After snow on Saturday, the first race of the WorldSBK weekend in Assen, the fourth round of the 2019 series, was postponed to Sunday and the Superpole race cancelled.
Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) started from pole position after getting lucky with the timing of a red flag in Superpole on Saturday morning. It was not a great launch from the #19, but the drive and power of the Ducati got him to turn one first, ahead of Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) who got past Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK).
Reiterberger and van der Mark were initially able to go with Bautista. However, a mistake for van der Mark in the final chicane early in the race dropped him off the back of the leading pair. Reiterberger, though – much to everyone’s surprise – stuck with Bautista for several laps. It was not until Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) got by the German that his pace started to fall away.
From this point, the race was on. There was just over one second between Bautista and Rea – who had started from row three after catching the bad side of the red flag which benefited Bautista in Superpole – and with fourteen laps remaining there was time for the World Champion to close down the championship leader.
However, Bautista pulled away. It was gradual, tenth by tenth, but the Spaniard slowly extended the gap out to over two seconds and, despite Rea’s harder rear tyre, the gap over the line was over three seconds.
No one had ever won the first ten races of a Superbike World Championship season, and considering the struggles Bautista looked to be facing on Friday, it was unexpected that that would change this year. However, in the end he made it look almost as effortless as most of his previous nine, and that emphasised his current dominance of the series.
Ten wins for Bautista is played by ten second places for Jonathan Rea. The four-times champion is now forty-four points behind Bautista in the championship, and seeing the gap extend at a track which he has been so successful on in the past, and which does not allow the Ducati to use its biggest advantage all that much, must be somewhat demoralising for the Northern Irishman. Arguably, Rea could have gone with Bautista had he started from the front row, alongside his rival. Unfortunately, we will not get to understand that in race two, as the grid positions are again decided from Superpole, so once more Rea will go from eighth while Bautista starts from pole.
Third place went to Michael van der Mark, who recovered from his moment early on, on the exit of the chicane to take his first podium of the year, in front of his home fans. The mistake definitely compromised van der Mark’s race, his pace suffered in the laps immediately afterwards. However, finally he made the best result possible, although he will hope to be able to challenge Rea in the second outing.
Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) spent the whole race fighting with Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), a fight which he eventually won, while Haslam came home in fifth.
After a brilliant start, Reiterberger finished sixth, his first top ten of 2019. His pace dropped off a lot once the rear tyre started to wear, and this meant he struggled to hold the line. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic ride from the German, and one that he will hope will set the tone for the races to come.
A poor start for Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) ruined his chances. He was out of the top ten by the end of the first sector, and his recovery brought him back to only seventh, after fighting with Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing), Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) and Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK). The Welshman was able to break away at the end of the race, but he would have hoped for better.
Of the battle behind, it was Torres who came out on top, taking the top ‘independent’ prize for the first time this season. It seems the Spaniard’s performance in Aragon one week ago was not a flash in the pan.
It was somewhat miraculous that Razgatlioglu was able to ride, after his big crash at the Ramshoek in Superpole, so a top ten will have pleased the Turk, despite being beaten to the line for eighth by Torres.
Tom Sykes dropped back at the end of the race, ending up a second and a half away from the eighth-place battle, but rounded out the top ten nonetheless.
Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) had a desperately lonely ride to eleventh, finishing ten seconds behind Sykes and six ahead of twelfth placed Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK).
Melandri spent much of the race fighting with his GRT Yamaha WorldSBK teammate, Sandro Cortese, although the German ended up thirteenth and six seconds back of the Italian.
Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven) suffered in the cold conditions of warm up, and the situation didn’t seem to improve in the first race of the day as he finished fourteenth, only two tenths ahead of Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) who completed the points finishers.
Leandro Mercado’s replacement at Orelac Racing VerdNatura, Hector Barbera, was the final finisher in sixteenth.
Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) were the only retirements.
Featured image courtesy of Ducati