Assen, The Netherlands

From Despair To Redemption: Ronald ten Kate On Losing Honda And Gaining Yamaha In WorldSBK

For nearly a quarter of a century, Ten Kate was synonymous with Honda in World Superbike racing. They first started racing in World Supersport, and then later raced in both classes, gaining official support from Honda in 2001, and then becoming Honda's main flag bearer since 2005, winning titles in both World Superbike and World Supersport classes with big-name riders such as Michael van der Mark, James Toseland, Chris Vermeulen, and Kenan Sofuoglu.

So it came as a shock to the world when Honda announced they would not be continuing their partnership with Ten Kate for the 2019 WorldSBK season. Once, contract extensions were a formality, left until the last minute only because both parties knew they would be racing together the next season anyway. But all that changed on 30th October 2018.

If it was a shock to the racing world, imagine what a blow it was to Ronald ten Kate and the rest of the team when they were told at a meeting in Amsterdam that Honda had decided to partner with Moriwaki and the Althea team, and use Honda's Suzuka 8 Hour bike as a base for their WorldSBK campaign. At a stroke, the Ten Kate team were left without bikes, without backing, and without their main rider, Leon Camier, who was signed to Honda, rather than Ten Kate.

They were also left with mounting costs, having already invested many tens of thousands of Euros in the 2019 season. Equipment and parts had been ordered, and preparations already made. The team also had over 20 staff on the payroll, with no means to pay them. Driving home from the meeting in Amsterdam, that is where Ronald ten Kate's thoughts were, with the people he would have to lay off.

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Michael van der Mark Interview: "If You Want To Start A WorldSBK Season, The Yamaha Is The Best Base"

Michael van der Mark finished third in the WorldSBK championship in 2018, after getting off to a relatively rocky start. His 2019 season started on a more solid foundation, but like the rest of the WorldSBK grid, the Dutchman has been blown away by the arrival of Alvaro Bautista on the Ducati.

Bautista's performance has overshadowed some very interesting developments with the rest of the WorldSBK grid. The Yamaha has made a big step forward – so much so that Van der Mark finds himself regularly finishing behind his Pata Yamaha teammate Alex Lowes – making it possible for the now four Yamaha riders to try to take on the might of Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki.

At the press presentation of the Assen round of WorldSBK on the Tuesday before Aragon, I got a chance to interview Michael van der Mark about how he sees 2019 WorldSBK season. Van der Mark talks about the improvement the Yamahas have made, what to make of Alvaro Bautista, and whether Assen might give him a better chance to fight with the Ducati at a track where horsepower is less of a factor.

Q: How do you see your season so far? It seems like a mixture of good and bad?

Michael van der Mark: We must be really happy with the results so far. Of course, I want to be on the podium much more, but to score so many points for the first two races is not bad. I think all four Yamaha's are doing a really good job. My teammate was a bit stronger in Thailand, but he's not far away. So I think we must be really happy. Also I think it shows that all four of us use everything which is in the bike.

Q: Would it be fair to say that the Yamaha is the best bike on the grid, or the most well-rounded bike on the grid?

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2019 MotoGP Calender Confirmed - No Changes Made

The FIM today officially confirmed the 2019 MotoGP calendar. There were no changes made to the provisional calendar released in September last year. There will be 19 races, starting in Qatar on 10th March, and ending in Valencia on 17th November. There will be tests after the race at Jerez, Barcelona, and Brno, while the first test of 2020 is expected to take place after Valencia.

There could be an extra test in the schedule, to be held directly after Silverstone. If the new Kymiring circuit in Finland is finished on time, the riders will head to Finland at the end of August to try the new circuit, and generate important data for Michelin.

The official calendar appears below:

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2019 WorldSBK Provisional Calendar Announced: 12 Confirmed Rounds, 1 TBA

The FIM has announced the provisional WorldSBK calendar for the 2019 season. The calendar as it stands has 13 rounds, 12 of which have been confirmed. Brno and Laguna Seca are out, while Jerez makes a comeback, with a midsummer round still to be announced. That round could be Kyalami.

The season starts out in a similar vein to previous years, kicking off proceedings at Phillip Island on 24th February, before heading to Buriram in Thailand three weeks later. Three weeks after that, the series lands in Europe, racing first at Aragon in Spain, where WorldSBK and WorldSSP are joined by the WorldSSP300 class, before heading north to Assen for the Dutch round. Four weeks after Assen, the WorldSBK paddock heads south to Italy for the round at Imola.

