Having claimed three victories in three years for Yamaha, what can he achieve over the next six rounds? WorldSBK commentator Steve English assesses the Dutchman’s prospects.
At the opening round of the 2020 WorldSBK season, Michael van der Mark (PATA YAMAHA WorldSBK Official Team) was outperformed by teammate, Toprak Razgatlioglu. Three top five finishes meant that he didn’t hit the high marks of his teammate, but did Australia mislead as to van der Mark’s potential? It most certainly did. The Yamaha rider might have finished off the rostrum but over the course of three races he was in touch for each of them in the battle for the race win and he gambled at times trying to win rather than settle for a podium. It showed the fighting spirit for which van der Mark is famous for.
He brings a die-hard attitude to racing that’s been forged by a string of teammates that have pushed him in WorldSBK. Whether it was working alongside Sylvain Guintoli and Nicky Hayden at Ten Kate Honda or Alex Lowes for the last three years, there’s never been anywhere to hide for the 2014 Supersport World Champion. He’s always been pushed by the other side of the garage and that will be no different this year.
Having strong teammates means that you get used to knowing that on certain race weekends, your teammate will be stronger. Any top rider needs mental fortitude and van der Mark has that. Would it have been easy to see Razgatlioglu being lauded in Australia? Of course not. It shouldn’t be easy to see that for a rider.
At the recent Catalan test, it certainly didn’t affect van der Mark. Not renowned as a strong tester, his performances there have always been a little below par compared to the pressure cooker atmosphere of a race weekend. His longer run potential in Montmelo pointed towards a rider trending in the right direction with fast, consistent times. Having won at Jerez last year, and some strong circuits upcoming for Yamaha, it’s clear that van der Mark will return to the podium soon.
In Australia, there was a lot of interest from paddock insiders to put the “smart money” on van der Mark. It was a surprise to see him come up short of the rostrum but after three thrilling races, it was clear that he was where he needed to be in terms of performance but just missed out on the end product. He was a striker getting into goal scoring positions but not converting. That won’t remain the case for long.
Van der Mark has always been very comfortable to leave the technical side of racing to his team and instead focus solely on riding. This could be an advantage over the course of the remaining rounds. A naturally relaxed personality should allow the Dutchman to go unflustered through the remainder of the 2020 season.
Was Phillip Island misleading for van der Mark? Yes and No. He showed his speed and showed that he’s going to be battling for race wins. His potential wasn’t maximised by his results, but it did paint the picture that van der Mark is now a very well rounded WorldSBK rider. Barely putting a foot wrong in the midst of the tight battles at the front showed how strong a racer he has become. The Dutchman doesn’t crash often, doesn’t make many mistakes and is as fast as the best in WorldSBK.
The intra team battle Yamaha will, once again, be fascinating and before long van der Mark will be back on the podium. Don’t be surprised when it’s the top step.
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