Bikes / 27 April 2014, 7:29pm / IOL Motoring Staff
Assen, the Netherlands – As so often at this venue, Round three of the World Superbike series was dominated by rain, as the weather closed in after a morning of watery sunshine and consigned all the slick tyres to the back of the pits.
Aprilia star Sylvain Guintoli made the most of the dry line to lead Race 1 from lights to (red) flag, but it Pata Honda’s Jonathan Rea who got the best of it in the soggy second outing.
South Africa’s and Sheridan Morais and David ‘McFlash’ McFadden covered themselves in glory despite the difficult conditions; Morais came home sixth and fourth in the Evo class in the main events, while McFadden finished sixth in the Superstock 100 race after the dice of the day.
The race was classified dry and as the lights went out it was Guintoli who took the hole shot with Rea and the works Kawasakis of Loris Baz and Tom Sykes in hot pursuit – but without the privateer Kawasaki of veteran former World Supersport champion Fabien Foret, who had embarrassed himself by crashing at Turn 15 on the sighting lap!
But by the end of lap one everybody had forgotten Foret’s faux pas as Ducati works rider Davide Giugliano got on to a wet patch in Meeuwenmeer, slid wildly off the circuit and tumbled big time on the Astroturf.
Guintoli held a solid, three-second lead for most of the race as Rea, Baz and Sykes battled it out for second, changing places on almost every lap, until Sykes made the decisive move on lap 15.
He went from fourth to second in one move and then took 1.5 seconds out of Guintoli’s lead in less than a lap to set up what would have been an epic final confrontation - only for the engine of Geoff May’s EBR (Buell) 1190 to let go on lap 17, spilling its guts on the circuit and bringing out the red flags.
With only five laps left to run, the result was declared as at the end of lap 16, giving Guintoli the win from the flying Sykes by 1.259 seconds, with Rea third, four seconds down, just in front of Baz.
Former Grand Prix rders Toni Elias, on a privateer Aprilia, and Marco Melandri, on a works Aprilia, were classified fifth and sixth respectively after a 17-lap battle that saw them finish only 1.4 seconds apart.
Niccolo Canepa, on a Ducati, finished a superb 10th, the first Evo rider home, while South African Sheridan Morais (Kawasaki) put in a solid ride to finish 16th overall and sixth in the Evo category.
Moments before the start the heavens opened and the rain came down; although the race had been declared wet and nobody was on slick tyres, after three laps the stewards decided conditions were impossible and the red flags came out.
After a lengthy delay, conditions improved sufficiently for a shortened 10-lap race to be run, although the track surface was still streaming with water, and Rea made the best of the Honda’s famously user-friendly characteristics to come home ahead of Alex Lowes’ Suzuki and Giugliano’s Ducati.
Sykes, Rea’s Pata Honda team-mate Leon Haslam and Aprilia factory star Marco Melandri rounded out the top six.
Ducati privateer Niccolo Canepa was the first Evo rider home in 10th, with Morais 13th overall and fourth in the Evo category after a well-judged ride in atrocious conditions, the last rider home without being lapped by the leaders.
The packed grandstands erupted as local hero Michael van der Mark and the Pata Honda crossed the line to score his first World Supersport win on his home circuit, after an enthralling early battle with pole-sitter Florian Marino (Kawasaki).
The Dutch rider had the packed grandstands on their feet as lap by lap he edged away to win by more than nine seconds – setting a new lap record in the process.
Early leader and former World Supersport champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) got it all wrong on lap seven, but fought back to third, only to be forced into retirement by mechanical gremlins on lap 13.
That set the stage for a superb three-way battle over the final few laps as Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta), Kev Coghlan (Yamaha) and Lorenzo Zanetti on the second Pata Honda disputed the final podium place, finishing in that order in less than 2.5 seconds.
Three seconds later, veteran Roberto Rolfo (at 34, the oldest rider in the race by more than four years) got the better of Roberto Tamburini (each on a Kawasaki ZX-6R) for sixth place by just 0.396sec.
Local rider Kevin Valk delighted those of his home-town fans who braved soaking rain to watch his first Superstock (in fact it was his first podium finish!) after a dominating ride on a streaming wet circuit.
Kyle Smith (Honda) was running a strong second before crashing, and remounting only to fall again a lap later.
Valk brought his Kawasaki home almost 10 second ahead of Ondrej Jezek (Ducati), Matthieu Lussiana (Kawasaki) and Lorenzo Savadori, who also relished the wet conditions – at least enough to actually make a race of it, coming home in that order in 1.6 seconds.
But the real race was for fifth place, where Leandro Mercado (Ducati), Capetonian David ‘McFlash’ McFadden (Kawasaki), and Romain Lanusse (Kawasaki) battled it out all the way to finish in that order in an incredible (given the conditions) 0.354sec.
McFadden is now sixth in the championship standings after two rounds.