TECHNICAL TRACK ANALYSIS: the secrets to success at Assen

Wednesday, 20 April 2022 07:01 GMT

WorldSBK commentator Steve English talks with Alex Lowes and his crew chief Marcel Duinker to unlock the secrets to a venue steeped in history

The TT Circuit Assen will become the most visited circuit in MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship history this weekend. On Sunday, the Dutch circuit will host its 62nd race and while the teams and riders know their way around the 4.5km circuit, there’s a lot of secrets to unlocking your potential at this fast and flowing venue. There’s nobody better to take us around the track than Marcel Duinker; the Dutchman, crew chief to Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK, won races at home with Tom Sykes and knows the tricks of the trade to getting the bike to work here.

ICONIC, HISTORIC, EUPHORIC: Assen remains the same despite changes

“Assen is a very special track,” says a smiling Duinker. “It has high speed corners with a lot of camber. The track suits the inline four engine layout, and the Kawasaki has always been very competitive here. The ZX10-RR gives the rider a lot of confidence in high-speed corners and Assen has many of these. With our engine configuration, it means that we place more stress on the front more than other places, so this is the key for Assen. Mainly because of the high-speed corners, the camber and the grip.”

The layout of Assen has changed markedly over the years. When WorldSBK first visited the fabled track, it was the shorter 3.9km loop. This was a helter-skelter layout with average lap speeds of 170 km/h. The following year Carl Fogarty claimed a double on the full layout. This 6km TT Circuit is the most famous track configuration for Assen. Blasting kerb to kerb, ‘Foggy’ was almost unbeatable. His style was a perfect match of man and track regardless of whether he had a Honda or a Ducati. In 2006, we switched to the current layout. Measuring in at 4.5km, it isn’t as loved as the longer loop but for two generations of riders, they’ve been challenged to thread the eye of the needle at Assen.

CORNER EXIT IS CRITICAL: making or breaking a lap

For Duinker’s rider Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), the most important section of the lap is the exit of the hairpin: “The exit of Turn 5 is really important,” explains Lowes. “You need to make sure that you can get a really good exit because it leads into an overtaking opportunity in the lap. In a race, you might sacrifice the entry to be stronger on the exit. You want to be smooth on the exit and avoid too much wheelie but it's first to fifth on the straight. Into Turn 6, it's exciting!

“You touch the limiter through there so the bike wants to push towards the outside of the track but it's exactly where you don't want to be. You need to be on the right side of the track on the way into Turn 7. Being in the right track position at Turn 6 is crucial because it allows you to open up Turn 7 which then takes you into Turn 8.”

With the bike hitting the limiter through this critical section of the lap, the gearing and electronics are obviously very important for a fast lap around Assen. For Duinker, these are some of the key areas to focus on throughout Friday: “There are two places around this track where you need really strong acceleration. It’s very important to have this correct and when I look at the races before or after Assen, we always make changes on the rear of the bike to have the best acceleration out of these slow corners. Overall, we run our base setting at Assen but there are always changes required for acceleration out of the slower corners. The electronics always gets adapted to the track and tyre conditions and other circumstances.

TYRES: selection and management are key

“The other factor for to consider is tyre selection; this is really important, and we spend a lot of time making sure that the front tyre choice is right,” explained Duinker. The track temperature will decide the rear tyre choice for Kawasaki this weekend. If it’s cool, you can expect that they’ll run the harder SC0 tyre. At the opening round of the year at Aragon, Lowes commented that for track temperatures under 30C, they’d need to run the harder tyre. Assen in April means that we could see a massive range of temperatures. In 2019, Saturday’s Race 1 was rescheduled due to snow!

“The track surface in Assen is always very grippy. It’s better than the average circuit and that means that it’s important for the rider to manage the tyres through the race. The track is very grippy over a wide range of track temperatures-whether it’s 45C or 30C, grip is always good. From a tyre perspective, I don’t expect much will change but it’s always down to the rider to manage it the best that they can.”

FITNESS: it can make all the difference

Throughout the winter the focus for Duinker, Lowes and the crew for the #22 Kawasaki was to get as many miles under their belt as possible. Single lap pace wasn’t on the agenda with longer stints and maximising used tyres being their target. Having had a series of injuries in 2021, Lowes is now ready to show his true potential. The high-speed changes of direction that make up the TT Circuit are a real challenge if you’re not at full fitness.

Over the winter, having a fit rider has helped enormously and Duinker is keen to keep making progress: “Being fit makes a very big difference. If you know from the beginning that you are not fit and can’t extract the maximum from the package, it’s a challenge. I have a lot of respect for Alex because he has been training so hard to get back to being so, so fit. We are very motivated and determined to have a good year.”

Watch the 2022 Motul Dutch Round LIVE and UNINTERRUPTED with the WorldSBK VideoPass!