. Row two had Loris Baz in fourth, Leandro Mercado in fifth and Jordi Torres lining up sixth. The third row was of course the podium finishers from Saturday’s race in reverse order, with Chaz Davies going off seventh, Michael van der Mark from eighth and Jonathan Rea starting ninth.

Sykes made a great start from pole, but still had to out-brake the Barni Ducati of Fores around the outside at turn one. He did so successfully, and after being fastest by 0.6 seconds in warm-up on Sunday morning it was an ominous sign for the opposition.

Both Van der Mark and Rea made it past Marco Melandri at the final chicane at the end of the first lap, with the Italian on the outside of the three, and having little choice but to cut the second part of the chicane. He importantly did not gain time, though, and actually lost two further positions to Mercado and Alex Lowes down the pit straight.

Marco Melandri. Image courtesy of ducati.com

Melandri then proceeded to run wide at turn one at the beginning of lap two, which allowed Baz, Torres and then Davies through, and that finalised what had been an awful two minutes for the Italian, who had dropped from third on the grid to tenth in one lap. Meanwhile, Sykes was steaming away at the front, and had already extended his gap to over one second from Fores.

The first lap had not been so good for Davies, who ran wide at the first turn which dropped him quite far back, and his progress only started midway through lap two when he passed Torres for eighth at the Ruskenhoek, and then Baz at Stekenvaal. Perhaps having a bad first lap does not sound so bad, but when the two others who started from row three are third and fourth, and the leader already has about five seconds on you, it can ruin your race, and it took him until the end of the third lap for the Welshman to move past Mercado into sixth.

By lap four the race was starting to take shape, and Xavi Fores’ stay in second position looked severely more limited once he left De Strubben, as Rea had moved past Van der Mark. Sykes was still steaming away at the front, but there was still a question mark about the duration of Sykes’ rear tyre, but we could only find out the importance of the rear tyre in the fortunes of Sykes until the end.

With 16 laps to go, Rea and Van der Mark had caught Fores, and with fifteen to go they had passed Fores – Rea’s move was a stunner, around the outside of Hoge Heide. Now we would see whether they had the pace to catch Sykes for the lead. In the first laps, there were no gains from the Kawasaki-Yamaha pair in second and third, and the gap remained at around 3.5 seconds, and by lap nine it had started to extend, out to almost four seconds.

Furthermore, it looked like Rea was trying a reasonable amount more than Sykes to make the lap time – it looked much more difficult for the Northern Irishman than for his teammate – and he was still losing time to Sykes.

From there, not much changed. Sykes continued to extend the lead over Rea behind, but the order between the front runners remained unchanged in the final twelve laps, apart from Van der Mark passing Rea when the reigning World Champion made a mistake at the chicane with ten laps to go, and a crash for the second Pata Yamaha at the final chicane with nine to go. The British rider got back on to finish fourteenth, but it was not a pair of results that he would have hoped for after starting race one from pole. Rea then passed Van der Mark back at De Strubben and, although he could not drop the Dutchman, he was able keep the home rider at bay until the flag.

The victory of Sykes was remarkable, a return to his World Championship year for the 2013 World Superbike Champion. He got to turn one first, and that was the last anyone saw of him. This performance and result was just what Sykes needed after such a disappointing opening few races, in which he had failed to make the podium on all but one occasion – the first race of the season at Phillip Island. Imola is next up, a good circuit for the Briton, and one where he has a lot of support, typically – a pair of performances akin to the one he put in for Assen race two could throw him back into championship contention.

The win for Sykes also ended Rea’s 100% record at the Dutch circuit since he moved to Kawasaki. The Northern Irishman’s second place, though, was enough to extend his gap in the World Championship to over one race win for the first time in 2018, which could be crucial with Imola next up – Ducati’s back garden and, as mentioned, a good circuit for Sykes.

Xavi Fores behind Marco Melandri. Image Courtesy of Ducati

Michael van der Mark was not particularly content with his third place, saying he simply did not have the grip from the Pirelli tyres to go after Rea and Sykes. Still, his second podium of his home WorldSBK round and third of the 2018 season represents a positive weekend for the Dutch rider and, combined with the potential shown by Alex Lowes, shows the progress made in recent races by Pata Yamaha.

Xavi Fores was the first of the Ducati riders over the line on a difficult day for the Italian marque. It was a decent ride from Fores but he will be disappointed as Assen is the first round of the season at which he has not managed to take a podium.

The second Ducati was Chaz Davies in fifth place. There were changes to the bike made in warm-up, but they cost him side grip in the beginning of the race, and a “strange vibration on the rear” that they still need to determine the cause of. Without the vibration he may have been able to fight for the podium, but dropping eighteen points across the two races was presumably not what the number seven had in mind for this weekend, and he will be hoping to bounce back in Imola, where he did the double back in 2016.

Jordi Torres took yet another good result for MV with sixth place, and ahead of Marco Melandri, who suffered yet again with the Panigale this weekend. Whilst he knows the pace in the bike is there, and that is also evidenced by the results of Fores and Davies, Melandri admits that he, the team and Ducati are still working to resolve the instability issues which have been plaguing the Italian since the start of the season. He is looking forward to a private test at Brno, saying it will be “very important” and that “the solution is within reach” as he hopes to be able to make better results in Imola.

Loris Baz took eighth place on the Althea BMW, ahead of Toprak Razgatlioglu and Lorenzo Savadori who rounded out the top ten.

Eleventh place went to Davide Giugliano (replacing Eugene Laverty) on the second Aprilia, ahead of Michael Ruben Rinaldi who “thought [he] could do better” but a problem at the start limited him to twelfth place. PJ Jacobsen on the sole Honda was thirteenth, ahead of Alex Lowes in fourteenth after his crash, and Ondrej Jezek who was the final points scorer.

Yonny Hernandez was the final rider over the line in sixteenth, whilst Leandro Mercado and Roman Ramos were the only retirements.

From here, the 2018 Superbike World Championship heads to Imola for round five. It is the true home round of Ducati, so they will be particularly focussed to recover from their subpar performances in Holland, and close down the gap to Jonathan Rea in the championship. But, for now, the man of the moment is Tom Sykes, who barely put a foot wrong in Assen race two, and looked back to his title-winning self.

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