He may have had a reduction of 250rpm imposed on him for round four of the World Superbike Championship at Assen last weekend but it didn’t show as Alvaro Bautista romped to his tenth and 11th victories of the season to maintain his 100% record in 2019.
It had been hoped that the Dutch circuit would see a more even playing field with the rules being tweaked after the first three rounds and whilst the racing was certainly a lot closer, the end result was still the same as Bautista won by 3.1s and 4.6s in the two races. The margins of victory weren’t as big as previous rounds but his biggest concern was the unbelievably cold temperatures with Saturday’s race being cancelled due to snow!
A number of people said things would change once we got to the European tracks and Bautista wouldn’t have it all his own way with the more twisty Assen circuit reducing his speed advantage and playing more into the hands of the opposition. He proved them all wrong with two more classy rides which only served to showcase his world class credentials further.
Bautista and the Ducati V4 have certainly clicked this year but he’s now rightly getting the credit he deserves for his performances rather than people saying it’s all about the bike and both his brilliance and domination can be seen in the number of laps led in 2019.
Out of the 162 laps that have taken place in the 11 races held thus far, Jonathan Rea has led 13 of them with Bautista leading the other 149 – that’s a whopping 92%! He was even pushed back to third briefly in race two at Assen but not for long and, at this moment in time it’s hard to see anyone beating him.
That won’t be music to the ears of the organisers and although going through a season undefeated would be an amazing feat, the rest of the opposition have to up their game – and fast.
Rea asks for help
Rea again proved to be the master of the first lap – indeed, he’s probably the best in the world – going, somehow, from eighth on the grid to first but his efforts were to no avail as Bautista found a way through and pulled away.
The reigning world champion did his utmost to slow the pace in race two and back the pack up, something which worked a little when Chaz Davies on the second factory Ducati pushed his team-mate back to third but, ultimately, no one had an answer to the little Spaniard.
Rea’s efforts cannot be faulted and he’s giving everything he has to give but it’s not enough at present and in the post-race interviews, he admitted Kawasaki need to work harder to respond. The four week break before the next round should see plenty of work behind the scenes and if it doesn’t, the green meanies will see their run of success come to an end.
The opening three rounds had seen Alex Lowes put a marker down as to who the best Yamaha rider of 2019 is with the Brit taking four podiums in total at Thailand and Aragon but in Holland he was upstaged significantly by team-mate and local hero Michael van der Mark.
The Dutchman has struggled in qualifying at every meeting this year and coming into his home event with huge expectations on his shoulders meant it was even more important for him to step up to the place in the races.
He did just that and became the first rider to break the Bautista-Rea stranglehold of the top two places as he took second in race two to push the Ulsterman back to third. The 26 year-old put in two fine rides to close to within 11 points of Lowes and his confidence will certainly have been boosted by his results.
His talent has never been in doubt and two superb wins at Donington Park last year proved he can beat anyone so the challenge now will be for him to become the regular Yamaha man on the podium and take the challenge to Bautista and Rea week in week out.
Progress for BMW
Despite continuing with stock engines, the new BMW Motorrad team have been making steady progress since re-joining the series this year but whilst it’s been number one rider Tom Sykes that’s featured most, it was German team-mate Markus Reiterberger that grabbed the headlines in Holland with some superb performances throughout the weekend.
Still only 25, it was in 2013 when he first competed in WSB but subsequent seasons have seen him yo-yo between the premier category and the lower European Superstock 1000 Championship. Too good for the latter but not quick enough for the former, he’s found himself stuck in no-man’s land as he’s alternated between the two but he now looks to have matured and his two rides in Assen were exemplary, especially the first when he ran in second place for the first eight laps.
The reigning Stock 1000 Champion dropped back slightly due to a loss of rear grip and whilst he was expected to do well at a circuit he knows well – the German Championship includes Assen in their calendar – a brace of sixths, and ahead of Sykes in each, was perhaps better than he had hoped for.
With the late Nicky Hayden’s crew chief Pete Benson in his corner, its experience he is clearly tapping into and fully utilising but the test now will be to maintain this form at the upcoming circuits.
Weekend of woes
Whilst van der Mark and Lowes were in the thick of the battle in each race, the same couldn’t be said for their counterparts at GRT Yamaha with 11th place for Sandro Cortese in race two their best result of the weekend.
The German is still finding his feet in his rookie Superbike season and suffered a big crash in qualifying so perhaps could be excused for being a little below par but his team-mate Marco Melandri continues to baffle the paddock – and his team – with lowly 12th and 14th place finishes.
He looks a complete shadow of the rider who took third in the opening race of the year and will be hoping a return to his native Italy for the next round at Imola lifts both his spirits and his results.
Eugene Laverty was another rider to have a poor weekend at Assen which was particularly disappointing for the Ulsterman given his strong showing at the previous round at Aragon, where he’d been in podium contention in all three races. At Assen though he was nowhere to be seen with 13th and 14th place finishes, over 30 seconds away from the rostrum places, leaving both him and his team scratching their heads.
They’re still learning the Ducati machine and how it performs from track to track with the cold temperatures of Assen playing their part on this occasion but if, as expected, it’s sunny and warm at Imola in three weeks time, he should be a lot further forward.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.