Few circuits in the world have as much tradition and history as the track in the northern province of Van Drenthe, and for the 16th time in succession the World Superbike circus will be stopping off at the classic venue of Assen.
Always evolving in terms of layout and facilities, Assen may be somewhat truncated from its previous versions, but it is still one of the tracks any rider with ambitions of greatness has high on his winning wish list. The Assen SBK weekend is traditionally held in September, but this year the late April date sees it forming the 'end of the beginning', rather than it being a venue where many a championship fight is all but decided.
James Toseland aboard his Hannspree Ten Kate Honda won his fourth race in eight attempts this season when he secured the top step of the podium in race two at Valencia, but fifth place in race one, largely due to a tyre spinning on the wheel rim, ensured that he made little clear space to overall second place rider, Max Biaggi on the Alstare Corona Extra Suzuki. Biaggi is now 13 points behind Toseland and has to meet the challenge of another circuit new to him in SBK guise, as Assen was modified again only last year, when Biaggi was not active in any world series.
Noriyuki Haga and his Yamaha Motor Italia team-mate Troy
Corser sit third and fourth respectively in the 2007 championship chase, with Corser some 23 points behind Haga. On an all-new Yamaha R1 this year, this is already something of an achievement for each rider. Haga has winning form at the Dutch venue, having ridden the R7 Yamaha to a victory in 2000, but none of Corser's 33 career race wins in SBK have come at Assen.
Troy Bayliss on the Ducati Xerox machine bounced back from a desperate Donington no-score with third and sixth places at Valencia, and he now sits fifth overall, albeit some 61 points down on Toseland. His three previous Assen wins include one in 2006, meaning that he is the only rider in the championship with a win at Assen in its current 4.555km layout. Lorenzo Lanzi, his team-mate is currently sixth in the overall standings but has yet to score a Superbike podium at Assen. He has been a winner here in the past, however, taking the honours in the Superstock 1000 class in 2003.
On a 2006 factory machine with a strong electronics package, Ruben Xaus for the Sterilgarda Ducati team blew the opposition away at Valencia in race one two weeks ago, and he must also be considered a potential podium man at Assen. He won a Superbike race there in 2003 and a WSS race in 2000, and even though Assen has been through many changes in layout since then, Xaus has shown himself to be able to master tracks of all kinds.
Max Neukirchner riding for Suzuki Germany maintained his advantage over official Honda entrant Roberto Rolfo on the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda after Valencia, and is still eighth after an impressive start to the season. On a private Suzuki, of largely 2006 vintage, Neukirchner is easily the best of the 'real' privateer riders so far.
The current championship top ten is completed by Regis Laconi aboard the PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse recovering from a low-scoring start of the season to be the top Kawasaki rider after four rounds and eight races. Both his team-mate Fonsi Nieto and he will be hoping to emulate the win taken by 2006 team-member Chris Walker in 2006, when monsoon-like rains flooded the track. The Honda filling in the Kawasaki points standing sandwich comprises two ingredients, Michel Fabrizio on the DFX Corse Honda and Josh Brookes on the Alto Evolution Honda, who share 32 points.
Another factory rider with work to do to get back into the top ten places in Yukio Kagayama for the Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra squad who is currently 14th overall after repeated injury and misfortune, one place up on Ducati rider Jakub Smrz riding the Caracchi SC Ducati. Karl Muggeridge who is with Alto Evolution Honda will spend his weekend at Assen ensuring that he scores two good sets of points, to push himself back up the order after five no scores.