Carlos Checa enters Round 3 of WSB with three wins so far and a terrific Ducati record at the Assen circuit.
In just a few days the 2011 World Superbike Championship will resume its action in the Netherlands at the Cathedral of motorcycle racing – the Assen circuit. So far Althea Ducati’s Carlos Checa has grabbed the top slot in three of four races this season and leads the series by 19 points ahead of Yamaha’s Marco Melandri. Checa has surfaced as the early favorite after pulling off the double victory at Phillip Island and scoring another victory at Donington. Approaching the Netherlands, the Spaniard should experience a boost in confidence as the Ducati brand has far and away the best record at the Dutch GP with a total of 23 victories. But the production-based series is just settling in and multiple riders have already reared their heads as contenders for the title. With such a competitive paddock, qualifying and the starting grid will play a key role in determining race winners over the course of the 13-round series.
Defending champion Max Biaggi is looking to score his first win of the season at Assen, but the Aprilia rider will have a tough go of it with a record like his on the circuit. Even during last season which saw him score four double victories and a total of 10 race wins, the Italian still suffered below average results at Assen. Biaggi has only earned three victories there and his last 500GP win occurred during 2001 – more than a decade ago.
Castrol Honda’s Jonathan Rea has a good record at Assen after clenching the double victory there last year.
Castrol Honda’s Jonathan Rea is already more than 50 points adrift of the leader and will need strong performances in the next few races if he wants to turn the season around. There will be no better place to do this than at his team’s upcoming home race. Last year the Irishman scored an impressive double victory at Assen which boosted him from fifth to third in the standings. A similar result by Rea this year could drastically improve his sixth-place position in the championship.
“Assen is my team’s home race and I always look forward to racing there,” said Rea. “Last year may be nothing to go by this time, but we proved that the CBR1000RR works well at Assen last time we were there. I am a lot more upbeat than I was going into Donington and I have had a couple more weeks to heal up a bit. My wrist feels a lot better. It actually affects me more in everyday life than it does when riding the bike, but it is getting better all the time in any case.”
After suffering an injury to his right wrist BMW Motorrad Italia’s James Toseland will be absent from this year’s Assen contest. The Brit nearly lost the use of his hand after doctors failed to see badly displaced bones which were affecting blood circulation in his wrist. After meeting with a friend and specialist, Toseland’s injuries were confirmed and he underwent emergency surgery. His official return date is currently unknown.
“I had expected him to confirm that everything was alright and give me the all-clear, so it came as a bit of a shock, to be honest,” said Toseland. “I guess I’ve been lucky, but it’s a massive disappointment from a racing point of view. I’m so sorry to everybody who has continued to support me.”
BMW’s Leon Haslam is coming off back-to-back fourth-place finishes at Donington and claimed second at Assen last year.
This year BMW Motorrad Motorsports’ Leon Haslam will seek an improvement from his runner-up finish at Assen last year. After scoring back-to-back fourth-place finishes at Donington and another podium during the season opener, Haslam has improved tremendously with the BMW SR1000RR. Since Donington, Haslam and his teammate, Troy Corser, have been testing at the Valencia circuit where they have made more progress with the bike.
“Assen is one of the circuits I really like,” said Haslam. “I have really enjoyed racing there. I think I have stood on the podium with every bike I have ridden there. For this reason I am really looking forward to it. I hope we can take another step forward and continue pushing at the front of the field. The circuit has a unique layout. The most important thing in Assen is to find a good rhythm. You cannot simply push without thinking – that would actually slow you down.”
“Assen is a fast and flowing circuit,” Corser said. “You spend a lot of time leaning in bends, and the riders are subjected to enormous G forces. In Donington Park we had some issues, as our tires did not give us enough grip. We are working on solving this issue, so that we do not have to cope with the same problems in the next race. The circuit in Assen is known for its high speeds and some really fast changes of direction. For this reason it is very important to have the bike working well if we are going to battle at the front like we know we can.”
After earning another podium at Donington, Liberty Racing’s Jakub Smrz is currently fifth in the championship.
Biaggi’s Aprilia teammate, Leon Camier, is another one to watch at Assen. The Brit was a podium finisher at the Dutch circuit last year and also secured his first podium of the 2011 season at Donington. Other threats reside within the Liberty Racing Ducati duo of Jakub Smrz and Sylvain Guintoli, with Smrz still searching for the first WSB win of his career after being narrowly defeated by Checa in the opening round. Kawasaki Racing Team should offer strong competition since returning to full strength with Tom Sykes, Joan Lascorz and Chris Vermeulen.
In Supersport, Yamaha ParkinGO’s Luca Scassa is going for his third win of the season after dominating the first two contests. The Italian is already 19 points ahead of Kawasaki’s Broc Parkes and has also clenched both Superpoles. At Donington Scassa’s competition came from his own teammate, Chaz Davies, who trailed the Italian every lap to finish just 0.270 seconds behind. Currently third in the series, Harms Benjan Racing Honda’s Robbin Harms has yet to make it to the podium. The Danish rider experienced some bad luck in the previous round, but has been on pace to secure a podium finish.
Robbin Harms just missed a podium at Donington and will attempt to end Luca Scassa’s perfect run in the last two rounds.
“Assen is a really great circuit and it reminds me of old style tracks,” said Harms. “I have been there several years in a row so I have good experience of it. The feeling for Assen is not much different than for PI or Donington and I like all the tracks we race at. For me I will be treating it like it is a new track on the calendar. We are analyzing the data to take the good things from the bike set-up at Donington with us to Assen.”
World Superbike practice will begin Friday, followed by morning qualifying and afternoon’s Superpole on Saturday, with both Superbike races taking place Sunday. The races will air on Speed Channel, Race 1 at 5:00 p.m. EST and Race 2 at 6:00 p.m. EST. And don’t forget to make Round 3 picks in Motorcycle USA’s Fantasy Superbike game!