Assen: WSBK team by team analysis
29 April 2009
Crash.net looks back at the fourth round of the 2009 World Superbike Championship at Assen, Netherlands team-by-team…
Noriyuki Haga – 2nd, 1st
Michel Fabrizio – 9th, 4th
While he may not have felt like celebrating at the end of the first race, Noriyuki Haga has plenty of reason to be pleased with his performance in Assen. While many purists will remember the moment Ben Spies had the audacity to snatch victory from Haga's grasp on the final lap of the opening encounter, the scorecard still shows 45 points to Haga and 25 to his rival. Another rather stealth-like performance from a man who is used to garnering much of the attention, Haga allowed Spies to grab all the headlines during practice and qualifying, but went on to prove far more convincing in the races. Although the swinging pendulum that was the Assen first race took a decisive last swing towards Spies in the end, the moment the Yamaha rider was sent barrelling out of the second race, Haga needed to do nothing more than relax and pick up the plaudits. Maintaining his stellar run in the process, Haga's gap of 60 points over Spies is beaten only by Troy Bayliss in 2008 and Neil Hogdson in 2003 – both eventually dominant title winners…
After his two podiums in Valencia, Michel Fabrizio attempted a repeat at Assen, but was hampered by a painful arm in both races. Running strong at the start of both encounters, Fabrizio fell away to ninth in race one, but was heading for a podium in the second when an intermittent gear selection problem returned to haunt him on the final lap. Dropping to fourth, Fabrizio's rather dramatic reaction to losing the position was very evident – but at least it was better than a retirement…
Ben Spies – 1st, DNF
Tom Sykes – 4th, 6th
A day of two halves for Ben Spies, the American was all smiles at the end of the first race after snatching victory from Noriyuki Haga on the final lap, just three corners from home. It was a potentially defining moment, Spies beating Haga in a recovery ride after a mid-race slump. It was a shame then that his attempts at doubling up in race two lasted no longer than a single lap – a slight misjudging of a white line and Spies was barrelling into the gravel trap while his Yamaha escaped over the crash barrier. Sadly for him, while his last lap escapades in the first race will certainly live on in WSBK folklore, his error in race two is probably more crucial. History doesn't favour him either when Troy Bayliss and Neil Hodgson's similarly large leads are taken into account, although he can take heart from Colin Edwards' immense comeback in 2002 – and Spies has much more time to hit back than he did.
Although overshadowed by team-mate Spies and even by fellow British rider Leon Haslam, Tom Sykes nonetheless put in a high-scoring performance at Assen, with a season-best fourth and a sixth. While the BSB graduate admits he wasn't delighted with his pace in the Netherlands, his sixth in the overall standings still makes him the second-highest WSBK rookie – a remarkable achievement.
Stiggy Racing Honda
Leon Haslam – 3rd, 2nd
John Hopkins – DNS, DNS
Stiggy Racing's argument for getting a bigger slice of the Honda commitment to the World Superbike Championship got just a bit louder at Assen after another remarkable weekend that made their Ten Kate counterparts look lost in comparison. While things didn't go entirely to plan from the start following John Hopkins painful accident in practice, one that ruled him for the two races (and possibly beyond), Leon Haslam upheld honour on the other CBR1000RR. While his race pace in recent events has suggested that, with a decent qualifying position, he could be a threat, his challenge for victory alongside Haga and Spies in race one still came as a surprise. After all, the Stiggy Honda remains a privateer machine, but after a second and third place finish at Assen, it is doing an excellent impression of a factory backed team and Haslam is clearly flourishing in his surroundings. With three podiums under his belt, attention will no doubt turn to victory in the coming races…
Jakub Smrz – 6th, 3rd
Brendan Roberts – 16th, 13th
After several attempts, Jakub Smrz can finally say he lived up to his qualifying performance at Assen, the Czech rider coming away with a maiden podium for both himself and the Guandalini Ducati team. For the third time this season, Smrz qualified on the front row, but after false dawns in Australia and Qatar, he maintained a good pace in both races. Initially criticised for holding up riders early on in race one, Smrz battled back from ninth at one point to finish a career-equalling sixth. He then stepped up in race two to fight for second before benefiting from Michel Fabrizio's last lap mechanical issues to claim third. Joining Stiggy Honda's Haslam on the podium, Smrz's performance is once again proof of the strength the privateer teams are beginning to show alongside some of the more beleaguered works teams. Although overshadowed by Smrz, Assen was also significant in that it witnessed the first points for Brendan Roberts. A big improvement for the Australian, he made Superpole before going on to finish a solid 13th in race two – even if, it remains relatively minor alongside his team-mate's success.
