Michael van der Mark

Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Time And Tide (Wait For No Man)

I am striking while the iron of competition is hot here. In addition, it is halfway through the season now, so time for a recap. This is a chance to indulge in a bit of fortune telling and then possibly a nightcap when the laptop lid closes on another busy workday.

It’s just a short time since the racing fates piled into the 2021 WorldSBK street fights that took place in the shadow of a heavenly Czech Castle in Bohemia and the reflection of a ‘flame-off’ from whatever satanic mill was blasting away just down the hill from the Motodrom Most.

At a characterful but sporadically outdated new WorldSBK venue, the 2021 WorldSBK championship trendometer swung to full scale deflection once again as those aforementioned racing fates jumped on Toprak Razgatlioglu’s pillion and helped him win two, and nearly three, races on his factory Yamaha. Fairly turbocharged him they did, and a treble was almost achieved.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: The Inside Jobs

After the first few races of the 2021 WorldSBK championship some trends have already become apparent.

One, the usual one, is that nine races/nine podium man Jonathan Rea is leading the championship by a fair margin of 20 points. That’s equivalent to a second place in a full race. Four 2021 race wins under his awning already, he became the first rider to smash through the 100 race victory barrier in WorldSBK history at the opening round.

Two, Toprak Razgatlioglu is now turning into the more rounded, consistent force his talents have always pointed towards. Maybe his factory Yamaha too? Hence it is he and not two-time race winner Scott Redding who went from 35 points behind Jonathan Rea after Estoril to 20 points behind after the long-awaited return of Misano after two years. Redding is himself a full race win of 25 points behind Razgatlioglu. So that’s 45 points - yes, numerology is clearly not just for cranks and conspiracists - of deficit to the leader for the person many thought would challenge Rea most strongly after his great 2020 ‘rookie’ season. And he still might, of course. He’s still many people’s best bet, for obvious reasons.

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Steve English Superbike Snippets - Round 1, Aragon: Kawasaki's Lost Revs, Intermediates vs Slicks, Toprak's Work Ethic, And BMW Rising

The opening round of the 2021 Superbike World Championship is in the books and after three intriguing races there’s a lot to dissect ahead of this weekend’s round at Estoril.

New Kawasaki

The “new” Kawasaki ZX10-RR certainly looks different. With aerodynamic upgrades it has a very different profile, but this is very much a facelift rather than a new model. Engine upgrades were quite limited but with some new parts they had found a not insignificant 500rpm. During the winter Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes both commented that the bike was now much better as they wound on the power.

With a much fuller power curve the big advantage is found mid-range rather than in outright power. The Kawasaki doesn’t make its power at maximum revs. “We’ve been filling in the gaps of the power curve” was how Rea explained the improvements. That didn’t mean the team weren’t frustrated to lose the extra revs though.

Clearly annoyed at finding improvements and not being able to use them will always leave a team feeling exposed but in Aragon they found a way to make it work. The Kawasaki came away with podiums in all three races and leading the standings. It was a fantastic weekend for Team Green and gives them a lot to build on.

Rea’s performances will never surprise. Winning his 100th WorldSBK race on Saturday got a monkey off his back but as he was always going to win races this year, it was a question of when, not if.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: And They’re Off…

Well, nearly. WorldSBK will start for real in 2021 not only with summer upon us as we kick off at Motorland in Spain, but so late in May there will be a 20-something in the dates of the races.

Covid is to blame, of course, but after MotoGP has ravaged a full five weekends of its schedule, WorldSBK is just about getting ready for round one to start. Normally it is the other way about.

WorldSBK seasons have started at the glorious Phillip Island circuit in Australia for years now. And at the end of February, ferrgoonessakes, which really means the middle of February because the official tests take place a few days before the opening round.

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What Will The 2021 WorldSBK Grid Look Like?

Same old, same old in WorldSBK season. Jonathan Rea walking away with his sixth consecutive title. Kawasaki doing the same with the manufacturers title. No matter what happens Rea and Kawasaki have all the answers and the title all sewn up.

That’s the narrative spun by many about WorldSBK but the reality is very different. Rea and Kawasaki might have won the titles, but this was a challenging season for both that ended with the ZX10-RR clearly outmatched at two of the last three rounds. Ducati had the bike to beat in 2020 but too many riders fighting with one another.

