HOMETOW BACK AT
Ôtoday, to finish third place in such a difficult race was as good as a victoryõ DUTCH COURAGE Van der Mark and Hayden go big at Assen to take podiums onboard the rejuvenated Fireblade
The official Honda World Superbike team was in the doldrums entering their home race weekend. The Netherlands-based Ten Kate squad had enjoyed two good opening rounds, with podiums for young star Michael van der Mark in Australia and Thailand. However, there was a tough reality check in Aragon, with low scores and no score for both van der Mark and superstar former Motogp champion Nicky Hayden.
After the heavy rain affected preparations for Saturday’s first WSB race at Assen, it looked like van der Mark may have been able to challenge for his first race win until a high-speed crash while pushing for the lead ended his winning aspirations. Finally it was Nicky Hayden who took his first ever WSB podium, another step along his rapid learning path on the supposedly outclassed Honda.
On Sunday van der Mark made up for his Saturday crash with a clever and committed third, redeeming himself in front of his adoring Dutch fans as well as confirming Honda’s recent shining recovery in terms of WSB competitiveness.
In simple terms Honda’s old bike put the Yamaha and even Ducati efforts in
MICHAEL VAN DER MARK
the shade at Assen, despite a second place in race one for Chaz Davies and his Panigale.
“It was so important to take a podium today because I have never felt so bad after crashing out of race one,” said van der Mark on Sunday. “I felt that I could win the race or at least have second place yesterday, but then crashing out in your home race is the last thing you want, especially while holding second position. Today, to finish in third position in such a difficult race was as good as a victory.”
On Saturday he was left distraught after making the error while chasing down Jonathan Rea. At the end of the race he went to stand on the pit wall in front of the podium ceremony to say sorry to his fans and they roared his name like a football crowd. As he headed back to his pit garage, he was in tears - inconsolable.
The fact that he turned self-harming into self-healing on Sunday says that this guy may be a bit special after all.
On the subject of being special, anybody who has won the Motogp title easily fits that description; 2006 champ Nicky Hayden did not arrive in WSB on the most fancied machine, and he has had to fight hard to get some improvements in his set-up from day one, but he made it all worthwhile with a third place in the first race at Assen.
“This is a home race and the team have worked very hard,” said Hayden. “They were not happy after Aragon and I have been pretty demanding on them and they are definitely working well and improving every week.”
Getting away clean was vital for Hayden from 10th place on the grid.
“I am very happy about the start because the few first times I rode the bike the clutch was terrible and I really stressed that we had to do something about it. I unfortunately realised I could be starting from the second or third rows (this year) so to their credit they changed a couple of springs and tested some stuff in Phillip Island and Thailand. Since then, the clutch has been perfect for every start. It is these little things that a team does that adds up to help a rider. Today if I had not got a good start I wouldn’t have gone with that group, so it paid off for everyone.”
Hayden ultimately inherited his first race podium at the expense of his young team-mate van der Mark. Unable to truly challenge Jonathan Rea or Chaz Davies for top honours he sat on the back of them, but the vastly experienced Kentucky Kid was in the right place at the right time.
“Truthfully they were quicker than me so in the beginning I was trying to stay there and learn what I could,” said Hayden. “A few times if I relaxed the gap would start opening up. As Michael crashed, in turn five I had a little issue and I thought I should just take this podium and take these points. I needed it for the team, for myself and now we will keep going.”
American fans have had to wait a long time for one of their riders to climb onto a World Superbike podium. The last time it happened was in 2009 when Ben Spies won race one at Portimao.
RONALD TEN KATE
confidence and he knows he can run with those guys. Sunday was another different day, two races in one. Again on both wet and dry conditions we could stay in the front group. Maybe we should have come in earlier to change the tyres but I do not think it would have affected the final outcome too much. We have proven to be fast in dry and wet conditions and with both riders as well. That makes me even happier.
“For the fans at Assen, everybody was waiting for a new star in motorcycle racing in Holland. How Mikey interacts with the crowd, how he deals with the pressure, it shows you that he has even more potential than we can see now.”
‘We’ve proven we can be fast in the wet and the dry, with both riders’