Ten Kate Honda
Jonathan Rea – 7th, 5th
Carlos Checa – DNF, 7th
Ryuichi Kiyonari – 15th, DNF
Jonathan Rea further cemented his status as Ten Kate Honda's leading representative in this year's World Superbike Championship with a return to the top five for the first time since the season opener at Phillip Island. It was a fighting ride for Rea, who started 11th after experiencing problems in qualifying, but fifth and seventh was a good reward for his perseverance. While Rea may have moved up to ninth in the overall standings, his team-mates Carlos Checa and Ryuichi Kiyonari remain on the cusp in 11th and 15th after another tough time in the Netherlands. Although he managed a solid seventh in race two, Checa's retirement in the first race continues to put him on the back foot, although he did fare better than Kiyonari, who could only manage a best of 15th after continuing to struggle with the set-up of his alternatively livered machine.
Max Biaggi – 5th, DNF
Shinya Nakano – DNF, DNS
Despite three failures to finish, Aprilia still had something to celebrate at the end of their fourth World Superbike round following Max Biaggi's fifth place in the first race. A potentially difficult weekend for the Italian manufacturer, Aprilia barely featured during practice and qualifying, but Biaggi's performance in the race saw him dicing for a top five result, a fight he prevailed in after eventually seeing off both Rea and Fabrizio. Sadly for the team, race two was a non-starter for them after Biaggi coasted in with a mechanical problem at the end of the opening lap and Shinya Nakano failed to start. The Japanese rider, still reeling from breaking his collarbone at Valencia, crashed out in the opening race, aggravating the injury enough to not reach the race two grid.
Shane Byrne – 11th, 8th
A clean weekend for Shane Byrne, free from worries about bike development and personal injury, Assen still represented a disappointing event for Sterilgarda Ducati. Looking back twelve months ago when they were a match for the factory Xerox team, Sterilgarda were shown up by both the satellite Guandalini and DFX teams at Assen this year. Even so, Byrne reached the finish twice and managed his second top ten finish of the year in the process with eighth. However, it is still a far cry from their podium challenge in the Netherlands last season.
DFX Corse Ducati
Regis Laconi – 8th, 16th
Regis Laconi had good reason to feel slightly hard done by at the end of the weekend, after it ended rather more quietly than it had begun. Competitive through practice, Laconi headed into Superpole with the fastest time of the weekend, but his weekend would unravel from here. Qualifying a surprisingly lowly 12th, Laconi couldn't quite work his way into the battle for a top five finish in race one, instead having to settle for eighth position, admittedly ahead of Michel Fabrizio. Laconi's second race, however, was almost over on lap seven when he joined a number of rivals in suffering a fall. While his perseverance in continuing was almost rewarded by the high attrition rate, he would miss out on a point by a single place.
Suzuki Alstare Brux
Max Neukirchner – 13th, 9th
Yukio Kagayama – DNF, 12th
A very difficult weekend for the Suzuki Alstare Brux team, Max Neukirchner slipped further away from the title fight after crashing in the first race. The German was running second at the time before tumbling out at the final corner, his bike's subsequent bid for freedom ending in the barriers, but not before almost taking Leon Haslam with it. An impressive effort to fight back to 13th, Neukirchner would have been confident for race two, but set-up issues left him down in ninth having managed to get as high as second again. Yukio Kagayama, meanwhile, was another to feel tarmac beneath him in race one, before struggling to 12th in the second – having begun the season with a podium, Kagayama has dropped to 12th in the standings, while Suzuki are being caught by Aprilia in the manufacturer race too.
BMW Alpha Racing
Troy Corser – 10th, 10th
Ruben Xaus – 14th, 11th
Qualifying is once again the buzzword for BMW following Assen after Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus struggled to maintain a consistent pace through the knockout phases. This was a particularly frustrating occurrence for Corser – who was ailing with a broken hand -, after ending Q1 with the second best time before only managing 15th just a few minutes later in Q2. On the flip side, the S1000RR is continuing to run very reliably in the races, even if both Corser and Xaus were only ever on the cusp of the competitive battles. Nonetheless, two tenth place finishes for Corser keep the points ticking over as the team now look ahead to Monza, one of the few circuits the teams knows after testing there a few weeks ago.
