Carlos Checa (7) and Max Biaggi (3) will fight for the SBK points lead during Round 3 of the 2012 season at Assen.
Carlos Checa and Max Biaggi will continue their SBK title duel as World Superbike arrives at Assen. The third round of the 14-round season sees its past two champions atop the points, however, there are several riders looking to gain ground in the series. Top amongst these challengers are Tom Sykes aboard the resurgent Kawasaki and BMW’s Leon Haslam.
The previous Imola round couldn’t have gone better for Checa. The Althea Ducati rider claimed the double at the Bologna manufacturer’s home round. Even better, the Spaniard vaulted ahead of Biaggi to take a four-point advantage in the championship. Checa has managed to eliminate the 25-point void earned in his Race 1 DNF at Phillip Island (via vicious high-side while leading). The Ducati ace will be keen to get as many points as possible at Assen, as Biaggi is expected to gain ground at Monza where the 1098R isn’t favored.
Biaggi’s 1-2 performance at Phillip Island was completely dominating. The second-place finish was arguably more impressive than the win, as the Italian clawed his way back from last place after a first-lap incident. At Imola, however, Biaggi faltered, unable to crack the podium and losing his points lead. Biaggi is winless at Assen in his SBK career, though The Emperor took wins there during his GP glory days, twice with Aprilia in 250cc and once in 500cc with Yamaha. Biaggi’s new teammate, Irishman Eugene Laverty, has yet to break into the top five aboard the RSV4.
Kawasaki has long struggled in SBK, but Assen was the site of a rare triumph – with British rider Chris Walker taking a win in 2006. As with Sykes’ win last year at Nurburgring, wet weather evened the playing field enabling the Kawasaki to be competitive. This season, however, Sykes needs no weather handicaps to figh for the rostrum. The Englishman has three podiums this season (tied with Checa for most on the year) and sits third overall in the points. Fast in qualifying and testing, Sykes will be keen to crack the dry race winless streak for Kawasaki. Tragically KRT team rider Joan Lascorz will be absent the Assen round, as the Spaniard remains hospitalized in Barcelona after fracturing his C6 vertebra during post-race testing at Imola.
Haslam leads the BMW charge into the Netherlands, alongside teammate Marco Melandri. The Motorrad crew remains winless in SBK, though Haslam’s 3-3 result at Imola represents its best ever WSB round. Assen has the potential to break the winless streak for the Bavarian marque, as BMW riders have already tallied three rostrum appearances at the Dutch circuit. Haslam continues to improve fitness following his Phillip Island injuries and surgery, meanwhile Melandri seems to be getting more confident in the Beemer. Assen has the potential to be history-making for the Germans.
Jonathan Rea is Honda’s best bet for glory at Assen. The Ten Kate Honda team always shows up strong for its home round. And, as in years past, the team tapped the Netherlands circuit for some extra testing, with Rea and teammate Hiroshi Aoyama completing a two-day test last week. Rea has a strong track record at Assen, the Northern Irish rider claiming three of the last four victories there. Aoyama continues to struggle in his SBK transition, the Japanese rider getting skunked from the points at Imola. The fortunes of the Honda World Superbike team have been hard to predict, capable of wins but shut out of the podium thus far.
The Suzuki team has struggled as well. English rider Leon Camier has finished in the points only twice this year. On the bright side, his best result was the last – an eighth-place Race 2 finish at Imola. American teammate John Hopkins fought hard to return to action at Imola, but was still hindered by his ailing hand – injured during Phillip Island testing. The British-based Crescent Suzuki team touts a new engine spec for Assen. Camier tested the new engine at the Imola post-race test with impressive results, the former Aprilia factory rider lapping third-fastest and under the existing lap record.
In the Supersport ranks Fabien Foret holds the points lead. The Kawasaki Intermoto Step rider holds a solid 14-point lead after only two rounds thanks to fellow ZX-6R rider Kenan Sofuoglu’s black flag DQ at Imola. For not obeying a ride-thru penalty, the Turkish rider will now have to make up 20 points on his French rival. Caught in the middle is British youngster Sam Lowes, who rests second in the points with Bodanka PTR Honda. Alongside Lowes in the Bodanka garage will be American PJ Jacobsen. Originally slated for PTR in World Supersport, and then dropped from the team, the 18-year-old Jacobsen will make his belated debut as a replacement rider for Pawel Szkopek.