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Provisional 2019 MotoGP Calendar: 19 Races With Minor Reshuffles

Dorna today unveiled the provisional MotoGP calendar for 2019, confirming much of what we already knew. The schedule will consist of 19 races, as the circuit in Mexico City will not be ready to host a MotoGP race next year, and the Kymiring in Finland is also still under construction. Both races are provisionally expected to be on the 2020 calendar.

The calendar is broadly similar to this year's schedule, with a few tweaks. The season kicks off at Qatar on 10th March, earlier than usual and a week before F1, which normally starts before MotoGP. Three weekends later, the series is racing in Argentina at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, and two weeks after that, the whole circus heads north for the US round in Austin.

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2019 Calendar To Be Announced At Misano: 19 Races, No Mexico, No Finland

We are a week away from being able to book (provisionally, with free cancellation) to see a race in 2019. The provisional MotoGP calendar for 2019 is due to be published at the Misano round in just under 10 days' time. 

As the official website revealed over the weekend, there will only be 19 rounds in 2019. The numerical symmetry of that may be pleasing, but there were plans to have 20 races next season. The debut of the Kymiring in Finland has been delayed by a year to 2020, as the circuit will not be ready in time for a 2019 date. And the planned round in Mexico at the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit in Mexico City has been dropped, unless the circuit is prepared to make changes.

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Guest Video Blog: Freddie Spencer On A Thrilling Race At Assen, in association with Motor Sport Magazine, is proud to feature the rider insights of 1983 and 1985 500cc world champion Freddie Spencer. After every MotoGP race, Fast Freddie will share what he saw and learned from the race.

In this edition of Freddie Spencer's video blog, the former world champion takes a look back at one of the greatest premier class races in history, the 88th Dutch TT at Assen. Spencer starts off talking about the possibility of bringing F1 to Assen, and the reasons not to be too enamored of the idea. He looks back at his experiences of riding at Assen, at what was then a much longer track with the magical North Loop still intact.

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Subscriber Interview: Suzuki Ecstar Boss Davide Brivio On What Alex Rins' Assen Podium Means For Suzuki

After the exhilarating MotoGP race at Assen, the celebrations in the Suzuki garage for Alex Rins' second place were even more intense than those going on in the Repsol Honda garage, cheering on Marc Márquez fourth victory of the season. Rins had already had one podium back in Argentina, and been running at Qatar and Jerez before crashing out. His second place was, to some extent, confirmation that Suzuki had made the right choice in re-signing the Spaniard for the next two seasons.

Once the press conference had finished, I spoke to Suzuki Ecstar team boss Davide Brivio about Rins' podium. He explained to me how he felt the result had come about, and what it means for Suzuki.

Q: Really strong result by Alex. The bike is clearly better. Even though it’s only a small update that you brought to the engine, it seems to be better. Do you feel the Suzuki is there with Yamaha and Honda now?

Davide Brivio: Difficult to say. For sure, this track probably is good for the characteristics of our bike, a good chassis. The engine is a little bit more power so for sure, it doesn’t hurt. So it’s a help. I think we are quite good since the beginning of the year. Then we couldn’t really grab a result. OK, a good third position in Austin by Andrea, which was a third position but clear third position. In Argentina also we didn’t get any gift, everybody was there. Maybe Jerez was lucky because there were some crashes in the front, but also in Qatar Alex was there. Alex had a crash, but when he crashed he was in the group. He was not far away. So, we couldn’t really grab the results so far. I think it’s all the season that we are quite close, let’s say. We’re trying to close the gap.

Q: Is this also a sign that Alex is growing, that Alex is learning?

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Subscriber Exclusive: Marc Marquez On Winning, Learning To Lose, Battles With Dovizioso, And Subconscious Fears

We suspected that Marc Márquez was something special when he came into MotoGP. The young Spaniard was fresh off his Moto2 title, having racked up the wins in the junior classes. He adapted even more quickly to MotoGP than he had to Moto2, getting on the podium in his first MotoGP race, and winning the second, becoming the youngest ever rider to win a race in the premier class. By the end of the year, he had added the distinction of being the youngest ever rider to win a premier class title.

From that point on, Márquez' appetite for victory has been voracious. Adding his win at Assen, he has accumulated a grand total of 65 Grand Prix wins, of which 39 in MotoGP. When he can't win, he will settle for second or third, finishing on the podium in 70.4% of the MotoGP races he starts. He also has four titles from his five season in MotoGP.

How does he do it? And what motivates him to keep up this level of competitiveness? At Assen, I sat down with Marc Márquez to try to understand what makes him tick. We covered a lot of ground in our conversation, starting with the pleasure of winning, and how he handled the pressure of a year without success in 2015 to improve his approach to racing. He discusses how he learned to manage risk better by keeping his eye on the prize at the end of the year, rather than just trying to win every Sunday.

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