PREVIEW: Assen classics in prospect as heavyweights gear up for 950th WorldSBK race

A track steeped in history and where the fans breathe a passion for motorcycle racing. A Championship that has seen three last lap deciders in the first six races of the season, bringing unpredictability and unimaginable stories along with it. This weekend, both worlds meet for one of the most anticipated rounds on the 2024 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship calendar; the Pirelli Dutch Round. The TT Circuit Assen welcomes WorldSBK for round three of the season and after the monumental achievements of last time out in Barcelona, drama is never far away in the Netherlands as the Championship readies for race #950 in Race 2.

TOPRAK AND BMW: WorldSBK’s story of the moment headlines Assen

Race 1 and the Superpole Race in Barcelona went down in history for Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) and will live long in the memory for those watching from trackside and afar. The 2021 World Champion took a dramatic first win with the German manufacturer in Race 1 after managing his tyre to beat Nicolo Bulega ( Racing – Ducati), whilst in the Superpole Race, he denied Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati) with a Rossi-style last lap, last corner pass. A P3 in Race 2 sees him sitting fourth overall and is the rider in form, although he’s never won at Assen before. His teammate is also likewise competitive and with a home round, Michael van der Mark will be keen for his first podium in two and a half years to come in front of a massive crowd.

DUCATI HAVE NEW RIVALS: Bulega leads the charge, Bautista back to winning ways

Inexperience may have cost Bulega victory in Barcelona and bad starts may also be complicating matters further but he leads the way into round three. The Italian rookie, a sensation already in 2024, has come into Ducati’s WorldSBK outfit and taken no prisoners, something that teammate and reigning double World Champion Bautista will have felt. 12 points split them but the dynamic could change again this weekend. Assen is a circuit where experience counts and it’s the first track on the calendar that there’s been no prior testing, making Friday one of the most important none-race days of the season so far. Will Bulega be able to get dialled in straight away, more-so following arm-pump surgery, or can Bautista hit the ground running at a circuit where he’s won the last four races? This new situation of having two riders who can go toe-to-toe for victories will also be interesting from a managerial perspective; how will Serafino Foti and the rest of Ducati’s top brass manage the evolution of Bulega vs Bautista?

THE ASSEN MASTER: Rea chases first Yamaha podium

17 wins, 25 podiums: they aren’t career stats – some riders would be happy with that – but they are Jonathan Rea’s (Pata Prometeon Yamaha) Assen stats. Remarkable isn’t a strong enough word for just how good the six-time World Champion is at the Dutch venue, although he’s not been able to win there since 2022. He’s not had the start to his Yamaha journey that he’d have liked with just eight points achieved from six races, although there was a small breakthrough during Barcelona and he will be hoping his season really starts at ‘The Cathedral of Speed’. For teammate Andrea Locatelli, the Italian has had a podium every year at Assen, including a first of his WorldSBK career in 2021. He’s getting closer and Paul Denning recently said that the “very next step has to be to win” for the 55. Likewise fast at Assen, watch out for top six finishers from 2023 Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) and Remy Gardner.

LOWES AND KAWASAKI STRONG: can they both rekindle some Dutch magic?

It’s been a circuit of firsts for Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) in the past with a first fastest lap and podium in 2014 and then a first pole in 2018. Now for Kawasaki, he’s joint-second in the Championship and just 12 points away from Bulega; Kawasaki have won 13 of the last 19 races at Assen but nothing since 2022; Lowes has been competitive in 2024 and will have eyes on a podium, whereas teammate Axel Bassani has always been inside the top ten before – albeit for Ducati – but will hope he can fight inside the top ten again. Keep an eye on Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) who had a strong showing in Barcelona even if he did finish P15 at the flag.

ROOKIE WATCH: Iannone chasing victory once again

After suffering a first crash in race conditions in Race 2 at Barcelona, Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) aims to bounce back at Assen, the first track where there’s been no prior testing, so it will be interesting to see how he and the rest of the rookies get on. Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team) has already led race laps in 2024 but now just needs to work on tyre life and managing the race simulation, although the pace is undoubtedly present. Tarran Mackenzie (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team) has had a Superbike podium in 2018 in BSB so is back on familiar territory, whilst it will be a first Superbike experience for teammate Adam Norrodin at the famous Dutch venue.

DARK HORSES: will there be a different name fighting at the front in 2024?

Despite podium already in 2024, Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) will miss the Dutch Round after suffering a motocross fall in training. The Italian crashed in Italy last week and had to undergo surgery after suffering injuries to his shoulder blade, collarbone, and jaw. He will be replaced by Nicholas Spinelli, who makes his WorldSBK debut.Further back and completing the top ten in the standings, Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) seeks a return to the top six competition, whereas teammate Scott Redding has stated that his aim is that too. Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Team Motocorsa Racing) has enjoyed podiums at Assen but didn’t manage a top ten in Barcelona where he was previously a winner, whilst Team HRC hope they can fight inside the top ten with Xavi Vierge and Iker Lecuona, with it being the track where the latter took a podium at in 2022.

A CLASSIC VENUE: some must-watch races to get you warmed up

With Race 2 set to be the 950th in WorldSBK history, Assen has made history along the way in more ways than one. The classic of 1996’s Race 2 saw a three-way fight until the end, whereas in 1998, Carl Fogarty and Frankie Chili came to blows on the final lap. 2000’s Race 2 was Yamaha’s first win at the track, courtesy of Noriyuki Haga after a mind-blowing scrap with Troy Bayliss. Fast-forward to 2004, Chris Vermeulen wins for Dutch team Ten Kate Racing after a head-to-head classic with James Toseland in Race 2. One of the greatest races of all-time came in 2006 when Chris Walker, after running off-track at Turn 2 on the opening lap, came from last to first for his only World Superbike win and a year later, the track delivered again when Troy Bayliss robbed James Toseland of a career-first double in Race 2.

2009’s battle between Haga, Ben Spies and Leon Haslam was memorable too, as was Michael van der Mark’s first podium in WorldSBK in 2015. There was more Dutch magic coming in 2019 when he took his best-ever result at the circuit in Race 2, beating Jonathan Rea. 2022 was also a dramatic year as big rivals Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea clashed and crashed in Race 2, paving the way for Alvaro Bautista to take victory ahead of Andrea Locatelli and Iker Lecuona.

Get the FREE Official Programme here, catch up on Round 2 from 2024 in Barcelona here and watch the round wherever you are and whenever you want with the WorldSBK VideoPass!


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