Assen (Netherlands), Tuesday 17 April 2012 – The eni FIM Superbike World Championship returns to the track this coming weekend at Assen in the Netherlands. It will be the third of 14 rounds this season and the 300th round overall for the production-based series that made its debut in 1988. In the previous round at Imola, Carlos Checa (Althea Racing) took his Ducati back to the top of the table at the Italian manufacturer’s home circuit, overhauling Max Biaggi (Aprilia Racing) who dominated the opener in Australia. The points gap at the top is tight, with six riders (representing five manufacturers: Ducati, Aprilia, Kawasaki, BMW and Honda) currently separated by 35 points.
The Assen TT Circuit, 180 kms north of Amsterdam, has been a Superbike venue since 1992. In the 40 races held so far Ducati have won 24 times but since the track was radically modified in 2006, Honda has had the lion’s share of the wins (four), three of which have come in the last four races with Jonathan Rea at the helm. For the talented northern Irishman and Honda it is an important race for a variety of reasons: Assen is the home circuit for Ten Kate, the technical structure that prepares the CBR1000RR machines, based just 50 kms away from the track, while Rea needs a couple of good results to put his difficult start to the season behind him and cut the gap to Checa. These two riders shared the victories in 2011 with Max Biaggi twice finishing second, the best Aprilia performances on this track.
At the Dutch circuit the rain could play a key role, with poor weather forecast for the weekend. The last wet race at Assen was in 2006 and it was dominated by Chris Walker and his Kawasaki. With Tom Sykes rapidly emerging as a contender the Akashi manufacturer’s bike will be a force to reckon with both in the dry (the British rider has been on the podium in the last three races and his worst result this year is a fourth) and in the wet. Sykes has a bit of a reputation as a wet weather expert and scored his only WSB win so far in these conditions last September in Germany. Kawasaki are also aiming to change history: if Sykes scores good results they could be back on the top of the table for the first time since Scott Russell in 1994. Sykes will be singleton KRT rider this weekend, following the injury to his Spanish team-mate Joan Lascorz in Imola testing.
BMW are yet to take a WSB win but they are getting closer all the time; Leon Haslam and Marco Melandri are always amongst the front runners and will be after some more good results at Assen. The German manufacturer has been on the podium three times out of four with its S 1000 RR machine which now looks to be competitive in all conditions. At Assen Melandri won in 250GP in 2002 and has twice been on the podium in MotoGP. Last year, on his first Assen appearance in Superbike with Yamaha, he finished fourth in race 1 then crashed out in the second.
The final manufacturer representative on the grid, Suzuki, has had a tough time of things so far, but American John Hopkins has been back in America on an intensive training programme to get him back up to full fitness and both he and Leon Camier will be aiming to make good use of a new-spec engine in order to capitalize on their Yoshimura-Suzuki’s positive form in the recent tests.
Points (after 2 of 14 rounds): 1. Checa 75; 2. Biaggi 71; 3. Sykes 69; 4. Haslam 47; 5. Melandri 46; 6. Rea 40; 7. Smrz 30; 8. Laverty 29; 9. Guintoli 21; 10. Berger 20; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Ducati 91; 2. Aprilia 71; 3. Kawasaki 69; 4. BMW 63; 5. Honda 40; 6. Suzuki 15.
Kawasaki has dominated the start of this year’s World Supersport championship with wins by Kenan Sofuoglu in Australia and Fabien Foret at Imola. The 39 year-old Frenchman is also the current championship leader, but in the Netherlands the bike to beat may be the Honda, which has won nine of the last ten races on this track. That record will surely be going through the mind of Australian Broc Parkes, one of the favourites for the title but who has to overcome the handicap of a poor start to the season: third place at home and a DNF at Imola, where however he smashed the lap record in post-race testing. Parkes is currently on 16 points in the table, which is headed by Foret (Kawasaki Intermoto Step) on 45 points. Another potential Honda winner is the 22 year-old British rider Sam Lowes (Bogdanka PTR Honda) on 31 points, while it remains to be seen how fit Kawasaki DeltaFin Lorenzini rider Kenan Sofouglu is after his troubles at Imola. The Triumph brand is represented by the all-Italian Power Team by Suriano and the experienced Vittorio Iannuzzo, who is currently lying in an encouraging sixth place on 18 points.
Points (after 2 of 13 rounds): 1. Foret 45; 2. Lowes 31; 3. Sofuoglu 25; 4. Quarmby 25; 5. Iannuzzo 18; 6. Parkes 16; etc. Manufacturers: 1. Kawasaki 50; 2. Honda 36; 3. Triumph 19; 4. Yamaha 15.
The two Superstock classes reserved for the champions of tomorrow are also now well underway. The first round of the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup for under-26 riders was won by BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet’s French rider Sylvain Barrier, but the brand-new Ducati 1199 Panigale was immediately competitive in the hands of the rapidly emerging Eddi La Marra (Barni Racing Team Italia), who was third at Imola. Sandwiched in between was another promising young Frenchman, Loris Baz (Kawasaki MRS), the 18-year-old former European Superstock 600 champion who is eventually hoping to make the leap up into Superbike.
Points (after 1 of 10 rounds): 1. Barrier 25; 2. Baz 20; 3. La Marra 16; 4. Reiterberger 13; 5. Staring 11; 6. Massei 10; etc. Manufacturers: 1. BMW 25; 2. Kawasaki 20; 3. Ducati 16; 4. Honda 10; 5. Aprilia 5.
In the European Championship reserved for riders under 22 years of age the man to beat is the 18 year-old Italian Riccardo Russo (Yamaha Team Italia FMI) who dominated the scene at Imola. Russo is also leading the Italian series with two wins from two races. In the Netherlands his main rival will surely be Michael van der Mark who is favourite on his home track and with his Dutch-based EAB Ten Kate Junior Team Honda CBR600R. Spain’s Nacho Calero Perez (Yamaha Team Trasimeno) also looks a good bet for the win, following his runner-up finish in Italy.
Points (after 1 of 10 rounds): 1. Russo 25; 2. Calero Perez 20; 3. Van der Mark 16; Morrentino 13; 5. Egea 11; 6. Chesaux 10; etc.
KTM European Junior Cup
Assen will also see the start of the second edition of the European Junior Cup, this year a one-make championship using KTM machines, set up between the prestigious Austrian manufacturer and WSB promoter Infront Motor Sports. The series has been devised for 14 to 19 year-olds and offers a good opportunity for them to test their ability in eight European rounds accompanying World Superbike. The best riders will have a chance to move into Superstock and eventually on to the world championship. The entry list is made up of 24 permanent riders from 14 different countries. They will be in the care of a prestigious ‘coach’: New Zealander Simon Crafar, an ex-star of World Superbike. All the youngsters will race on identical race-spec KTM 690 Duke bikes, provided by the Austrian manufacturer.