One week on from the third of the 2019 season in Aragon, the Superbike World Championship heads to Holland, and the legendary TT Assen, for round four – part two of the only back-to-back races of this season.
For the fourth time in 2019, it is Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) who is the man to beat this weekend, having won all nine races – by a fair distance – so far this year. Since Aragon, the Panigale V4R has had 250 revs trimmed off its 16,000 rpm limit, which is unlikely to make much difference. However, what might allow Bautista’s rivals to challenge him this weekend is the layout of the Assen circuit, with no notably long straights meaning peak power is not necessarily so high on the essentials list for the Dutch track.
Instead, a blend of high-speed agility and stability are important in Assen, both of which are demanded by the third and fourth sectors which are both characterised by high-speed corners and direction changes. Fortunately for Bautista, it is clear he is not only fast in a straight line, but he is also fast in the corners, as was demonstrated by his ability to escape from his rivals in Aragon before they arrived at the long back straight at the end of the lap.
However, Jonathan Rea’s (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) record in Assen means it is expected that Bautista’s greatest challenge yet will come this weekend. Rea is the most victorious rider in Assen, with thirteen wins which stretch back to 2010. In fact, Rea has won at least one race at Assen in every year since 2010, with the exception of 2013, and until race two last year the Northern Irishman had been undefeated at Assen aboard the Kawasaki. To beat Bautista is nonetheless going to be a tough task this weekend for the four-times World Champion, but if it is to happen anywhere, it is going to be Assen.
Indeed, the race that was not won by Rea last year saw his then-teammate Tom Sykes take the victory, meaning the now-BMW Motorrad WorldSBK rider is the latest WSBK winner in Holland. Additonally, Sykes was extremely close to doubling in Assen in 2013, coming up short to Eugene Laverty – then on the factory Aprilia – in a run to the line in the second race, after dominating the first outing. Perhaps more importantly, though, Assen is arguably the circuit which would most suit this year’s under-powered, brand new BMW S1000RR. Sykes has stressed on many occasions how impressive the chassis on the German bike is, and it could be that the Dutch asphalt, with its chassis-centric layout, could lead Sykes and BMW to their first podium together.
The Dutch win that Eugene Laverty, now riding for Team GoEleven Ducati, wrestled from Sykes in 2013, is his only WorldSBK win at Assen. The #50 has only one other WSBK podium in Holland, coming in 2012. Laverty and his GoEleven team seemed to make a step forward in Aragon last weekend, and they will be hoping to continue that into this weekend, on a track which should not suit their motorcycle as well.
In the same sort of situation is Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati). The Welshman made a good step in Aragon, a track where he has always been successful. Despite a series of mistakes, proving his lack of comfortability with the Panigale V4R, Davies was able to stand on the podium in both of the full-length races last weekend. Davies has five podiums in Assen in the top class of production motorcycle racing, and even challenged Rea for the win in race two back in 2016, before his bike expired. Whilst Assen is not a track where Davies has been as strong in the past as Aragon, the #7 has a decent history in Holland, and will be hoping to back up the progress he made last weekend, this.
Yamaha did not so much make progress in Aragon as confirm the progress of previous rounds, as Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) was able to match the pace of Rea – the benchmark for Yamaha – for almost the entirety of both full-length races. Clearly, though, the YZF-R1 needs to improve in tyre consumption, as Lowes fell back towards the end of both full-distance outings last week. Assen has always been a strong circuit for Lowes. He was strong there back in 2013 in his title-winning BSB year, despite some controversies, and also scored his maiden WorldSBK podium at the Dutch track back in 2014.
However, it is Lowes’ Pata Yamaha WorldSBK teammate, Michael van der Mark, who will be the main attraction this weekend in Assen. Like Lowes, van der Mark scored his first WorldSBK podium in Assen, in 2015, when he finished third in both races, and has added three further podiums since then – one coming in 2016, and two others last year. Van der Mark will no doubt be out to win this weekend, although – as for everyone else – with the form of Bautista, it is hard to see another victor.
Featured Image courtesy of Ducati