Steeped in history, raced by legends, brought alive by fans: after missing out in 2020, the iconic Assen circuit is back and ready to light the fireworks as 2021 rumbles on
Summer is well and truly upon us and the 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship season is in full flow as the paddock heads to round five at the TT Circuit Assen for the Prosecco DOC Dutch Round. The iconic Assen venue has been a part of WorldSBK ever since 1992 and despite missing out in 2020 after the pandemic took hold, it’s back in emphatic style for 2021. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with BRIXX WorldSBK) leads Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) by just two points in what is a huge title scrap; will the pendulum swing once again this weekend?
YAMAHA VS KAWASAKI: a matter of form
Three wins in the last four races, nine podium finishes from the opening 12 and finishing every single race inside the top six, Toprak Razgatlioglu is in the form of his life. The 24-year-old Turk has found consistency that has even seen him leap ahead in the Championship standings. Assen is a circuit where he took a first Superstock 1000 win back in 2017, whilst in WorldSBK, his record reads three ninth place finishes and a tenth – not spectacular but Toprak is a different rider in comparison to just two years ago, so can he extend his Championship lead at a track he’s not raced at with Yamaha before? It’s positive vibes on the other side of the garage too, as teammate Andrea Locatelli heads to the track he took his best ever Moto2™ finish at in 2019, with sixth.
The last time Jonathan Rea came to Assen, he was also trailing in the Championship – although that was by 39 points to Alvaro Bautista and Ducati. With 12 victories, he is level on Assen wins with the legendary Carl Fogarty with both British aces being maestros around the legendary Dutch venue. Aiming to become the first rider in WorldSBK to win 13 races at one circuit, Rea knows he has a prime opportunity to strike back. After a podium at home and a solid performance at Donington Park, Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) heads to Assen, the only circuit he’s taken a pole at – will he be able to conjure something special up and be in the victory fight.
HOME-HERO AND TURNING A CORNER: van der Marks leads BMW to Assen
Heading into the round in fine form are the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team of Tom Sykes and Michael van der Mark, with the latter at home and ready to put on a show in front of the Dutch fans. Van der Mark has an impressive seven podiums at Assen and on the last visit, he beat Jonathan Rea to second in a final run to the line to give the home crowd what they wanted. After achieving a first podium with BMW at Donington Park, will he go one step further than his last Assen appearance? For Sykes, he’s aiming to make it three consecutive podiums in 2021 at a track he took his last win at three years ago; will the BMWs once again be a prominent feature at the head of the field?
DUCATI AND HONDA: can they make Assen awesome?
The dark days of Donington Park are behind Ducati as they head to Assen, with Scott Redding (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) some 66 points behind Razgatlioglu in the title race. No podium in seven races, this is Redding’s worst run since joining WorldSBK last year. Two Moto2™ podiums in 2012 and 2013, third place in the 2016 MotoGP™ event and two wins from the British championship in 2019, Assen may be the turning point Redding needs. On the other side of the garage is Michael Ruben Rinaldi who, after two victories at Misano, wasn’t in contention at Donington Park. Rinaldi’s best WorldSBK result at the track is 12th, although he was second to Toprak in STK1000 in 2017.
It was a mixed bag for Honda at Donington Park, with Leon Haslam (Team HRC) riding exceptionally well to get his best result of the year in fourth in the Tissot Superpole Race, whilst Alvaro Bautista (Team HRC) never truly got going. Bautista won the most recent two races at Assen in WorldSBK with a dominant double in 2019, whilst Haslam himself has taken wins at the circuit in the British championship, as well as three podiums in WorldSBK at the track – two of which came on the Stiggy Honda in 2009 when he was battling for victory with Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga. With some time to recharge and reset, expect Team HRC to be more towards the sharp end at Assen.
INDEPENDENTS: can they achieve a moment of magic?
Onto the Independent riders and it is Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) who leads the way after a fine second place in Race 2 at Donington Park – his best result in a full-distance race. Assen is also a track that he now at least knows, following his solid substitute ride in the Dutch MotoGP™. He’s sixth in the standings and 24 points from third overall. Chaz Davies (Team GoEleven) is next best Independent in ninth overall at a circuit of which he’s had podiums but never won at, whilst fellow Ducati rider Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) has been a revelation in recent events and is continuously improving. In 2016 in the WorldSSP race, Bassani started 23rd but blasted through to finish in eighth place. He’s just ten points from the top ten in the standings, held by Alvaro Bautista.
Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) is the next Independent in 14th, as he also continues to improve each round, particularly in Superpole, whilst Tito Rabat (Barni Racing Team) is 15th. Hoping to be fighting back is Kohta Nozane (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), after he was declared unfit after FP1 of Donington Park due to the finger fracture he sustained in testing at Navarra. Eugene Laverty (RC Squadra Corse) is next on the BMW M 1000 RR, a past race winner at Assen in 2013, whilst Jonas Folger (Bonovo MGM Racing) and Isaac Viñales (ORELAC Racing VerdNatura) make their WorldSBK debuts at Assen. Christophe Ponsson (Alstare Yamaha) will hope that he can find form on a circuit he knows, whereas Loris Cresson (OUTDO TPR Team Pedercini Racing) and the returning Leandro Mercado (MIE Racing Honda Team) aim to score their first points of 2021. There will also be one wildcard in the form of Andrea Mantovani (Vince64), who will be onboard the ZX-10RR Kawasaki.