Preview - Assen
23 April 2008
With two second places at Valencia, Ducati Xerox star Troy Bayliss increased his lead over closest rival Fonsi Nieto to 48 points - almost two races wins.
But while it is tempting to attribute the Australian's solid title advantage to his new 1200cc 1098R, the reality is that the next best Ducati - of Ruben Xaus - is only fifth in the championship.
For that reason, there will be no extra handicap applied to the twin-cylinder 1200s for the next three rounds, as the event average difference between the two types of machines - twins and fours - has so far proved to be insufficient to warrant a change.
At Valencia the twins appeared to struggle against the fours, despite a Ducati one-two and a fortuitous win by Lorenzo Lanzi in race one. Three riders representing three different manufacturers - Noriyuki Haga (Yamaha Motor Italia WSB), Carlos Checa (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) and Max Neukirchner (Alstare Suzuki) - looked to have the better of the 1098s.
However, the Spaniard and the German had their infamous last-lap, last-corner clash in race one, which eliminated both riders from the top slots, before Haga - who also fell in race one - took his first victory of the season by beating Bayliss in race two.
Second place in the championship is still in the hands of Neukirchner's team-mate Nieto, but the Alstare Suzuki rider has not had another result to match his Losail win and is coming under pressure from third and fourth placed men, Troy Corser (Yamaha Motor Italia WSB) and Checa, both equal on 72 points.
The Aussie has been on the podium three times this year already, but Assen is somewhat of a jinx for Corser, who is still looking for his first win there and his first win since Phillip Island in 2006. Meanwhile Checa continues to make his mark in Superbike, his CBR rapidly becoming a front-running machine, and both are competitive enough to take their first win this year at Assen.
Xaus and Haga are next up with 68 and 47 points respectively. The Spaniard finished the first four races of the season in the top 4, but suffered a setback at Valencia, while Nitro-Nori looked his usual aggressive self in Spain and his season looks likely to start now.
Sterilgarda Go Eleven Ducati's Max Biaggi, seventh overall, has had another three weeks to recover from his wrist fracture, and this will be even more vital for the demanding, switchback-style Dutch circuit. The Italian is in need of a couple of good results so as not to lose touch with the leaders.
Three youngsters round off the top 10. Now with three wins to his name, the most experienced and successful of the three is Lorenzo Lanzi, two points behind Biaggi and three ahead of Neukirchner, who should be fit to race at Assen.
Michel Fabrizio (Ducati Xerox) is in tenth position at this stage of the season, ahead of Gregorio Lavilla (Vent-Axia VK Honda) and Ryuichi Kiyonari (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda), who is improving race by race.
Régis Laconi and Makoto Tamada (Kawasaki PSG-1) showed signs of progress in recent testing at Jerez, where both riders succeeded in eliminating much of the chattering that has plagued their ZX-10R machines.
In Supersport, Catalan rider Joan Lascorz is the new shining light after running away with a comfortable win in front of his home crowd at Valencia. 23-year-old Lascorz was brilliant on his Glaner Motocard.com Honda and once Andrew Pitt (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) had crashed out, he had it all his own way.
Yamaha World Supersport's Broc Parkes and Fabien Foret lie second and third in the table, the Frenchman in particular recovering rapidly from a disappointing start to the season and he and his experienced Aussie team-mate are sure to go well in the Netherlands with their rapid R6 machines.
Joshua Brookes (Hannspree Stiggy Motorsport Honda) lost his championship lead at Valencia and slipped down to fourth, ahead of Craig Jones (Parkalgar Honda), who has two podium finishes to his name in the first three races of this season.
Pitt and Ten Kate team-mate Jonathan Rea, both expected to be pace-setters this year, should go well at the Dutch team's home track, with Pitt trying to add another race win to his tally to take him back to the top of the hotly-contested title battle.
The current Assen circuit was built back in 1955 and remained basically unchanged until a 2006 redesign removed most of the northern loop to make way for a new entertainment complex.
The current racetrack has a length of 4.555 kilometres (2.830 miles), with a longest straight of 560 metres (0.348 miles). The track layout makes it very technical and twisty, with little room for rider error, but modifications over the years have helped to make it safer. The curves are banked and the surface offers considerable grip, even in the wet.