Making predictions for races in WorldSBK 2018 can be a fool's errand. The form book has been thrown out the window on a couple of occasions and that was certainly the case once again at the Assen TT Circuit.
The Magic is still there
Michael van der Mark may no longer go by the moniker of Magic Michael but there was definitely magic in the air at Assen. The Dutch star claimed a double podium at his home round and showed once again that he is a force to be reckoned with. Pressuring Jonathan Rea and beating Chaz Davies in a straight up fight in Race 1 was impressive, but his Race 2 performance shouldn't be underestimated. The pressure was on the 25 year old. A bumper crowd of over 62,000 turned up to cheer him on and VDM didn't disappoint.
His third place finish on Sunday was another example of being able to keep a cool head. Tom Sykes was clear from the field and for Van der Mark the goal became to stand on the rostrum. That meant beating the Ducatis of Xavi Fores and Chaz Davies. The Yamaha rider duly delivered and moved into fourth in the championship standings. Mission accomplished.
Yamaha making strides
While Van der Mark was fighting for the win the potential of the Yamaha R1 was shown by both sides of the pit box. Alex Lowes claimed his first WorldSBK pole position, and while the Englishman had little else to show for the weekend, it's clear that Yamaha are on the verge of their first win since 2011.
Lowes pole lap was superb and showed that the blistering turn of speed that's been obvious from the first time he sat on a WorldSBK machine is still very much there. The potential for Lowes, and Van der Mark, has been untapped in the last year and both are on the verge of victories. Assen could well have delivered that victory on Saturday for either rider, but a tire fitting error saw the wrong front Pirelli fitted in Lowes' R1, which meant that the 27 year old had no chance in Race 1. A Sunday crash meant that a weekend of promise ended with just six points.
More records for Rea
Jonathan Rea's Saturday success was his 12th WorldSBK victory at Assen and equaled the record of Carl Fogarty for victories at a single circuit. It capped an amazing run of form at Assen, eight consecutive victories, and with Rea needing only two victories to equal Foggy as the most successful rider of all time the record books are close to being filled with his name.
Sykes back on form
When Tom Sykes has a clear track in front of him and a bike that he's happy with he is still almost unbeatable in WorldSBK. The Englishman had both on Sunday, and duly delivered his first win since last summer in Misano. The relief was clear for Sykes to see in Parc Fermé afterwards, and after a trying time he will now look to bring some momentum into the coming rounds. While he is almost certainly out of title contention, there is no doubt he can win again in 2018. He'll need to if he wants to hold on to his ride for next year.
Melandri holds on
The Ducati star opened the season with a double win at Phillip Island where despite a bike wobbling on the front straight he was able to make it work. In Thailand the problem was a lot worse and Melandri suffered. Aragon saw Ducati make some changes and the issue seemed to have been improved, but in Assen the Italian once again complained that the problem was unbearable. While it's plain for everyone to see that Melandri is suffering this instability, it's also becoming clear that it is getting more and more ingrained in his mindset. He'll need to find some improvements for his home round at Imola.
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