Leon Haslam, Alstare Suzuki: “Two wins and three seconds in six races is a pretty good start to the season and I feel confident that I can carry on with this good form. I like the bike and feel very comfortable on it and that lets me push it hard. I used to like the ‘old’ Assen circuit because it was a very flowing and great high-speed track. Since they modified it, I don’t like it as much as the old one, but it’s still a good track and very spectator friendly.”
This week WSBK arrives in the Netherlands to launch off Round 4 of the series. After Leon Haslam’s terrific rides and Sylvain Guintoli’s admirable performances, the Suzuki Alstare team has high hopes going into this round at Assen. With a comfortable 18-point lead over Alitalia Aprilia’s Max Biaggi and placing only once off the podium, Haslam feels extremely confident in both his team and equipment. However, this year’s new track modification at Assen has many talking. The world famous Circuit van Drenthe is now 4.542 km due to changes in multiple areas of the Ruskenhoek chicane, making it shorter overall by a handful of meters and a slightly faster circuit. This change is sure to provide riders with some surprises, and it should make for some heated racing.
Haslam and Biaggi remain the frontrunners after Round 3 at Valencia. With the Alstare Suzuki rider consistently pulling off wins and podiums and his point separation from the pack growing, it may seem like his championship title is well in the making. The season is still incredibly young, however, and we can’t forget about Mad Max’s sweep at Portimao, where he took both race victories directly ahead of Haslam. Biaggi also took podiums in both races at Valencia, finishing ahead of Haslam in Race 2. With these types of performances it’s a mistake to say the Roman Emperor will settle for second at Assen.
Biaggi is currently second in the overall point standings. His victories at Portimao are still fresh in his mind, and his strong showing at Valencia has given him hope and confidence for the upcoming race at Assen.
The battle behind Biaggi is getting heated as Althea Racing’s Carlos Checa and Ducati Xerox Team rider Noriyuki Haga compete for the points lead. Checa is currently third in the overall standings at 80 points. With a win in Phillip Island and a second place finish in Valencia his team is in good spirits about his prospective performance at Assen. Having already placed on the podium twice at the same track in 2008, Checa heads to Assen with pelnty of podium-topping potential. Meanwhile, Noriyuki rests just behind him in the standings with 79 points. Nitro Nori was able to take advantage of a red flag at Valencia’s Race 2 for his first victory of the season ahead of Haslam, Biaggi and Checa.
“I was very happy to win at Valencia, my first win of the season and I will do my best to back it up with two great races at Assen. Last year went well for us here, actually better than ever before at this track, and at this point I am very aware that I need two similar results this season in order to close the gap,” Haga said.
Ducati’s Nitro Nori pulled off his first victory of the season at Valencia. He sits just behind Carlos Checa in points and will be looking for a strong performance at Assen to push ahead in the standings.
Haga has consistently placed in the top 10, and will be someone to look out for at Assen.
Having a slight advantage at this year’s new track layout is Hannspree Ten Kate Honda’s Jonathan Rea and Max Neukirchner. Currently fifth in the point standings, Rea – along with teammate Neukirchner- had a chance to ride the Assen circuit with a two-day test last week.
“We had a great test at Assen last week to work on making a good bike even better. The revised corner is fast but I really like the track anyway and I’ve done OK here in the last couple of years. It’s obviously difficult to know how it’ll transfer to other circuits but it worked OK at Assen and, without getting ahead of ourselves, I found it quite easy to adapt my riding style to suit the change.”
While both are still adapting to their bikes, this sneak preview of the track should make for a quick start to practice and qualifying.
Currently seventh in the overall rankings is Haslam’s Suzuki teammate Guintoli. Sharing 50 points in the championship chase along with former two-time World Superbike Champion James Toseland, it will be Sylvain’s first time competing in World Superbike at the Assen track. In a press statement Guintoli stated he was really excited for the races this coming weekend and said he will be going all-out for podiums. This task will be difficult, however, as Yamaha’s Toseland has stated his goal is a race victory for the upcoming races at Assen, where he has a strong winning record.
Carlos Checa had the fastest lap time on Day 1 and had a strong podium finish on Day 2. The Spaniard and his team are optimistic about the next round and will be looking to hold their third-place position in the points.
Parkalgar Honda’s Eugene Laverty lost a bit of ground during Round 3 at Valencia against Kawasaki Motocard.com’s Joan Lascorz and Ten Kate Honda’s Kenan Sofuoglu. Laverty approaches Round 4 with renewed spirits and plans to fight back starting at Assen, a race he previously won in 2009. Meanwhile, Sofuoglu approaches the Assen event with the same advantage of a two-day test at the track that Superbike riders Jonathan Rea and Max Neukirchner had. Current leader in overall points, Joan Lascorz and his team seem confident and enthusiastic about this weekend. Leading the series by four points, Lascorz is looking to follow up a solid victory at Valencia with one at Assen.