Michael van der Mark finished third in the WorldSBK championship in 2018, after getting off to a relatively rocky start. His 2019 season started on a more solid foundation, but like the rest of the WorldSBK grid, the Dutchman has been blown away by the arrival of Alvaro Bautista on the Aruba.it Ducati.
Bautista's performance has overshadowed some very interesting developments with the rest of the WorldSBK grid. The Yamaha has made a big step forward – so much so that Van der Mark finds himself regularly finishing behind his Pata Yamaha teammate Alex Lowes – making it possible for the now four Yamaha riders to try to take on the might of Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki.
At the press presentation of the Assen round of WorldSBK on the Tuesday before Aragon, I got a chance to interview Michael van der Mark about how he sees 2019 WorldSBK season. Van der Mark talks about the improvement the Yamahas have made, what to make of Alvaro Bautista, and whether Assen might give him a better chance to fight with the Ducati at a track where horsepower is less of a factor.
Q: How do you see your season so far? It seems like a mixture of good and bad?
Michael van der Mark: We must be really happy with the results so far. Of course, I want to be on the podium much more, but to score so many points for the first two races is not bad. I think all four Yamaha's are doing a really good job. My teammate was a bit stronger in Thailand, but he's not far away. So I think we must be really happy. Also I think it shows that all four of us use everything which is in the bike.
Q: Would it be fair to say that the Yamaha is the best bike on the grid, or the most well-rounded bike on the grid?
MVDM: I think Yamaha has the best base. We have a really good base now. As always in motorcycle racing, it's always difficult to find the last part, but I think if you have to start a World Superbike season from zero, get a Yamaha. You have a good base to start with.
Q: What difference has it made having four bikes on the grid instead of two?
MVDM: I think on the one side, for sure it's positive if you look at the data and all the experience the other guys have. But on the other side, it's a bit difficult because Yamaha World Superbike is not a massive support. So we have to share our people with all the other teams. So I think that's positive and negative, but I think there's more positives to have so much data and information from the other riders which can always help to improve the bike.
Q: That most positive thing I think is that you're much closer to Jonathan Rea, because he is the benchmark. The gap is very small now, it seems?
MVDM: Yeah, the gap isn't as extreme as it was in the past. They came with a new bike. They found a way to get the RPM's back. Still we are closer than last year. So it means that the progress we made, the steps we made were the right ones.
Q: What about Alvaro Bautista on the Ducati? He's dominating the series, but he's the only Ducati. Loris Baz was saying good bike, good rider. Is that the explanation?
MVDM: I think Ducati, we knew it would be a really strong bike but I think it's the combination which suits, because you see Chaz is struggling a little bit now. But for sure, he will come. Alvaro was already strong in testing, but then he was really strong all the one lap. They just found the perfect combination with the setup and everything. So they've done a great job. Sometimes in racing you find the right click with everything and you win everything. I think that's what I found.
Q: Coming back to Phillip Island, Thailand especially though, Aragon… It's got the speed. It's got faster, but then Assen it's not horsepower. It's a rider's circuit. So do you think you've got a better chance with getting closer?
MVDM: Yeah. I think Assen is certainly a track where if you feel good with a bike, even if you have less power, you can be at the front. You see the results. Everyone's really close together. The only thing where for example Ducati will be strong will be the middle sector of the track, which is first gear corner exit from the Strubben going down the straight. But this is also a track where you can gain a lot of time, especially in the last sector. So I think Assen is a circuit where we should see maybe the closest action of all year.
Q:It seems like Alex Lowes has made a step this year in terms of performance. You've made a bit of a step, but he keeps beating you. How are you going to beat him? What's the step that you need to make?
MVDM: It's just a small step. Of course, you always want to beat your teammate. I don't want to say it's frustrating because he's doing really well and he's not really far off. So we just need to work on the last details on the bike. For sure in qualifying, if I can start close to him it's easier for me to stay with him and be in front of him. So, it's still early in the season but at least the difference between us is not huge. Sure, we will beat him if we can fix some little details.
Q: The Superpole race, does that require a completely different strategy?
MVDM: It's difficult because it's only ten laps. Every racer pushes like crazy. We also have to keep in mind that the second Superbike race is quite soon after this race, and also the points for the Superpole race are not the full points. So if you lose some points, it's not as bad as when you lose them in a main race. So it's difficult, but I really enjoy it.
Q: Is it more fun because it is just flat out?
MVDM: Yeah. It's flat out and I think it's what the people want to see on Sunday. On Sunday they want to see races and they get another Superbike race, which is the main program. So, I enjoy it. I hope the people do as well.
Q: And you get another race as well. Racers always want to race.
MVDM: Yeah. We always want to race. We love to race and the more races, the better.
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