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