It was a day of high drama at Round 3 of the World Superbike Championship at Assen. The stunning race day action delivered two new race winners, saw Biaggi re-take the lead in the overall standings despite a shocking weekend, and saw Carlos Checa make the most bizarre tire choice of his illustrious career.
The opening race of the day produced some of the closest and exciting racing ever to take place at the historic Dutch track before it was red flagged due to rain. Moments before the rain hit there were 13 riders battling for the lead separated by less than four seconds with outsiders Chaz Davies, John Hopkins and Ayrton Badovini all playing their part in the battle with the established front runners in the class.
In the restarted nine-lap race held in atrocious conditions, Leon Haslam was the fast starter and blasted into the lead and pulled a massive eight second gap in just two laps. But his supreme confidence in the wet proved his downfall and he crashed out on Lap 3 handing the lead to Carlos Checa.
Assen specialist Jonathan Rea was also looking strong onboard his Honda Superbike, but like Haslam lost the rear and crashed out and was taken to the medical center with a hand injury.
By now Checa was the man looking the most comfortable and when he hit the front, no one expected him to get re-passed, until Frenchman Sylvan Guintoli stepped up to the mark . The Effenbert Ducati rider relished the poor track conditions, and forced Checa into a mistake to win his first WSB race of his career.
Guintoli said: “This win has been a long time coming and it means so much to me. This is my third year in WSB, my first year in WSB was great, and I learned all the tracks, the tires and the way to work. It took me time plus I was still struggling with the big injury from when I raced in British Superbikes. Last year I felt good with the Ducati straight away but then had a massive crash in Australia and again it took me lots of time to regain my confidence.
“By the end last season I was fast and this year I’ve already been on the podium. It’s been a long time since I won a race so now I need to learn how to do it all again.”
Checa looked capable of taking second and must have been surprised when his rookie WSB teammate Davide Giugliano squeezed past just after Guintoli. The young Italian led his Althea Ducati teammate and fought back from a move by Checa at the final chicane to secure his first WSB podium of his promising career. Checa’s third place saw him extend his lead to seven points at the top of the table with rival Max Biaggi coming home in fourth onboard his factory Aprilia.
With ever changing weather at the Dutch circuit, Race 2 was declared wet despite a rapidly drying track. The grid before the race was a hive of activity with teams changing tires knowing that the race would not be stopped should it start raining again. The eventual tire selection was made up of a mixture of full slicks, intermediate front and slick rear, with Checa the only man on the grid to opt for full wets in the belief that it was going to rain again.
With Effenbert Ducati rider Jakub Smrz and Leon Haslam both on intermediate front tires the two men set the pace on the initially damp track. Smrz looked comfortable out front and pulled away from the chasing pack but as the race progressed his intermediate front lacked the grip of his full slick shod rivals Sylvan Guintoli and Jonathan Rea and they began to close the gap. By Lap 18 both Guintoli and Rea moved into the top two spots. The French ace looked set to secure his second win of the day, but having opted for the soft rear tire, his pace dropped allowing Rea, using the hard tire to move into the lead and secure victory for his Dutch Ten Kate Honda squad.
“It’s an amazing run of results here at Assen, that’s four wins in the last three years,” explained Rea.
His much anticipated victory came against the odds. In his Race 1 crash Rea had mangled his right ring finger and required last minute pain killing injections to subdue the pain from his nail which had been ripped off in the crash.
“I want to thank my team for this, we’re not where we need to be with the bike, but we’re trying new things and no one is giving up.”
Guintoli claimed second place to escalate himself up to fourth in the championship standings. His teammate, Smrz lost the chance of third after tangling with backmarker Mark Aitchison and crashing out.
The battle for third turned into the race of the day with Aprilia’s Eugene Laverty going head to head with BMW men Marco Melandri and Leon Haslam for the final spot on the podium. In what can only be described as a brutal final two laps the three men bashed fairings and fought like it was the last race of their respective careers. In the end Laverty asserted himself, refused to be pushed around to take third with teammates Melandri and Haslam separated by just 2/1000ths of a second as they crossed the line.
Laverty said: “I didn’t actually see Smrz go down so I thought we were fighting for fourth. Getting on the podium was a nice surprise. My rear tire had gone but I was able to ride around it and get back into the race with Marco and Leon. It was a tough battle and my move on Melandri was payback for all the hard passes he made on me last season.”
When the rain didn’t arrive, Checa was forced to pull into the pits for a tire change, but lost over a lap in the process. He returned to the track and despite setting the fastest lap of the race was unable to score a single point.
The normally talkative Spaniard said just one thing about his tire choice: “That was the worst mistake of my life.”
Checa lost over a lap after he was forced to pull into the pits for a tire change in Race 2 at Assen.
Seeing Checa’s tire choice Max Biaggi must have thought all his Christmas’ had come at once. The 41-year-old Italian had a bad weekend by his high standards having qualified way down in 17th place. In the wet race he managed to secure an impressive fourth, but in the dry second race he struggled with the set-up of his Aprilia and slumped to eighth. Despite such an average weekend, Biaggi still managed to move back into the lead of the championship standing by one point from Checa.
He said: “It’s ok for the points but I am disappointed about the second dry race. We didn’t have the bike set-up as well as we did last year and I struggled a lot. As soon as it was fully dry, which I prefer to ride in I had bigger problems than ever.
“The wet was more difficult yet I was able to make a good result. Last year here at Assen I was second twice and I felt that we could be fast again, but I did not have any feeling from the front and this was a big problem.”
Round 4 of the championship takes place at Monza in two week’s time. The high-speed Italian circuit often see’s speeds well over 200mph and should suit the aerodynamic Aprilia and powerful BMW.