By Neil Morrison

The 2013 World Supersport championship has begun with a great deal of promise. Kenan Sofuoglu may have found a challenger in a maturing Sam Lowes who can maintain a championship push throughout the 14 rounds. The depth of the class has also been aided by a peppering of talented Rookies to the class, the most notable being Holland's Michael van der Mark.

The 20-year-old from Rotterdam graduated into the Ten Kate Supersport team after triumphing in the European Junior Superstock 600 class last year, in the Dutch team's junior squad. He won six races in the process and clinched the championship at the final round at Magny Cours after a fairing-bashing bout with fellow contender Riccardo Russo.

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With two podium finishes under his belt from two starts, so far van der Mark's transition into the factory Supersport squad has been seamless. He was arguably the biggest surprise of the entire opening round in Australia at a track that he had never seen before.

He not only finished in third place, but also impressed by holding his own with the exalted company of Sofuoglu and Lowes at the front for two thirds of the race. Going back 6 weeks, did he see this performance coming or was it something of the blue?

"I surprised everybody. We had never been in Philip Island before and directly from the first day we make progress every day. I loved this track and everything we did was going well. I think we made a big step to try a lot of race simulations."

Rarely does the term wise beyond their years seem so appropriate. In person Michael comes across as friendly and charming, yet extremely focussed. What becomes apparent through the interview is he doesn't use two words when one will do. He fails to expand on talk about future plans or goals for the championship insisting,

"It's my first year and you have to learn a lot. If you can stay in front during the season and to be closer to the fastest guys, [it] is our aim."

Although adapting to the faster, lighter Supersport machine has been a challenge, the familiarity of remaining in the same team has been a bonus.

"I took my chief mechanic from last year and he went with me and another mechanic from the junior team so this quite good for me to know the guys and they know me. The bike is a bit different, there is a lot of power in it and the electronics are different, before there was nothing. But I get used to it. It's a nice bike and with my guys it's quite easy to go in a good direction."

For many of today's world championship riders they start racing when they were four or five years old. Michael entered the fray a little later.

"Before I did some karting and some competitions. Then I went to the TT at Assen a few times and when I was twelve I said to my father "I would like to go racing". He said ok and we go and I started in a standard class and then an Aprilia 125 for 2 years."

He continued racing 125GPs in Holland and Spain and after a handful of wildcard rides at Assen, he joined the Lambretta Reparto Corse outfit. He only lasted 7 races on the hopelessly underpowered machine and he and the team parted ways mid-way through the season.

He also has the distinction of having tasted the fiery competition in the Moto 2 class, still when his experience and the class were in their infancy in 2011. He entered his home race aboard a Ten Kate designed machine and finished a credible 22nd. Is riding in the Grand Prix classes an aim of his?

"I don't know, it's really difficult to be at the front in Moto 2 and it's a difficult class. I just want to be fast here and in a few years we'll see but at the moment I don't want to think about it and a different bike."

We worked a lot on the suspension and some electronics. During the weekend at Phillip Island just before the [Aragon] race we made a change with the electronics and during the test we wanted to try something with this."

Casting his eye across the competition Michael is under no illusions who his main competitors will be. "Sam and Kenan definitely, but Morais every day is fast and don't forget Scassa, but the two guys at the front are always there. With World Supersport it's always unexpected."