NEW WSB STAR SHINES BRIGHT RESULTS
Van der Mark podiums again on board rejuvenated Ten Kate Honda ■ Circuit: Buriram, Thailand Laps: Fastest Lap: Rea 1Õ33.936 Circuit lap record: Rea 1Õ33.817 (2015) RACE ONE 20
The storming start to the season enjoyed by Honda World Superbike rider Michael van der Mark continued apace in Thailand. After securing a stunning Superpole win, the 23-year-old Dutchman took a race one podium before claiming fourth in race two, just over five seconds from the big three of Sykes, Rea and Davies.
Safe to say, then, that he is the most improved man this year already as team boss Ronald ten Kate explained: “We always knew that he would make a step in the second year in a new class, but he has he really jumped forward.”
As pleasing as Van der Mark’s third podium in three races goes was, on a personal level he was most stoked by the victory in Superpole qualifying.
“I was surprised with my Superpole lap time,” said Van der Mark. “The Kawasakis are always really fast but today we showed that when I have a good feeling with the Honda I can do a really fast lap on my own. Superpole was amazing!”
MICHAEL VAN DER MARK
Aside from Van der Mark’s clear talent, hats are widely being tipped to the Ten Kate-run Honda Superbike team. After years in the doldrums, competing on the ageing Fireblade, the vast majority of the paddock believed they were flogging a dead horse. But clearly no-one told the team, who have made giant leaps with the Fireblade to turn it into a formidable WSB package once again. And the reason why the ‘old’ Honda has had a new lease of life is down to three main areas, according to the team boss.
Ten Kate told MCN: “The power output is way more linear than last year and at the top end it has a lot more. Last year I don’t think we were aggressive enough. We started work with the Cosworth guys really early. In August when the first parts were being made and the first testing was being done, we were able do very early dyno testing to make sure the endurance was there and to build nice torque maps.
“With the electronics now it is not only having the power, but that we can use that power. The torque map we have built now is quite different. Our boys were at Cosworth for a week, together with the cleverest guys they could find, and I believe they have done an amazing job. The chassis rules have changed too. The headstock can be 9mm forward and that is making a huge difference with us. We can now make our already competitive chassis very competitive. So it is a bit of a combination of the big three: engine, electronics and chassis.”
Van der Mark’s team-mate Nicky Hayden is the global star of WSB this year, but his star was eclipsed in Saturday’s race one when his bike spluttered and then quit with an electrical issue. It wasn’t all bad as he went on to pull off fifth place in Sunday’s race two.
Hayden said: “Sunday was not a disaster like Saturday and we were able to go the whole race. I just had a little problem with the clutch in the start. I was not aggressive enough to make early passes but as the race went on I was feeling better and better and at the end I was still doing high 1’34s. Those are very respectable times.”
‘When I have a good feeling with the Honda I can do
a really fast lap’
in Argentina last year. So you have to think with your brain. This sport is dangerous enough without exaggerating that danger. I try to keep my mouth shut with the tactics used because Tom did a great job.”
Sykes unsurprisingly saw things differently to his team-mate. As he watched a TV re-run of the highlights in front of the media, he explained how he could fight so hard so late in the race.
“I just defended two opportunities from Jonathan and it was enough. It looks like a good close race and it was a pleasure to be part of it.”
Both Kawasaki riders will be more than ready to put one over on the other come the next round – Aragon – where Sykes should remain strong. The 2016 bike is closer to Sykes’ preferred set-up of old, and the Yorkshireman feels it is making a difference already.
“I was able to win the second race and this is how I remember riding in my championship-winning year, so hopefully that result is a bridge and we can go back to Europe now and try and step it up.”
Sykes’ determination brought out a poignant moment, which maybe explains why he managed to convert his top three pace into this particular win.
“I want to dedicate this one to my mother-in-law,” said Sykes. “She passed away a couple of weeks ago. The family has really been suffering but my father-in-law John (Hackett) made me promise to try to take a win for Chris. So I have to dedicate that one to Chris and I am sure she will enjoy it.”