Celani Race Suzuki
Karl Muggeridge – 12th, DNF
Having spent the first three rounds understanding a bike they hadn't tested before the opening event, Celani Race used the opportunity between Valencia and Assen to get some mileage under their belt at Monza – and the result was clear to see over the Assen weekend. Immediately more competitive from the opening practice session, Karl Muggeridge crossed the gap that had been separating him from the top twenty with a series of strong lap times. Reaching Superpole for the first time, Muggeridge would go on to qualify 13th and finish 12th to record his and the team's maiden points of the season. Although a fall in race two ended any hopes of a similar performance, it is evident that there is potentially more to come from a invigorated Muggeridge and the privateer Suzuki team.
PSG-1 Corse Kawasaki
Matteo Baiocco – DNF, 14th
PSG-1 Corse came away from the latest round in higher spirits than they began the weekend with after Matteo Baiocco got both himself and the team off the mark at Assen. While much to do with his 14th place was down to a high attrition rate, Baiocco's performance went some way to thanking the team for maintaining their faith in him after dropping Ayrton Badovini prior to the weekend.
Luca Scassa – DNF, 15th
David Salom – 20th, DNF
Like their Kawasaki counterparts, Team Pedercini are on the score sheet for the first time this season after Luca Scassa clung onto 15th and the final point in race two. Hampered by an engine problem that could have seen him finish higher, he was nonetheless able to survive a late charge by Regis Laconi to hold on for an important result. Up to that point, it had been David Salom fronting the Pedercini charged, the Spaniard just missing Superpole, but failing to finish race two when he could have gotten off the mark.
Makoto Tamada – 17th, DNF
Stuart Easton – 18th, DNF
Having built up some momentum from their top ten finish at Valencia, Kawasaki slipped back into old ways at Assen after suffering from the loss of the injured Broc Parkes. A chance for Makoto Tamada to step into the role of team leader, the Japanese rider missed Superpole again and could do no better than 17th position in the opening race before retiring from the second – for reference, he scored two top ten finishes at Assen twelve months earlier. Stand-in Stuart Easton did a solid job on the second bike after a last-minute call-up, out-qualifying Tamada, but suffering from inexperience when it came to getting the most out of his bike in the race. A very good effort next to his more coveted team-mate, Parkes should nonetheless be back on the bike for Monza.
TKR Switzerland Suzuki
Roland Resch – 21st, 17th
You can't miss his colourful bike, but Roland Resch is a long way from being anything other than a tail-ender as he continues his gradual WSBK induction. Bottom of each session and well over a minute down on the leaders in the races, Resch nonetheless reached the finish line on both occasions and was only two places from a point in race two. Progress, if nothing else.
Yamaha France Ipone
David Checa – 19th, DNF
Although suffering from his late start to the season, David Checa would probably have expected to put in a more convincing performance at Assen. With a few years of experience behind him, Checa didn't challenge for Superpole and was mired in a fight at the bottom end of the top twenty during the first race. A failure to finish in race two almost certainly cost him a chance at points.
Tommy Hill – DNF, DNF
With rumours swirling about his future in the category, Tommy Hill arrived at Assen with pressure on his shoulders – and two failures to finish won't have helped his cause. Qualifying in a season-best 17th, ahead of a BMW and an Aprilia, was a boon, but a crash on the opening lap of the first race was a missed opportunity for points. The same could be said for race two, Hill heading for a best result of the year before a problem struck on the penultimate lap, leaving him with two DNFs to his name. Althea's home race follows at Monza, and while Hill has stated his intentions to be there, those Lorenzo Lanzi rumours aren't going away.
Squadra Corse Italia Honda
Vittorio Iannuzzo – DNF, DNF
Vittorio Iannuzzo and Squadra Corse Italia head to their home event at Monza desperate to find some reliability after another pair of DNFs, bringing them up to a total of five this season from eight races. Still, the Italian is no longer the back-marker and was comparable with Baiocco, suggesting points could have been in the offing in race two at least.