All four classes in the World Superbike Series delivered superb action as the WSBK circus paid a visit to Assen in The Netherlands, its third stop of the 2013 calendar.
The Supersport 600, Superstock 1000 and Superstock 600, plus the second of the Superbike races, delivered photo finishes – now that’s serious competition!
In the feature class, Tom Sykes and his factory Kawasaki once more controlled practice and qualifying, taking Superpole for his 13th time (you wonder what he’s doing with all those Tissot watches he’s won?) with a time nearly half a second faster than the next rider, PATA Honda’s Jonathon Rea, who’s a bit of an Assen specialist (the team is based nearby).
In the first race Sykes simply cleared off after disposing of a fast-starting Rea on the first lap, eventually finishing nearly nine seconds ahead of the Irishman who in turn barely held off a charging Sylvain Guintoli on one of the factory Aprilias.
In the second race, Sykes and Guintoli’s team-mate Eugene Laverty had a serious head-banging contest, with Sykes trying a last-lap Hail Mary pass and missing out when he hit the curb in the final chicane – “When Eugene came past me in race two I realised it was much easier to follow than to lead round here and it was just unfortunate that exiting the final chicane on the last lap I got a little bit excited and hit the kerb on the inside when I was trying to pass him, and I was out of the seat.”
It was a good weekend for Kawasaki, as Sykes’ teenage French team-mate Loris Baz collected a fifth and a third. Sykes is tied for second overall going into the next race at Italy’s high-speed Monza circuit, while Baz is an excellent sixth.
Aprilia was the other happy team after the weekend’s action, with Laverty and Guintoli both collecting podiums (Laverty the second win and Guintoli third in the first race), leaving Guintoli with a healthy series lead and Laverty tied for second with Sykes and BMW rider Chaz Davies.
BMW had the weekend from hell. Marco Melandri didn’t start the first race as something failed on the warm-up lap, and in the second he looked lost, circulating barely in the top 10 and managing an eighth. Davies had a huge crash in the morning warm-up and nearly missed the start of the first race, having to do so from pit lane. He did very well to come through for seventh, followed by a fifth in race two, but it’s hardly what the double winner at the last event would be satisfied with.
Honda’s fortunes were mixed. Rea’s second and fourth, only a couple of 10s behind Baz to miss a second podium, was a good result, but in practice his team-mate Leon Haslam crashed heavily and had to watch the race from hospital with a broken leg.
Ducati still looks lost, with 2011 world champion Carlos Checa, after a pair of 10-place results, able to say nothing more encouraging than, “We still have a lot of work ahead of us … I’m aware that this is a challenge and I will do my best to improve the bike race after race.” His young team-mate Ayrton Badvini was riding hurt and has to be complimented on finishing both races, albeit only with 13th and 11th places for his efforts.
Speaking of riding hurt, Leon Camier deserves mention for a gritty effort. Almost literally leaving his hospital bed to race with a badly gashed knee, the tough Brit had trouble staying on the bike for half-a-dozen laps during practice and qualifying but dug deep and collected a ninth and a seventh for his extreme efforts.
The Supersport race was the typical gunfight in a saloon-type brawl. The two preseason favourites, Sam Lowes and three-time series champion Kenan Sofuoglu, had a slugging match throughout the race, with Lowes taking the win by 0.026 seconds via a breath-taking last-lap last-corner pass. Wily French veteran Fabien Foret was third, keeping his lead in the series intact. Foret is twice the age of many of his competitors, and won the series 10 years ago.
Next race May 12, Monza, Italy.
World Championship Point Standings (after 6 of 30 races):
1. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Factory Aprilia Racing Team,111 points
2. TIE, Eugene Laverty, U.K., Factory Aprilia Racing Team / Chaz Davies, U.K., BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK Team / Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 83
5. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 63
6. Loris Baz, France, Kawasaki Racing Team, 58
7. Michel Fabrizio, Italy, Factory Red Devils Roma Aprilia, 53
8. Marco Melandri, Italy, BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK Team, 51
9. Jules Cluzel, France, Fixi Crescent Suzuki, 41
10. Davide Giugliano, Italy, Factory Althea Racing Aprilia, 33
“We still have a lot of work ahead of us … I’m aware that this is a challenge and I will do my best to improve the bike race after race.”
Echoes of the MotoGP team statements. Life is hard at Ducati these days.
Isn’t that the truth …