The volcanic ash cloud that caused the cancellation of the Motegi MotoGP round has had only a very limited effect on this weekend's World Superbike round at Assen. With nearly all of the material already in Europe, and most of the riders being based here as well, the World Superbike field will be nearly complete at the historic track of Assen.
Nearly, but not quite. Two teams will be missing from the start line at the Dutch track, one regular team and one wildcard. The missing wildcard is a victim of Eyjafjallajökull: In the flight chaos which ensued after the Icelandic volcano started spewing out clouds of ash, the Yoshimura Suzuki team was forced to cancel their travel plans from Japan to Europe, and skip the Dutch round of World Superbikes. The trip would not have been a problem for the rider, Yukio Kagayama, as the Japanese ex-WSBK man is currently racing in BSB and was in Europe already, but the team could not get the material or the personnel from their base in Japan to Europe in time for the race.
The second missing team is a victim of cash, not ash - as the joke in the UK currently has it. The privateer Reitwagen BMW squad has been forced to pull out of the Assen round due to a lack of funds, after failing to find a sponsor. Unless a moneyman comes forward quickly, the team is likely to fold altogether, leaving former World Supersport champion Andrew Pitt and Austrian rider Roland Resch without a ride, as well as a group of engineers and mechanics looking for jobs in the World Superbike paddock. Pitt's luck has been fairly dismal in recent years, the Australian being ousted late in the day from the Yamaha World Superbike lineup at the end of the 2006 season, then getting caught up in the ill-fated Ilmor MotoGP project, before finding a home at Ten Kate.
For the rest of the paddock, the Assen track has a little surprise up its sleeve. The entry to the Ruskenhoek section - the long, fast combination at the end of the Veenslang back straight - has been smoothed out, and made considerably quicker. The changes were a response to previous changes, when riders were running off the track and onto an escape route - nicknamed 'Vaessen's Lane', after the circuit director who had the tarmac route added - then rejoining the race in the middle of the track, sometimes incredibly dangerously. The wider and faster approach should make it easier for riders to get into the corner, making the use of the escape route redundant.
Getting into the Ruskenhoek may be one thing, getting through it quickly is quite another. Speaking prior to the Assen event, Ten Kate's Johnny Rea, who had trained on the new layout, said that it remained an incredibly tricky section. It had taken him a while to master the new corner, he said, and getting it right required "big balls". Coming from a rider as fearless as Rea, that is a pretty exciting prospect. The bikes take to the track at Assen on Friday, at which point we'll see just who has the balls to tackle the new Ruskenhoek section.