Less than a second separated the top 12 riders on the timesheet after a bitterly cold opening day at the TT Circuit Assen. Michael van der Mark ended the day fifth fastest only 0.03 seconds from P1, while his Pata Yamaha WorldSBK teammate, Alex Lowes, finished 10th, despite crashes in both sessions due to the track temperature, which never exceeded 13 degrees Centigrade. GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK rider, Sandro Cortese, bounced back from a difficult FP1 to finish eighth in FP2, while Marco Melandri ended the day a disappointing 14th, after once again struggling to find a confidence inspiring set-up on his R1.
Van der Mark kept his home crowd entertained during FP1, as the only Dutch rider on the WorldSBK grid pushed to try and depose reigning world champion, Jonathan Rea, from the top of the timesheet. In the end the Pata Yamaha rider fell short by little more than a tenth of a second but was happy to close out the opening session in second place. Changes to the to his R1 for the second 50-minute session this afternoon didn’t bring significant improvements, but after further adjustments van der Mark was able to consistently improve his lap times to finish in fifth position, and just 0.031s from the top spot.
Both free practice sessions for Lowes were hampered by crashes, with the Pata Yamaha rider losing the front into turn nine this morning and then suffering the same fate at turn one this afternoon on a rapidly deteriorating front tyre. Despite the two crashes Lowes was satisfied with his consistency and is confident that he has the pace to improve on 10th position in FP3 tomorrow.
The cold conditions brought problems for WorldSBK rookie Cortese in FP1 this morning, with the reigning Supersport world champion unable to find a good feeling with his R1. Reverting back to the base set-up with which he secured solid results in the opening three rounds solved the issue, with Cortese bouncing back to finish FP2 eighth on the timesheet.
It was another difficult day for Melandri, with the GRT Yamaha rider again struggling to find a set-up on his R1 with which he was comfortable and that would allow him to rediscover the form that saw him finish on the podium at the opening round in Australia. Melandri and his crew will analyse the situation further overnight, in a bid to find an improvement ahead of FP3 tomorrow morning.
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – P5 – 1’35.445
“It’s not ideal to be riding in such cold conditions as we had here today, not just for us but also for the tyres. It means you have to be a bit careful the first few laps but, overall, I’m quite happy with today. This morning I felt good on the bike and, on the last run, I improved my lap time a lot and it was clear what we needed to improve for the second session this afternoon. We made some changes to the bike for FP2, but this didn’t bring the improvement we were expecting, so we reverted back to a set-up closer to the one we ran this morning and I immediately felt better. I was struggling a little on corner exit, as the bike wanted to wheelie out of the turns, so we’ll need to look at that during FP3 tomorrow. The times are very close and I was able to put together some consistent laps, so I’m happy enough with the first day here in Assen.”
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – P10 – 1’36.183
“The track conditions today were really cold, which isn’t something we were expecting coming into this weekend, but it wasn’t too bad. This afternoon I stayed on the used tyres and did a long run, almost race distance, but then the front tyre wear towards the end was quite severe. I tried to keep going until the end, to give us more information but in hindsight, maybe I should have come in a lap earlier because I lost the front on the bump into turn one and crashed. If I’d have come in for new tyres then I felt like I’d have been quite strong at the end. Now we need to work out why we’re getting excessive tyre wear, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on tomorrow.”
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK – P8 – 1’35.813
“I’m a little bit more relaxed after FP2, because this morning was a bit of a disaster for me. When I started FP1 it was like I’d forgotten how to ride a bike in the one week since Aragon! For the first time ever, I didn’t have a feeling for the bike but, obviously it was very cold this morning. We made some big changes on the bike to try and improve and we continued with this in the afternoon, but then we made the decision to go back to the base set-up we’ve used over the last three races, with positive results. This is how we need to work, rather than looking at what the other Yamaha riders are doing, as they are so completely different. I’m happy that we remained calm, stayed focused and made some good progression this afternoon. Of course, we are still missing a bit but if we look at the gap this morning, which was almost 2.5 seconds, and then compare it to the 0.2 seconds we’re missing now, I think we can be happy with the job we did. Now we just need to continue in this way.”
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK – P14 – 1’36.765
“It was one more difficult day for me here in Assen. I’m still struggling with the same issue I had on the first day with the R1; I am trying to adapt my riding style and move my position on the bike to try and improve things, but it just seems to get worse. It’s difficult because we can’t go the way I’d like to with the set-up and, in the cold conditions we experienced today, the problem is even worse. The biggest issue is that, right now, I have no confidence and that means I can’t push as hard as I need to.”