Yamaha are close, very close, and have a hungry rider line-up. The return of a full-blooded factory effort from Honda showed lots of encouraging signs. BMW were a write off this year but still claimed two pole positions and have an all-new bike coming for next season. The future is brighter for WorldSBK than it has been for many years.

New era?

The season began with a classic in Phillip Island. Three great races and a tenth of second the combined victory margin. It was a terrific blend of strategy and different bikes. It encapsulated why WorldSBK is looking forward rather than to the past. We don’t have to look at the “golden age of Superbikes” any longer. We’re living one. Seven different riders won races. Ten riders stood on the rostrum.

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Andrea Dovizioso And Michael van der Mark: Different Series, Similar Story?

Andrea Dovizioso on the podium at the 2019 round of MotoGP at Spielberg, Austria - Photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

A strange week in the rider market took another turn with the threat from Simone Battistella, manager of Andrea Dovizioso, claiming that his rider would sit out 2021 in search of the right opportunity the following year.

It’s a brave gamble to take, but with Dovi set to be 36 years old by the time the season starts in 2022, it looks like a hollow threat. If Dovi sits out a year at this stage of his career, he would find it very difficult to get back on a competitive bike in the MotoGP field.

As things stand who has more leverage? Ducati, with Jack Miller under contract - not to mention having Johann Zarco, Pecco Bagnaia and a host of other riders waiting in the wings - or a 34-year-old veteran threatening to call time on his MotoGP career?

Youth vs experience

The answer seems pretty much self-evident. Speak to MotoGP managers about riders, and they will tell you that age is a big factor, preferring youthful potential over age and experience. This is one reason managers give when you ask them about signing riders from the WorldSBK paddock: they are too old, is the general consensus, with teams preferring to take a risk on a young rider from Moto2.

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The Whys And Wherefores Of Van der Mark's Decision To Leave Yamaha

Michael van der Mark at the 2019 WorldSBK round at Assen - Photo by Tony Goldsmith

The WorldSBK rumour mill spun into action by the news that Michael van der Mark would leave Yamaha at the end of this season. The Dutchman has enjoyed a very successful three seasons with the Crescent Racing-run operation, and there’s little to suggest that he won’t be winning races this year.

The news was first broken by Speedweek, with Ivo Schutzbach reporting that Van der Mark would switch to BMW. The website has always had their finger on the pulse of what’s happening at BMW, so it would be little surprise if this rumour turns into fact very soon. The news, though, is still a surprise.

How did it all come to this?

Van der Mark and Yamaha had seemed like a perfect match for much of their time together. The 2014 Supersport World Champion arrived and formed one of the strongest line-ups in WorldSBK when he was paired with Alex Lowes. There was little friction between the two, and their relationship grew into one of great respect and, as much as is possible in racing, friendship.

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Michael van der Mark To Leave Yamaha WorldSBK Team At The End Of 2020

Yamaha have announced that Michael van der Mark will be leaving their WorldSBK team at the end of the 2020 WorldSBK season. After what will be four seasons with the Pata Yamaha squad, the 27-year-old Dutchman has decided to leave for pastures new.

There is as yet no confirmation of where Van der Mark is heading, but reports on Speedweek suggest his destination is likely to be BMW. With Kawasaki already having signed Alex Lowes and Jonathan Rea, and little interest from either Ducati or Honda, BMW is the obvious choice.

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WorldSBK Finale At Qatar: The Battle For Third

Argentina showed again just how tight the battle for third in the WorldSBK title will be. The championship battle gets the attention but don't underestimate how much the scrap for third can be worth

Three riders, one prize. The fight for the bronze medal of the 2019 WorldSBK campaign will go down to the wire in Qatar. Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark and Toprak Razgatlioglu are split by just six points, and while the Turk is the form man, don't rule anything out in the desert.

All three riders - a British Superbike champion, a WorldSSP champion and a WorldSBK race winner - are consumed by a need to be the best. They want to win. Fighting for third isn't where they want to be, but it has to be their target for 2019. The future will almost certainly hold title challenges but for now it's about doing the best possible and beating each other.

The WorldSBK grid is stacked. It's not enough to be doing a good job, you have to do a great job on every lap of every day to be able to fight at the front. These riders can be upset with a top five finish because they expect more from themselves. When you talk to engineers inside the paddock, however, they'll point to the consistency needed to be a leading rider. This is a world championship and the gap between it and other series can be huge. In WorldSBK to be at the front you have to maximise everything.

Teammate tussles

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