FRIDAY ANALYSIS: the riders to beat and the potential surprises

Friday, 22 April 2022 15:17 GMT

From the titanic trio at the top to those chasing a the podium and building on good Friday form, who are the favourites this weekend?

The 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship’s fierce battle for supremacy hits the TT Circuit Assen in the Netherlands for Round 2 of the season and right from the start, there’s a pattern emerging in terms of who is in contention this weekend. We’ve delved deep into the race runs from Free Practice to pick out who are the ones to beat, who needs to make a step and who you just can’t count out from making a surprise.

VICTORY CONTENDERS: a familiar three

Going into race action on Saturday, Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) seems to be the favourite, having set an electric race pace in FP2. A staggering run which consisted of frighteningly consistent lap times, Razgatlioglu has shown that even at a circuit where he’s not won at, he’ll be right there. Also with the 2022 electronics, Razgatlioglu will hope that he can chalk up a first victory of the season. 13 valid laps in the 1’35s or lower (including four 1’34s) in a 17-lap run (four laps cancelled) on the SCX tyre, the reigning World Champion could well be the man to beat ahead of Saturday.

However, nothing is ever that straightforward; whilst Toprak demonstrated a good race pace, it was Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati) who looks to have the outright speed. Although Toprak dipped under the race lap record in FP1, Bautista went even faster in FP2 and set a 1’34.382 on his second flying lap of a final run. In that final nine-lap run, he managed seven 1’34s, more than Razgatlioglu, of which four were consecutive; the other two laps were 1’35.0s, showing that Bautista too has a similar pace, although it’s not clear that Bautista’s pace can be sustained until the end. Time will tell, but a duel between the two looks set to come to fruition.

One rider who can’t be discounted is Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), with the six-time World Champion and 15-time Assen race winner always in with a shout. Second on the timesheets in FP2 but third overall and three tenths of a second off the top time, Rea has a little bit of work to do but he’s there or there abouts in the general running. Rea was also in the 1’34s and set five of them, although not quite as consistently as his main rivals. Like Bautista, Rea’s run wasn’t as long as Toprak’s, but he’ll be sure to be there come the main event.

OUTSIDERS AND SPOILERS: who can crack the top three at Assen?

As always, the leading group will have plenty of company as other riders look to get in on the action. One rider who has been a stand-out performer so far is rookie Iker Lecuona (Team HRC), with the 22-year-old Valencian in mighty form in FP1. He finished second in the morning before crashing in the afternoon, subsequently bringing out the red flag. However, Lecuona returned to the circuit and whilst not improving his lap time, did manage to finish fifth overall. Not able to do a race run, it’s hard to gauge Lecuona’s race pace but the potential is there. Fifth in the Championship, can he spring a surprise?

In the green corner, Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) made improvements from FP1 to FP2, slashing his time by more than a second to lift himself into fourth overall. Lowes only managed one 1’34s lap time on the first lap of his final run and seeks front end improvements ahead of Saturday action. If they can be made and he can come out of the box fighting in FP3, then he should be in the mix for his first podium of the season. He expects to be closer than he was at Aragon, a good sign from the #22.

DARK HORSES: you can’t discount these…

Sixth place on the combined times, Garrett Gerloff (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) was once again the top Independent. A best time of 1’34.999 set in FP2 shows that Gerloff has got the speed, but whether or not he can string it together or not remains to be seen. A good Superpole performance at Aragon went under the radar as he dropped back through the pack. Can he bounce back and find form when the lights go out?

Michael Ruben Rinaldi ( Racing – Ducati) had a quiet Friday at MotorLand Aragon but then came on strong throughout the remainder of the weekend. Therefore, on that basis, we can’t rule him out of a surprise just yet either. He was in the podium fight last time out but so far this weekend, whilst over one lap he’s looked good, race pace seems to be holding him back.

There’re two more riders to keep an eye on, both of whom had rather uneventful and quiet Friday sessions. Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) took ninth overall, whilst completing the top ten was Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing). Both riders had strong points at Aragon after rather steady yet solid Fridays, so don’t forget them just yet.

OUT OF POSITION: who needs to find pace for the weekend?

Unfortunately, as was the case at MotorLand Aragon, Scott Redding (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) is now where he will want to be, despite being inside the top ten for the first time in a round this year in FP1. The 2020 runner-up and 12-time race winner managed 11th on the combined times but will need to find more if he’s to challenge for a top eight, although a step in the electronics will certainly help.

Battling injury, Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) is again further down the order than he’d like to be, with the Spaniard fighting the pain barrier with his broken ribs. 1.8s off the top time of Bautista but also more than a second from teammate Lecuona, Vierge will hope that he can make a step and find himself in the top ten.

One final rider who seemed to be a lot lower than expected after his debut opening round of the season was Luca Bernardi (BARNI Spark Racing Team). The Sammarinese rider was 24th on the combined times out of 25 and despite suffering a crash in FP1, improved his time by over a second in FP2. Regardless of this, he’s still 3 seconds off the pace, having finished 12th and scored points in Aragon’s Race 1. Expect more from him as the weekend evolves.

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