Preview – Assen
1 September 2005
As the 2005 World Superbike Championship season approaches its closing stages, there can be no better point to resume on-track hostilities than the classically sculpted Circuit van Drenthe at Assen; the 'Cathedral' of motorcycle racing.
An outstanding motorcycle venue for every possible reason, Assen has been a regular and popular fixture in the World Superbike calendar since 1992, proving to be the turning point for many a championship season.
Modified slightly since last year, Assen is still much greater than the sum of its many parts - no mean achievement on a circuit with over 20 corners along its 6km length - and this year's event will hold special status since it is the last before controversial shortening will see the north loop lost.
The start of the 2005 championship season was dominated by 1996 champion Troy Corser on the awesome new Alstare Corona Extra Suzuki and - even when rivals began to break his win dominance - the cunning Australian continued to pile on the points.
Indeed, consistent front running performances have taken him to an almost unassailable 344-point championship score, fully 110-more than his nearest rival. He has appeared on every single rostrum of the year, with an enviable record of eight wins, four seconds and four thirds to his credit.
But strangely for such a perennial challenger for honours, he has not won a race at Assen in a ten-year WSBK career - something he will be more than keen to rectify this coming weekend.
One man the Dutch fans will want in the way of such a win is former MotoGP and World Supersport star Jurgen van den Goorbergh, who will make his WSBK debut in his home event on a Rizla Suzuki provided by reigning British Superbike Champions Crescent Racing. 'VDG' has already tested the machine and is eager to revive his career with a strong showing this weekend.
However, while van den Goorbergh may be the local star rider, Ten Kate Honda is the local star team - with their rider Chris Vermeulen currently second in the championship.
The pre-eminent Honda rider in Superbike at present, Vermeulen will be out for nothing less than win number two and three of his 2005 season, the first having been taken at another fast, flat and flowing circuit - Monza. As the first race winner at Assen last year, Vermeulen knows exactly what it takes to triumph at this classic circuit.
Vermeulen's team-mate, Karl Muggeridge, is a rookie to Superbike in 2005 and will be looking to add consistency of raceday performance to his undoubted speed in qualifying. His personal best of fourth (in the same Monza race won by Vermeulen) may be aced at such a flowing circuit as Assen, but for all the riders, Assen 2005 will present something an unknown challenge in parts, after winter alterations to the Circuit van Drenthe layout.
Defending champions Ducati Xerox have seen their riders, Regis Laconi and James Toseland, reverse roles from the 2004 season, with Laconi the man scoring more points and making a more consistent charge on the overall championship table. But this tough year for the factory Ducati twins, despite Laconi taking three wins to Toseland's single, sees the desmo riders in only third and sixth places respectively.
At Assen, a happy hunting ground for V-twins in many previous years, each rider will be looking to topple the flood of four-cylinder machines from the east, in wet or dry conditions. Toseland took a win at Assen in 2004, on his way to securing the championship itself and a repeat is badly needed to secure a top ride for 2006.
Noriyuki Haga, a genuine 2004 season championship challenger with Renegade Ducati Noriyuki, has found his 2005 Yamaha Italian R1 something of an enigma for the first half of the year - but since his breakthrough podium place at Silverstone, and two subsequent race wins, he has been the match of even the Corser/Suzuki combination.
Only dropping five-points in the previous three races, he has some positive memories of Assen, having taken the fastest lap in each race in 2004 and a race win in 2000. His team-mate Andrew Pitt is seeking his first podium of the year, after an up and down introduction to World Superbike.
Long time GP rider Norick Abe of Yamaha Motor France may pull off one of his better performances at Assen, as his rookie Superbike season has proved most profitable at tracks he has raced on before. His team-mate Sebastien Gimbert is looking to Assen as the first race in which a leg injury has not played a part in limiting his potential for over three rounds.
Combative PSG-1 Kawasaki rider Chris Walker - like countryman Toseland - can count on 'home' support from the masses of travelling Brits at Assen. Walker has as much experience of Assen as any other track, and a great love for the circuit which is shared by many of his peers.
On the fast Kawasaki, he may well spring another podium finish to add to the one he took at Valencia. His team-mate Mauro Sanchini is also expected to be fit for this race, after missing the previous Brands Hatch encounter.
Of the four current WSBK riders to have taken race wins at Assen, only Klaffi Honda's Pierfrancesco Chili has not been mentioned so far. At the opposite end of the experience ladder from his team-mate Max Neukirchner, Chili may find no better place to demonstrate all his guile and sheer speed, with Assen rewarding exquisite lines and intimate knowledge of all its cambers and subtle undulations.
Renegade Honda's Ben Bostrom has also been a top five finisher at Assen, and after some recent encouraging signs in WSBK, he will hope to make at least top ten finishes in 2005.
Despite a tough early season spell for all the Ducati privateers, the SC Caracchi Ducati duo of Lorenzo Lanzi and Fonsi Nieto have had their high points, with Lanzi especially impressive as he undergoes his rookie WSBK season.
The team principle of the Petronas outfit, Carl Fogarty, loved Assen above all other circuits, winning an astonishing 12 races at the Dutch track.
On 900cc three cylinder machines, against a wave of 1000cc fours and twins, his 2005 riding line up of Steve Martin and Garry McCoy have battled hard and well, albeit with little to show in terms of the points haul.
At Assen, where power is needed to keep up momentum, it may be another tough weekend for the Petronas runners, but with both Aussies keen to post more points, a pleasant surprise is not out of the question.
In the World Supersport championship Frenchman Sebastien Charpentier has simply dominated a classy top-level entry in the middleweight championship, running away with the lead thanks to six wins from eight starts - backed up to the hilt by another two second places.
His 74-point lead over his team-mate Katsuaki Fujiwara is significant, as another win at Assen, irrespective of any other rider's finish, would give him the championship.
Yamaha Motor Germany's Kevin Curtain has battled hard to split the Honda hordes, and he currently sits third, ahead of former World Champion Fabien Foret of Team Italia Megabike Honda and his full season rookie team-mate, Michel Fabrizio.