AN ICONIC VENUE: WorldSBK heads to Assen for 30th anniversary battle

Monday, 18 April 2022 07:00 GMT

Coming onto the calendar in 1992 and continuing to be a staple and write more history, the TT Circuit Assen welcomes WorldSBK 30 years later

30 years ago, the Netherlands became the 18th country to welcome a relatively new and very exciting production-based motorcycle racing World Championship. Doug Polen and Giancarlo Falappa shared wins, Race 1 saw the top three covered by less than a second and Carl Fogarty’s love affair with a famous Dutch venue began with a podium. 15 of the 24 riders on the 2022 grid weren’t even born, yet they’ll be racing at this timeless circuit. It is of course the TT Circuit Assen, the ‘Cathedral of Speed’ and maybe for the 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, the cathedral of dreams. In what will be 30 years since its inception onto the calendar and, due to missing out in 2020, also be the 30th WorldSBK round, a titanic Motul Dutch Round awaits. 

THE TITANIC TRIO: Bautista leads Rea, Razgatlioglu seeking redemption

It'd been 1022 days between Alvaro Bautista’s ( Racing – Ducati) spells at the top of the Championship but after just three races back with the Ducati Panigale V4 R, the Spaniard is already leading the standings. Bautista’s double on Sunday at Aragon sees him come to a circuit where he was unbeatable in 2019 too, when he romped to a double, winning the opening 11 races of the season. However, as seen at Aragon, it’s a lot closer now; can he fend off Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who won all three races in 2021? His teammate, Michael Ruben Rinaldi, took a podium in 2021 at Assen and had a solid first round; can he challenge for victory this time?

In the green corner, Jonathan Rea took the opening honours of the 2022 season with Race 1 victory in a thrilling final corner battle with Bautista. After the duo’s closest fight for victory, Rea now comes to a circuit that he’s become synonymous with. An unprecedented 15 wins – on both Honda and Kawasaki – mean that he’s the favourite; tyre choice was crucial in 2021 and Rea did his homework to take his most recent triple in WorldSBK; he’s just three points behind Bautista in the standings. On the other side of the garage, Alex Lowes’ season started with a crash and whilst yet to get a podium for Kawasaki at Assen or in 2022, his first one in WorldSBK came at Assen in 2014; will he deliver?

Third in the standings after Aragon, reigning World Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) had a solid first round, with Yamaha making a visible step at a circuit they’ve historically struggled at. However, despite the gains, Toprak confirmed that they’d reverted back to the old electronics package for Aragon and hinted at a complete return to the 2021-spec Yamaha YZF-R1 for Assen. The Dutch venue is one of just three venues on the calendar that Toprak hasn’t won at – the others are Aragon and Barcelona. In 2021, third in Race 1 and the Superpole Race were the highlights before he was skittled at Turn 1 by fellow Yamaha rider Garrett Gerloff (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team). Teammate Andrea Locatelli has fantastic Assen memories, taking a first WorldSBK podium in 2021 after leading a race for the first time; can he go a step further?

HONDA BREAK THROUGH: Team HRC shine, BMW need time

It was a very positive opening round for Team HRC and their rookie line-up of Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge. The Spaniards lie fifth and sixth in the Championship and thus make it two Honda riders inside the top six in the Championship after the opening three races for the first time since 2006, when James Toseland was second and Alex Barros was fourth. Back to the present and both Lecuona and Vierge hope to consolidate their pace at a circuit they’ve not tested at; Lecuona found a breakthrough in braking at Aragon but with Assen being more about flow and corner speed, could their bike be a natural contender? Neither rider has performed particularly well in the MotoGP™ paddock days at Assen, but with a new challenge can come a reset; expect both Hondas to feature.

Where to start with BMW? On one hand, it looks like they’ve made gains as they had plenty of top ten success through the Aragon weekend, albeit not the top five they achieved in tricky conditions last year. However, Scott Redding (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) had a difficult time, something he said was “hard to accept”, struggling all round and managing a 15th in Race 1 as his sole point-scoring ride. He’ll hope to fair better and break into the top ten as he continues his adaptation to an inline four engine configuration. Redding’s teammate is yet to be confirmed: if it’s Illia Mykhalchyk, the Ukrainian rider will definitely be an interesting prospect after starting his season with a top ten at Aragon. If it’s home-hero Michael van der Mark, then the Dutchman is bound to be putting in a big effort in front of his home fans; podiums for Honda and Yamaha in past years and two top six finishes in 2021, if he’s fit to ride, he’ll be exciting to watch – however, it’s a big if

BAZ TO THE FUTURE: the battle of the Independents is close

The top Independent battle rages on and Frenchman Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) is in control; he gave BMW their best result of 2022 with seventh in Race 2 at Aragon. Teammate Eugene Laverty took a top ten at Aragon and aims to make gains at Assen, however, it’s a familiar battle splitting the BMWs: Garrett Gerloff vs Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing). Gerloff showed great promise in Free Practice at Aragon but faded in the races and now comes back to the scene of his controversial collision with Toprak in Race 2 last year. For Bassani, he was the opposite of Gerloff last time out; not featuring in practice but coming good in the races, with seventh in the Superpole Race before a tenth top-six finish of his WorldSBK career in Race 2, taking sixth. Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) is next up in 14th overall, returning to the track where he suffered a big crash in 2021.

Vying to crack the top ten for the first time, Philipp Oettl (Team Goeleven) took two 13th places in his WorldSBK debut weekend and goes to Assen, where he took two WorldSSP podiums in 2021. Then, Sammarinese rookie Luca Bernardi (BARNI Spark Racing Team), who came from 18th on the grid at Aragon to 12th in Race 1 for debut points. He took a top five at Assen last year in WorldSSP. Roberto Tamburini (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) was a surprise at Aragon and took points, whilst fellow Yamaha rider Kohta Nozane (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) struggled, not scoring points and crashing in Race 2. Christophe Ponsson (Gil Motor Sport Yamaha), Leandro Mercado (MIE Racing Honda Team), teammate Hafizh Syahrin and Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) and Loris Cresson (TPR Team Pedercini Racing) all aim for their first points of 2022. Despite being scheduled to make a wildcard debut, reigning British champion Tarran Mackenzie has been ruled out after a preseason testing injury.

Get the Official Programme for FREE here, and watch the Motul Dutch Round in style with the 2022 WorldSBK VideoPass!