The 2012 Superbike World Championship continues its trek through ‘old school’ circuits when it visits the historic Assen layout this weekend.
The fast and flowing Dutch circuit, also known as the ‘Cathedral’, is a tough one to conquer, and requires the full gamut of concentration with very little margin for error – and the unpredictable Dutch weather can also be a factor.
The man who has got the most out of those tricky ingredients over the last two years is Honda rider Jonathan Rea. The British rider has won three of the last four races around the 4.4542km layout, including a clean sweep in 2010 and shared victories with reigning world champion Carlos Checa in 2011.
Rea’s Dutch team is also based just 50km from Assen, so there will be extra motivation to carry over the winning form from the last two years, but with opposition like Checa it’s not going to be an easy task.
The Ducati-riding Spaniard, once a fast but flaky practitioner, is now World Superbike’s poster boy for mental toughness, and he vaulted to the championship lead at Imola with two strong wins. He leads the 14-round title on 75pts ahead of 2010 world champion Max Biaggi (Aprilia, 71), British pair Tom Sykes (Kawasaki, 69) and Leon Haslam (BMW, 47), and Italian Marco Melandri (BMW, 46), who won his first 125 GP as 15-year-old at the circuit in 1997.
Sykes has been the biggest revelation so far in 2012, finishing on the podium in three of the first four races, as well as maintaining a 100 percent pole position record and setting a new lap record in the last round at Imola.
“We showed we had some speed at Assen last year, in terms of sheer speed. But, with the new balance we have found on the Ninja ZX-10R, I am confident we can keep things going in an even better direction this year,” said Sykes. “And of course every bit of information we continue to discover in testing is very useful to us. I have some good people working with me and they seem to be able to put all the data together into a race package, which is a great asset to have. They are always thinking ahead.”
Sykes also went fastest in a post-race test at Imola, followed by Rea and Leon Camier (Suzuki). But it was a bittersweet day for Kawasaki, with Sykes’ Spanish teammate Joan Lascorz suffering a severe injury to his C6 vertebra after a nasty crash.
Australia’s Mark Aitchison showed strong form on his privateer BMW at the Imola test and, while still well down on the timesheets, he set a best lap over one second faster than he had achieved in the races the day before. But still, the hard work continues.
“At this point we are still making changes to the bike but still we are not finding the exact solutions from both the balance and electronics we are searching for,” said Aitchison. “In any case, I know my team is doing all it can to give me the best bike possible and we still plan to test many big adjustments that we simply haven’t had the time to do during the first part of this season.”
As well as Rea and Checa, other riders to have tasted podium success at Assen recently include Biaggi, Camier, Haslam and Jakub Smrz (Ducati), while in the latter part of the last decade Australia’s Troy Bayliss was a regular winner.
Australia’s Broc Parkes (Honda) will be hoping for better fortune at Assen after rear tyre problems in the opening two rounds sabotaged his chances for victory. The issue was particularly acute at Imola when he was forced to pit early for a change of tyre, and then promptly set the fastest lap of the race.
Parkes is sixth in the standings on 16pts, with veteran Fabien Foret (45) leading the way on his Kawasaki.
Melbourne rider Jed Metcher (Yamaha) will be looking for a top 10 result in World Supersport, while in the Superstock 1000 title former Australian Superbike champion Bryan Staring (Kawasaki) has been finding his feet and will be pushing for a podium finish at Assen.
Live coverage of round three will begin on SPEED at 7.30pm on April 22.
CURRENT WORLD SUPERBIKE STANDINGS (AFTER TWO OF 14 ROUNDS):
1 Carlos Checa, Spain, Ducati 75
2 Max Biaggi, Italy, Aprilia 71
3 Tom Sykes, Great Britain, Kawasaki 69
4 Leon Haslam, Great Britain, BMW 47
5 Marco Melandri Italy, BMW 46
6 Jonathan Rea, Great Britain, Honda 40
7 Jakub Smrz, Czech Republic, Ducati 30
8 Eugene Laverty, Great Britain, Aprilia 29
9 Sylvain Guintoli, France, Ducati 21
10 Maxime Berger, France, Ducati 20