Pata Yamaha WorldSBK rider, Michael van der Mark, ended his 2019 podium drought emphatically today in Assen, finishing third in the rescheduled WorldSBK Race 1 this morning and then going one better to thrill his home crowd with second place in Race 2 this afternoon. Alex Lowes was also one of the main protagonists in both races today, picking up two fourth place finishes and only narrowly missing out on joining his Pata Yamaha teammate on the podium in Race 2. It proved a tough weekend in the Netherlands for the GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK pairing of Sandro Cortese and Marco Melandri, who finished outside the top ten in both races today.
Van der Mark lined up in second position on the grid for WorldSBK Race 1, which was rescheduled at 11.00 this morning after being postponed from yesterday due to adverse weather conditions. The Pata Yamaha rider got a good start but an out of the seat moment in the final chicane at the end of the opening lap dropped him back into the clutches of Jonathan Rea, who passed him for third on the entry to turn one. At half race distance van der Mark caught and passed Markus Reiterberger to secure third place, which he held to the line to claim his first podium finish of the 2019 season. Lowes crossed the line just behind his Pata Yamaha teammate in fourth place, after finally getting the better of a fairing bashing battle with Leon Haslam on the very last lap.
Melandri, hampered by his starting position after a difficult Superpole session yesterday, managed to hold off his GRT Yamaha teammate, Cortese, to finish in the points in 12th position. Cortese, struggling with pain in his shoulder following his big crash in Superpole yesterday, still managed to pick up points in 13th place.
Race 2, held in slightly warmer conditions this afternoon, proved a thriller for the Dutch fans who’d braved the unseasonably cold weather all weekend. While Alvaro Bautista managed to once again pull a gap at the front in the early stages of the race, the battle for the remaining podium positions, in which both van der Mark and Lowes were heavily involved in from the start, proved a frantic one.
Just before half race distance, with Bautista out front and Rea chasing to close the gap in second, Lowes swept past van der Mark to take third place, only to have to relinquish the position four laps later when his front tyre started to go off and he almost lost the front on two occasions. The 28-year-old Briton had a comfortable gap back to his closest pursuer, so backed off to ensure he finished fourth and picked up valuable championship points.
With a clear track in front of him, van der Mark set about chasing down Rea. With just three laps to go the Pata Yamaha rider made his move, riding around the outside of the reigning world champion at the kink at Hoge Heide, one of the fastest corners on the track, to take second place. Rea fought back on the final lap, but van der Mark closed the door on his rival and then out dragged him to the line to claim his best result of the season so far.
Race 2 proved another tough outing for Cortese and Melandri, but this time it was the German who took the advantage to add to his championship points tally with an 11th place finish, while Melandri picked up two points in 14th position.
Michael van der Mark
Michael van der Mark: Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – P3 and P2
“Today was proper old school Superbike, with two long races in one day. This morning we had to go with the harder rear tyre because the track was quite cold. It made the bike difficult to ride because the rear was spinning quite a lot and there wasn’t so much feeling, but we knew this would be the case and it was definitely the right choice for the race. In the second race the temperature had risen enough to go with the soft option rear, but the pace at the start of the race wasn’t as high as I’d expected. I could see Johnny in front of me, but I was battling with a few riders and trying not to lose position, so I couldn’t chase earlier in the race. I tried to stay calm and, once clear of the battles, I managed to close the gap to Johnny and was planning to make the move with two laps to go. But then the opportunity came to go around the outside of him in a fifth gear corner a lap early, so I took it. After that we had a good battle, I think we touched at least once around the back part of the circuit, but we were both struggling for grip at that point. The team did a great job with the bike this weekend, so thanks to them, and a big thank you to the Dutch fans for their support, in what were very cold conditions for anyone sat in the grandstands. I’m happy we could repay them with two podiums today.”
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – P4 and P4
“I didn’t feel so strong in the colder conditions of the first race this morning, but it was good to get into a bit of a battle with Leon in the race and even better to beat him to fourth place on the last lap. I felt a lot stronger in the second race, when the slight increase in temperature meant we could run the soft rear tyre. I got up into third after passing Michael and I felt quite good, but then when he came back past me there were a couple of sections where he was a bit stronger than me and I couldn’t quite stay with him. I have to be happy with two fourth places, as this was the best we could do here today, so I’ll take the points and start looking now towards the next race in Imola. Congratulations to Michael and the team, as it was great to see a double podium again today. There’s a fantastic atmosphere in the team and we’re making steps forward every week, which is good to see and great to be a part of.”
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK – P13 and P11
“It was a tough weekend after the big crash in Superpole yesterday. The torn collarbone ligaments meant I was in a lot of pain on the bike and I was lucky that Race 1 was postponed from yesterday to today, as this gave me chance to rest a little bit more. The first race was really tough; I had a lot of pain and had to change my riding style to compensate but, by the time I’d figured out how to ride the race was almost over and the pain came back. In Race 2 we worked a little on the bike and made a big step, which allowed me to fight in the top ten and eventually finish 11th. So, not many points today, but I’m happy with how, in this short time, the team managed to adapt the bike well. We know what we need to focus on for Imola, which is a short track where acceleration is important and demands a very different set-up compared to here. For me the focus is now on rest and recuperation so that I’m fit and ready for Imola.”
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK – P12 and P14
“The races were, if I’m honest, very difficult. Again, I had the same problem I’ve had since the start, with the bike almost impossible to get stopped on the brakes and difficult to turn. I can’t use my normal riding style because, with any lean angle, the bike is quite aggressive over the bumps. Where normally I am quite fast is currently the weakest point we have, so it’s not easy. The team is working hard but I think the cold and the characteristics of the Assen track have made a hard job even harder this weekend. We will see. We have three weeks now before Imola; different track, different weather, which will be a bit better but, well, it’s not easy at the moment.”
Yamaha Motor Europe Road Racing Manager
“The weather here in Assen made for a tough weekend, but the teams did a fantastic job to adapt to the changing conditions. The two Pata Yamaha riders have impressed this weekend with Alex bouncing back from two crashes on what was a difficult Friday to finish fourth in both races and showing his maturity by accepting that this was the best result possible in the conditions today. As the only Dutch rider in WorldSBK, Michael is under a lot of pressure to perform at his home race. With the support of the team he has managed that pressure exceptionally well and he certainly gave his home crowd something to cheer about with his double podium here today. The way in which he raced to third and second places today was impressive; he is one of the best riders I have seen at this track for quite a few years. We were expecting a reaction from Michael after the first three rounds without a podium finish, but this reaction here in Assen exceeded our expectations, so congratulations to him and his team. Sandro’s results were compromised by the big crash in Superpole, but he managed the situation and the pain really well today, to come away with two points scoring finishes despite the injury. Unfortunately, we are not currently able to give Marco the feeling he is looking for with the R1, but we are confident that this situation will change in the coming races and he will be back at the front again, as he was in Australia. Finally, congratulations to the Evan Bros. Bardahl Yamaha team for their one-two with Federico and Randy in today’s Supersport race. Congratulations also to Thomas Gradinger on his podium finish, his first in WorldSSP and also the first for an Austrian rider.”