2013 Assen World Superbike Saturday Roundup: The Cathedral Awaits
Assen, motorcycle racing's cathedral, has been the scene of some of the greatest entertainment in World Superbike racing, hailing back to Carl Fogarty's incredible run of victories, through the Bayliss years up to the Jonathan Rea wins. Assen has always been considered a rider's track, much like Donington and Philip Island. It represents everything that's good about World Superbikes with flowing corners making it a skill and bravery over power track. While it suits certain machinery, a good rider can, so the legends go, win on anything.
While the days of Frankie Chili turning up at Carl Fogarty's press conference in a dressing gown, looking for a fight, are behind us, Assen can still excite us and Jonathan Rea's performance over the last few years here is one of those entertainments. Even on an underpowered bike like his Honda Fireblade, he can still pull it out of the bag in the Netherlands, which is just as well, as his team is based nearby. Can he win here as his bike is dragging on past its ride-by date? Any other track and you'd reckon not, but this isn't any other track. Starting from second on the grid shows that he has the pace, and he could do with another win or two before retiring the Fireblade.
Tom Sykes grabbed his thirteenth pole position in World Superbikes, and has already put 22 laps on a race tyre already this weekend. He is stronger in the latter section of the track on race rubber, and has stated that he feels confident when he's on a clear track. A good start will be needed when faced with the Aprilias, as unlike Rea, he isn't a racer that gets better as a race goes on. His Kawasaki team mate Loris Baz was able to grab fifth spot on the grid with a used race tyre, which suggests he could also be a force to be reckoned with, as long as the leg injury he picked up yesterday doesn't get in the way.
The Aprilias of Eugene Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli are quick here, like they were at Aragon and Philip Island. Laverty is a quick starter whereas Guintoli comes on later in a race, and either of them could get a podium or two without stretching one's imagination. Guintoli was the more consistent of the Aprilia riders in the 1'37s, and while Althea Aprilia rider Davide Giugliano may have got off the occasional quicker lap, his consistency wasn't there.
BMW had a poor day qualifying, with Chaz Davies falling foul of a technical issue in the first Superpole session, sidelining him to 13th place, the fifth row, and Marco Melandri just not seeming to get his bike to perform. Melandri has yet to get a podium at Assen and it doesn't look like this will be the year for him to break that habit.
The 2011 world champion, Carlos Checa, has seen podiums here, however, and the Ducati man will be hoping to finally put the 1199R Panigale in the spotlight at a track that has traditionally been considered a Ducati track. He gave missing a gear as the reason he didn't get a front row start, but it took a while to see him qualifying well, and he didn't string as many 1'37 laps together as the faster men. He will have to show us the Carlos Checa of old to convince us he's still a force to be reckoned with, and it's possible he just might do that tomorrow.
Leon Camier had to leave qualifying to his Suzuki team mate Jules Cluzel today, having not put any laps in during the timed qualifying session this morning. As Camier had got within 107% of the fastest man yesterday, he was able to use his wet qualifying time to start the race, albeit in last place. When he did manage to get some dry time in, his race pace seemed to place him in the middle of the pack, but starting injured from the back of the grid, it's unlikely he will show us what might have been. Cluzel was slower in the long runs, and suffered from issues in qualifying that may make his task equally as difficult.
Leon Haslam will be spending the race in his local hospital, Nottingham's Queens Medical Centre, known to all fans of racing at Donington as the best racer's hospital nearby. As one of the toughest racers on the World Superbike grid, it is likely he will be back soon, but even Haslam can't race on a badly broken leg.
World Supersport qualifying threw some new names into the mix at the top, but the three men you'd expect to be on the front row will start from the front row. Sam Lowes is like Sykes, in so far as if you give him one lap he has to be fast on, you will get it. With Kenan Sofuoglu and Fabien Foret on the front row, he won't have it all his own way when the lights go out. Roberto Rolfo on the MV Augusta could surprise as this track is forgiving of lower power bikes as long as they can handle, and this track may finally convince us that the new bike is a worthy entry in the paddock.
The last chicane has been the scene of many incidents, both heroic and daft, so keep your eye on it every time the front runners get to it. You won't regret it.