Round three of this year’s World Superbike Championship took the riders to the famous Assen circuit in Holland last weekend and it proved to be a momentous occasion for Ducati as Alvaro Bautista took another hat-trick to give the Italian manufacturer their 400th win in the series.
Bautista’s dominance continues
Bautista picked up from where he left off at Assen and the weekend had a feeling of déjà vu about it as he again dominated proceedings to make it eight wins from the nine races to have taken place so far only his crash in the second race in Indonesia blotting his copybook.
The races at Assen followed a similar pattern to those at the previous two rounds; close battles up until the middle of each race with the Spaniard pulling clear in the second half to win comfortably. Both he and the Ducati can manage their tyres better than any other combination at present whilst he also comes into his own as the fuel load lightens.
Those two qualities, and his own undoubted talent, are giving him the upper hand at the moment – and a substantial upper hand at that – and it’s hard to see him being beaten at this moment in time. He’s also riding as well as he’s ever done, if not better, and whilst some continue to say the Ducati is a far superior machine to anything else out on the grid, the fact remains he’s the only one putting it on the podium week in week out.
Razgatlioglu and Locatelli lead chase
Along with Jonathan Rea (see below), it was 2021 champion Toprak Razgatlioglu who pushed Bautista the hardest at Assen and it’s the Turkish rider and Yamaha team-mate Andrea Locatelli who lead the chase in the championship standings.
Razgatlioglu sits in second overall after three more podiums – to make it eight for the season – but he’s already some 56 points adrift of the flying Bautista. And he hasn’t really come near getting the better of him.
Indeed, the Yamaha R1 looks to be slightly weaker than what it was last year and like Kawasaki, the Japanese manufacturer has considerable ground to make up if they’re to get back to winning ways.
Locatelli’s strong season continued as he took his fourth podium of the year to consolidate his third place in the standings. The Italian still hasn’t bridged the gap to the leaders but he’s clearly the best of the rest and also the strongest second rider at any of the factory teams.
Rea crashes out
Rea was back to form at Assen with a brace of second place finishes in the first two races of the weekend, the Kawasaki rider having benefitted from some much-needed testing and improved set-up after poor results in both Australia and Indonesia.
He was far more competitive at Assen as he once more battled on track with Bautista and Razgatluioglu at the head of the field rather than languishing towards the bottom of the top ten as he had been in the previous five races.
However, a crash in the third and final race brought him and the team, quite literally, back down to earth and was further proof at just how hard the six-time champion is having to ride just to give himself a chance of a podium. The deficit to Bautista has been closed but clearly not enough and unless further improvements are made to the ZX-10RR, Assen could be the blueprint for the rest of the season.
Bassani continues to impress
Italian Axel Bassani had another impressive WSB weekend with two fifth place finishes the highlight, the youngster the next best Ducati rider after Bautista and sitting pretty in an excellent fourth in the championship standings.
Throughout last year he looked the best bet to get the second seat alongside Bautista in the factory Ducati team and it’s surely only a matter of time before that prospect becomes a reality as he’s continually outperforming Michael Ruben Rinaldi who currently occupies the position.
True, Rinaldi was struggling at Assen with an injury sustained when boiling water from the radiator burnt his hand during practice but whilst he took a brace of seconds at the opening round in Australia, he’s done little since. There’s no doubt that, on his day, Rinaldi can run in the top three but he does it nowhere often enough and Bassani’s chance at the top table is surely coming soon.
Aegerter and Gardner make progress
When the GYTR GRT Yamaha team announced the signings of Dominque Aegerter and Remy Gardner, it’s fair to say that expectations were high from both inside and outside the team. Things got off to an inauspicious start with Aegerter wiping out his team-mate in the second race of the season, but the duo are slowly but surely showing their worth.
It’s double World Supersport champion Aegerter who has made the best progress with the Swiss rider taking two top six finishes at Assen, including a best of fourth in the final race of the weekend. Having shown good single lap pace from the outset, he’s now stringing it together for a full race distance. His weakness appears to be at the beginning of the races with a fuel tank of fuel and it’s the second half of the race where he comes into his own.
That was the case at Assen as he got stronger as the races wore on, so he’ll be keen to continue his progress at Catulunya next time out. Gardner, meanwhile, has been less prominent but the former Moto2 World Champion is gradually getting into his stride.
Like Aegerter, he had his best result of the season at Assen with sixth in race three and he’ll now be focusing on his qualifying performances as it’s here when he needs to improve the most as he’s been having to fight his way through from lowly grid positions.
Ups and downs for BMW
It was a mixed weekend for the BMW riders as they continually strive to cut the deficit to their rival manufacturers. The highlight was Scott Redding’s performances with the former BSB champion qualifying in fifth and then taking three top ten positions, the best of which was a seventh place.
He ran close to the top six in all three races and looked a lot more like his old self both on and off track. The team had clearly used the time wisely since the last round although his drop in pace in the final third of the opening race when his tyre performance dropped off would have been of concern. The drop off was reduced on Sunday though and he’ll be keen to maintain the form shown at the next round.
His satisfaction paled into insignificance though to the fate suffered by team-mate Michael van der Mark who suffered a huge high-side – one of the biggest ever seen – in the final race of the weekend. It left the Dutchman nursing a fractured femur and comes after an injury ravaged 2022.
It was also a mixed bag for the Bonovo Action pairing of Garrett Gerloff and Loris Baz. The former qualified poorly and it was his grid position that determined his weekend as his race pace was reasonably strong. Indeed, his lap times in the second half of the race were comparable to the riders running in sixth place so, like Gardner, qualifying better will be at the forefront of his mind at round four.
Baz made his return from leg fractures at the previous round, and he was still far from fully fit in Assen, failing to score a point across the three races.
Challenging weekend for Ray
Assen marked the full championship debut of Bradley Ray with the reigning British Superbike Champion only contesting the European rounds for the Yamaha Motoxracing Team. And it proved to be a challenging weekend as he was unable to score a point in the three races.
However, there were positives to take for the 25-year old, none more so than qualifying just 1.2s adrift of Bautista after lapping the 2.82-mile circuit almost two seconds quicker than he’d ever gone in his BSB outings at the venue.
Ray also ran on the edge of the top 15 all weekend and whilst a point ultimately eluded him, he will have taken heart from the fact he was battling on track with the likes of Danilo Petrucci, Philipp Oettl, the BMW duo of Gerloff and Baz and fellow Yamaha rider Lorenzo Baldassari.
That’s a good benchmark and with the next round coming in less than two weeks’ time, he has a solid platform to build upon, now also knowing just how competitive WSB is.
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, Classic Racer and Road Racing Ireland, as well as being 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 PBM Ducati, 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