As Bautista stayed out front, Lowes was leading the Kawasaki charge behind whilst Aegerter shone with 15 riders covered by a second
The 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is well underway and back in action at the Pirelli Ditch Round and the TT Circuit Assen in the Netherlands. It’s shaping up to be a belting weekend and with a myriad of protagonists, there remains one rider to be beaten. Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) was on top by nearly a quarter of a second going into Saturday, but don’t discount his rivals just yet.
DUCATI VS KAWASAKI: Bautista heads Lowes and Rea, Rinaldi with radiator issues
Like in FP1, it was Alvaro Bautista who topped the running in the afternoon and his pace was quite simply relentless. 22 laps with multiple in the low-to-mid 1’34s, the reigning World Champion was in fine form as he placed Ducati on the top step. Teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s day was marred with front-end set-up not quite being refined to his liking in FP1 and he finished down in 14th, before a technical issue halted progress in FP2’s opening stages with steam radiating from the Ducati Panigale V4 R. A burst pipe to the radiator was the cause, with coolant leaking out. The bike returned to the garage with 30 minutes to go and with 22 minutes left, he was back out on track. However, he returned, clearly uncomfortable with his right wrist.
First Kawasaki on the timesheets was Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), with the #22 getting to grips with the Assen track like in many years previous with a front row last year and his only career pole coming back in 2018. Teammate Jonathan Rea was the last rider to improve his overall time and took third in the session and overall. The most successful rider at the circuit, with 17 wins to his name, will hope to make further steps and also cross his fingers that temperatures don’t rise come the first of two race days tomorrow. Two Kawasakis inside the top three is a positive start to the weekend for the team in green.
YAMAHA BATTLE: Aegerter and Gardner ahead of Locatelli and Razgatlioglu
Once again, the Independent riders were in mighty form and it was the GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team who were fourth and fifth and therefore best Yamahas. Double WorldSSP Champion Dominique Aegerter was fourth and set the second-highest amount of laps throughout the session, whilst it was teammate Remy Gardner in fifth place, having been third in the morning session. Both riders were looking comfortable aboard their R1s and with plenty of experience at the Dutch venue, they’ll be keen to strike on Saturday in both the Superpole and the opening race of the weekend.
Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) always goes well at Assen and 2023 looks like no exception, having been inside the top five in the morning and continuing to look strong in the afternoon. The Italian concluded in eighth place in the end, not the most representative of his race pace potential. After a minor electronic problem for Toprak Razgatlioglu in FP1, as well as the Turkish rider getting back used to WorldSBK machinery after his MotoGP™ test, the 26-year-old was out on track in FP2 and setting solid lap times. Assen hasn’t bared the best of luck in recent years for Razgatlioglu but he was looking good in FP2, finishing in… He did have an encounter with a crocodile however – don’t worry, not a real one – as an inflatable made its way onto the circuit, bringing out a brief red flag.
BMW HEAD HONDA: van der Mark shines as Honda struggle
For BMW, it was very much a day of two halves as Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) was up in fifth in FP1 but outside the top ten in FP2, down in… Teammate Michael van der Mark was P11 in the morning and was fastest BMW in the afternoon too, up inside the top five with less than ten minutes to go and then ended up in sixth overall. Redding did improve up to 12th in the closing stages, although he’ll be hoping for more. Both used different swingarms during the morning session too, with that being one of the major topics coming to Assen after four different swingarms were seen at the recent Barcelona test.
After a strong round in 2022, it was somewhat surprising to see Honda barely trouble the top ten on day one, with Iker Lecuona being the best Honda in only 13th. Teammate Xavi Vierge didn’t feature either, with him a place further back in 14th. Certainly work to do for both of the Hondas, with Lecuona a podium finisher last year at Assen and Vierge on the rostrum last time out. Both riders also had successful tests at Aragon and Barcelona during the break.
ROUNDING OUT THE RUNNING: big names further back, Baz returns
Elsewhere in the order, Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) took P11, whilst Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven) was 15th and Bradley Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team), on his full-time debut, was 17th. Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) returned to action but a mechanical issue in the morning kept his track time limited, but he was back out in FP2 in full attack mode; he concluded the day in 18th, ahead of Eric Granado (PETRONAS MIE Racing HONDA Team), Lorenzo Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha), Hafizh Syahrin (PETRONAS MIE Racing HONDA Team), Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), Gabriele Ruiu (Bmax Racing), Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing MOVISIO) and Isaac Vinales (TPR by Vinales Racing), with the latter in action for the first time this year.
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