World champion Jonathan Rea celebrated his 200th world superbike race start with yet another dominant display in Assen, the Netherlands, this weekend.
The Kawasaki rider has been almost unstoppable in 2017, winning five of the six opening races and coming second in the other, and added yet another double at the historic Assen venue – his 10th and 11th career wins at the Dutch circuit.
Saturday saw the Ulsterman provisionally take the pole position, much to the chagrin of rival Chaz Davies. The Ducati rider felt that he had been baulked by Rea on his qualifying run, kicking out at his rival on the track and exchanging heated words in parc ferme. Race organisers sided with Davies and relegated Rea to fourth place on the starting grid as a penalty, giving pole to Tom Sykes on the other Kawasaki.
That set up an intriguing race a few hours later, but fans were denied a grandstand finish when Davies’ Ducati broke down on the penultimate lap. Davies, who had ended Rea’s winning streak in the previous race, had led most of the race but was forced to pull out with an electrical problem moments after Rea had overtaken him for the lead. Rea went on to take the win from Sykes, with Marco Melandri inheriting the final podium spot on the other Ducati.
Sunday’s reverse grid format saw Rea start from ninth, with Davies in 10th. The Carole Nash-backed Rea once again proved to be aggressive in working his way through the pack, while Davies suffered with set-up problems after making some changes to his bike between the races. Jonathan went on to take the chequered flag by just 0.025 seconds from team-mate Sykes, whose pair of second places was made more impressive by the fact that he was again suffering from a mystery illness. Davies came home a further five seconds behind to complete the podium, in third.
The result sees Rea extend his championship lead to 64 points over second placed Sykes, with Davies a further 20 points behind in third. Speaking after the race, Jonathan said: “It has been an incredible weekend of racing. I have been especially happy with superpole because the lap I made then was maybe the best lap I have ever made on a bike. I am really proud of that. Of course the race wins were really nice to take away. Today was a race of two halves. In the first half I raced hard until I got a warning so in the second half I just managed things to try and be safe and bring her home. I had a little bit left at the end but the biggest problem was the wind today. I was pulling a gap but then I had a huge front slide in T11, and my foot came off the peg, at mid-race distance. I decided just to ride and save something for the last laps after that. I had a big wobble coming out of 11 again near the end and I then just tried to be clever in the last lap and cover the last corner. My line was probably not the fastest way around there but it covered any move up the inside and I made it to the line first.”
Sykes added: “It was a very close finish and I have to say thanks to the public, my fans and all the team for being very understanding about my physical condition. Yesterday we had an acceptable race but today we never stopped pushing to find an ideal set-up, right up until 30 minutes before the race started. Marcel (crew chief) and I were still talking about how to get the bike easier for me to ride. Physically, I was obviously not fully comfortable with the bike set-up from yesterday but today I felt we had a package capable of winning. I just did not have the bike in the right place at the right time and did not get the win for that reason. I always kept trying and I am obviously disappointed not to take the win. But considering where I was even at the start of the race week, if anybody had have offered me two second places from Assen I would have thought it was never going to happen.”
Speaking after Sunday’s race, Davies added: “I enjoyed coming back through the field, but honestly it wasn’t easy and we rode a tough race today. We simply didn’t have the ideal feeling, which we had both in race one, and this morning in warm up. We lacked grip on the front and it felt a bit like riding on eggshells in the last 10 laps. We need to address why, either if it’s because of a setup issue or the strong winds, but it was important not to crash and bring home points, as I realized quite early that third place was the best we could do today. Still, our goal is to win whenever it’s possible, and hopefully we’ll have another chance at Imola, which is a special place both for me and Ducati.”
The next round of the Superbike World Championship takes place at Imola, in Italy, on the weekend of 12-14 May.