With less than a second covering the top 16, it was ferociously tight in WorldSBK’s Tissot Superpole in the Netherlands with late drama changing the complexion of Race 1’s grid
The first European round of the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship has already been a corker and the Tissot Superpole session at the TT Circuit Assen was a classic too. After a wet FP3 morning session, dark clouds remained but the track had dried out sufficiently for slick tyres to be used. The 15-minute shootout saw Alvaro Bautista snatch a first pole position of 2023 in what was a mighty battle which saw the titanic trio return to the front row.
STORY OF SUPERPOLE: mixed strategies, Championship leader angering opponents
Straight down to business, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) went half a second quicker than anything we’d previously seen all weekend, albeit it was teammate Alex Lowes who pipped him after the opening fast lap was in. Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) was only P7, as both Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) and his teammate Andrea Locatelli went into the top five and were lapping together. Bautista went P3 on his second flying lap using the SCQ tyre, whilst Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) was up in fourth until Locatelli demoted him. For Honda, Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) and Iker Lecuona were both provisionally in the top ten, whilst home hero, with eight minutes, Michael van der Mark (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) was in 14th.
With seven minutes to go, riders returned to the circuit for their second run, with Rea hitting the track on his own and the only rider on track, opting for a different strategy to the opposition. He went provisional pole with a 1’33.668, but now his rivals were all out on track. With just over five minutes to go, the majority of the remaining riders hit the circuit and completed their outlaps whilst Rea was back in the pits and ready to go for a third run. Meanwhile, as Alvaro Bautista and Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) came out of the pitlane, both riders angered Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) and teammate Garrett Gerloff. That didn’t stop Bautista going provisional pole with two minutes to go ahead of Rea and Lowes, whilst Bassani was P4.
FRONT ROW: late charges and a familiar front row
Down in 11th, Toprak Razgatlioglu was in desperate need of a fast lap and the 2022 Assen polesitter was on a flying lap. Meanwhile, Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) was up into P4 until Razgatlioglu leapt up to second as the order chopped and changed frantically. However, coming out on top for a first pole at Assen since his rookie 2019 campaign, Bautista sealed a first pole position of 2023 ahead of Assen’s most successful rider Jonathan Rea – in turn taking a first front row of the year – and with Razgatlioglu going from third place. The titanic trio are back at Assen. However, a three-place grid penalty will need to be served by Bautista in Race 1 for slow riding on the racing line in the Baz-Gerloff incident. He’ll return to pole position for the Superpole Race.
SECOND ROW: Lowes and Redding work together
The second row is headed by two Brits; Alex Lowes’ stunning run of top five Superpole results at Assen – dating back to his only career pole in 2018 – continued with a fourth place, as he dragged Scott Redding aboard the M 1000 RR to a top five too. Redding was only 13th in 2022 for BMW and it’s his first top five on the grid of the season, also setting the fastest final sector of anyone in the session. Rounding out the second row, looking to make it a hat-trick of Assen podiums in as many seasons, Andrea Locatelli.
INDEPENDENTS SHINE: row three has a big battle brewing
Top Independent honours went to Swiss star Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) who always goes well at Assen; he’s seventh and less than half a second away from pole position. Axel Bassani took eighth place in the middle of the third row but also suffered the same penalty as Bautista, whilst fellow Independent Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) was ninth and completed the third row. First Honda home was Iker Lecuona (Team HRC), tenth but 0.657s away from top spot.
NOTABLE NAMES: falling stars way down the order
Elsewhere on the grid, Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) took 11th, although he’ll have wanted more after his top three pace on Friday and topping Saturday’s FP3. Xavi Vierge clinched 12thplace to complete the fourth row, ahead of the returning Loris Baz, Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven) and Michael van der Mark in 15th. It was a dismal session for Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) who could only manage 16th and was the last Ducati, ahead of American rider Garrett Gerloff and Bradley Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team), who was only 1.253s off pole, emphasising how close the WorldSBK field is.
Completing the order, Lorenzo Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha) was 19th ahead of Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) in 20th, Eric Granado (PETRONAS MIE Racing HONDA Team), Isaac Vinales (Pedercini by Vinales Racing), Gabriele Ruiu (Bmax Racing), Hafizh Syahrin (PETRONAS MIE Racing HONDA Team) and Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing MOVISIO), with the entire field covered by less than three seconds.
Top six after WorldSBK Superpole at Assen, full results here:
1. Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) 1’33.542s
2. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) +0.027s
3. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) +0.119s
4. Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) +0.199s
5. Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) +0.212s
6. Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK)) +0.257s
Watch the 2023 season in style throughout the year with the WorldSBK VideoPass!