Haga Leads World Superbike Into Assen

World Superbike makes annual pilgrimage to legendary Assen TT Circuit

The Assen TT Circuit in the Netherlands is the venue for this weekend’s fourth round of the Hannspree FIM Superbike World Championship. World Superbikes have graced the Drenthe circuit ever since the first edition in 1992 and despite it undergoing a major transformation in 2006, when it was reduced in length from over 6 kms to its current 4.555 kms, Assen remains one of the most spectacular events on the calendar.

The production-based world championship can count amongst its past winners some of the riders who have helped to create SBK history. First and foremost, the legendary Carl Fogarty, whose total of 12 wins is out of reach of any of the current crop of competitors, while in more recent times the record goes to Troy Bayliss with six wins, including a double last time around. Assen is also a circuit where Ducati have always held the upper hand, winning 22 out of the 34 races held there.

Up Against Haga

With his double win at Valencia, Japanese rider Noriyuki Haga (Ducati Xerox) became the first breakaway leader in this year’s championship, accumulating a 40-point advantage over Ben Spies (Yamaha World Superbike) and 70 over Max Neukirchner (Suzuki Alstare). His lead is not yet comfortable however as after Assen, there will still be ten rounds remaining and 500 points up for grabs. In particular because so far the championship has shown that there are any number of riders capable of winning individual races, and at Assen they will all have Haga’s Ducati in their sights. With three wins to his name, the same as Haga, Ben Spies, whose ability to go quick at circuits he has never seen before continued during last week’s Monza testing, will want to make amends for his slip-up at Valencia, where his rival proved to have just that little extra pace.

Honda and Suzuki

Neither manufacturer has yet won a race this year but both are going for the top slot at Assen. The Ten Kate Honda team are racing at home and Carlos Checa, Ryuichi Kiyonari and Jonathan Rea will be aiming to overturn a so far disappointing season start. Suzuki Alstare are putting their faith in the development of the GSX-R 1000 and the undoubted qualities of Max Neukirchner, who has had an up-and-down start to the year but who has already been twice on the podium.

Podium Challengers

The Valencia round saw the re-emergence of Michel Fabrizio (Ducati Xerox), the Italian’s morale boosted by two podium finishes. The young Italian is expected to be a protagonist throughout the season but still needs to be more consistent to emerge as a true title contender. Compatriot Max Biaggi had his Valencia weekend compromised by a poor Superpole performance and will be determined not to make the same mistake twice as he helps to take Aprilia back to the top again after their early season prowess. Britain’s Leon Haslam meanwhile has had a sensational start for the Stiggy Racing Honda team, with a third place and two fifths that have earned him fifth overall in the standings.

World Supersport

The Supersport category has not been as wide open and hard-fought as this year’s championship for a number of years. The top five riders are separated by 11 points and there have been three different winners so far. Two riders are equal on points at the top, 2007 champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) of Turkey, and the talented Brit Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha World Supersport), who is making waves in his first season in the category. Behind lie three more Honda riders Eugene Laverty, Andrew Pitt, 2008 champion, and Anthony West. Favourites for this weekend’s race have to be the Ten Kate duo Sofuoglu and Pitt, seeing as the team has a superb record on its home track. All eyes will also be on the Althea Honda pairing of Mark Aitchison and Matthieu Lagrive, runner-up in last weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hours endurance classic, and Suzuki Hoegee’s Barry Veneman. The Dutchman will be joined in this race by Italy’s Alessandro Polita, who has finally found a stable berth in Supersport after failing to line up a Superbike ride at the start of the season. Michele Pirro (Yamaha Lorenzini), Gianluca Nannelli and Garry McCoy (Triumph BE1 Racing) will be the other protagonists of the Assen weekend, together with Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Motocard.com), anxious to make up for his Valencia disappointment.

Superstock 1000 and 600

Both Superstock classes were dominated by Italians at Valencia, with wins going to Claudio Corti (Suzuki Alstare) and Danilo Petrucci (Yamaha Trasimeno). Corti will have to deal with the attacks of his two chief rivals Xavier Simeon (Ducati Xerox) of Belgium and Frenchman Maxime Berger (Ten Kate Honda). In Spain the pupil of former champion Sebastien Charpentier was slightly off the pace, after not being able to test over the winter, but will be looking to put together a good result on his team’s home track. Petrucci was in a class of his own at Valencia, but Britain’s Gino Rea (Ten Kate Honda), Belgium’s Vincent Lonbois (MTM Racing Honda) and Italy’s Marco Bussolotti (Yamaha Trasimeno) will be the other men to watch.

Lap records

Race – Max Neukirchner (Suzuki) 1’39.395 (2008); Best lap – Troy Bayliss (Ducati) 1’38.355 (2008).

The Dutch Round of the Hannspree FIM Superbike World Championship takes place from Friday 24 thru Sunday 26 April. World Superbike free practice and qualifying are held on the first two days, with Superpole scheduled for Saturday at 15.00. The two 22-lap (100.210 km) Superbike races are scheduled to run on Saturday at 12.00 and 15.30, with the 21-lap (95.655 km) Supersport race at 13.25 local time.

About the TT Circuit Assen

Located a couple of hours drive north of Amsterdam, the Assen TT Circuit is called ‘The Cathedral’ of motorcycling by fans. The current circuit was built back in 1955 and it remained basically unchanged until a 2006 redesign removed most of the northern loop to make way for a new entertainment complex. The racetrack now has a length of 4.555 kilometres (2.830 miles), with a longest straight of 560 metres (0.348 miles). The track layout makes it very technical and twisty, with little room for rider error. The curves are banked and the surface offers considerable grip, even in the wet.

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