Captured by us on April 20th, 2024 in the “Cathedral of Speed” in the Netherlands – start of the first run of the Assen weekend with Jonathan Rea (Pata Prometeon Yamaha R1, in the front in the picture) for the first time this year in the third lap and on his new motorcycle in pole position. Due to a red flag stoppage, there was a surprise winner in the race that definitely wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

Lots of surprises in changeable conditions

Like many other visitors, we were once again surprised why FIM and Dorna always include Assen so early in the calendar. When we were here in April 5 years ago in the year before the pandemic, the program even had to be changed due to snowfall, which meant that for once there was no Tissot Sprint Race. In 2024 it was very cold again and within minutes sunshine often alternated with dark clouds and rain, which of course posed an enormous challenge for the drivers and teams. The right tire strategy could make the difference between victory and defeat; it was almost impossible to predict the weather developments. Exactly the right conditions for some of the most experienced pilots in the field, as well as of course for risky decisions regarding the tire issue, which ultimately decided the day’s victory. However, the low temperatures, especially when wet, were anything but enjoyable for the protagonists, as well as the numerous visitors to the historic race track in the north of the Netherlands.

Our shot after Superpole on Saturday morning, with the historic first pole for Jonathan Rea for Prometheon Pata Yamaha. It was easy to see the relief for the six-time record world champion afterwards, as he had finally conquered the demons of the first two rounds of problems in 2024.

The Superpole with an unsurprising pole sitter

At least at Superpole there was no poker game this time and the track was far too wet for profileless slick tires to be an option. This gave the best pilot of the last ten years the chance to once again demonstrate his qualities as a rain driver. Although it wasn’t such a demonstration as in the first race of 2019 in Donington, when the Northern Irishman was almost ten seconds ahead of his first pursuers after three laps, it was definitely enough for the first pole position on the Yamaha R1, which was still almost new for Jonathan Rea . Together with the record world champion, Nicolo Bulega ( Ducati) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad) made it onto the front row of the grid on the wet track. Behind them are the two Lowes brothers Sam and Alex, as well as Remy Gardner. Last year’s winner and then pole sitter Bautista, on the other hand, only started from row 3 in seventh place and had his former teammate Rinaldi and his Italian compatriot Iannone next to him. Together with Rea’s teammate Locatelli and HRC Honda’s only hope Vierge for the day, Danilo “Petrux” Petrucci’s replacement Spinelli tackled the first run.

While all BMW riders, apart from the exceptional talent Toprak, were far behind, Tarran Mackenzie shone on the MIE Honda with 12th place on the grid and said afterwards that a little more could possibly have been achieved this Saturday. Of course, despite being very far behind, Tito Rabat was also allowed to take part in the race. For Rea it was the forty-fourth pole of his career.

Tire poker pays off thanks to the red flag in race 1

At his team’s request, Nicholas Spinelli was the only one in the field to start on cut slick tires, so-called intermediates. The replacement for Danilo Petrucci, who was seriously injured in a motocross accident, for his first weekend on a WorldSBK machine and the Italian will definitely never forget this day in his life. On the Barni Ducati he was briefly ahead of the rest of the field for over 24 seconds from the fourth lap onwards before the track quickly began to dry out. This meant that his pursuers, led by Bautista in front of Toprak from the eleventh round, came closer and closer. The Spaniard was overtaken a little later by the Turk, who would definitely have caught up with Spinelli in the last third of the race if there hadn’t been a red flag stop due to oil on the track. As a result, the race also ended prematurely for pole sitter Jonathan Rea in his race to catch up. According to his own statement, the 6-time world champion had lost a bit of ground after a few mistakes, but a podium might have been within reach instead of 6th place.

Winner Nicholas Spinelli (Barni Ducati) in the symbolic stranglehold of Toprak Razgatlioglu (BMW, left) and Alvaro Bautista ( Ducati). His team’s tire poker had proven to be an absolute stroke of luck in an extreme way.

The best of the turbulent WSBK Saturday

In addition to the three men on the podium and Yamaha ace Johnny Rea, along with his former Kawasaki teammate Alex Lowes with P5, Remy Gardner in fourth place is among the best in the first run on Saturday. The 2021 Moto2 World Champion and the Australian, who was dropped far too early by KTM after just one MotoGP season, proves in his second WorldSBK season what we had already claimed before the first race. Anyone who can hold their own for laps on the same material as Jonathan Rea and only misses the podium by one position with fourth place is definitely one of the world’s best Superbike pilots. The people who finished in the top ten behind Rea have been proving this for some time. The seventh-placed local hero “Magic” Michael van der Mark, like his BMW brand colleague Scott Redding (P8), has already won several times and the ninth-placed Axel Bassani (KRT Kawasaki) has also been on the podium several times, at least during his Ducati time. Xavi Vierge’s team should be particularly happy about his tenth place, as his faster teammate Iker Lecuona had to miss another time in the young season due to a fall injury in FP3. Above all, HRC Honda was in a losing position in the first two rounds and Vierge’s result acts as a balm for this team’s wounds.

Tarran Mackenzie (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda) the surprise winner in the WorldSSP on July 30, 2023 in Most (Czech Republic) on the way to the WSBK starting grid. With 14th place ahead of Bradley Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team), the Brit left behind some well-known names such as Garret Gerloff, Philipp Oettl and Sam Lowes (© MIE Honda).
The layout of the very demanding Assen race track, which demanded the utmost from the drivers due to the difficult conditions on Saturday. Above all, it was initially only partially wet in the WorldSBK race and therefore only in the first 4 corners. Having to drive at the limit in such conditions was right at the limit of what was acceptable for the protagonists of the series-based World Cup.

The losers of the Assen opener

In addition to the fallen Andrea Iannone, Michael Ruben Rinaldi and Tito Rabat, who were out with technical problems, pilots such as Garrett Gerloff (BMW), Philipp Oettl (Yamaha) and Sam Lowes (Ducati) should be mentioned. However, the latter two were in the pits to change tires. The Texan Gerloff, like Domi Aegerter and Oettl, had a very unfavorable starting position, but was unable to work his way forward like the Swiss, who at least took home 3 points in thirteenth place. But all of this is nothing compared to 11th place for Nicolo Bulega, who started the race from second place on the grid. The World Championship leader had fallen back to 12th position within one lap and was only able to improve by one place in the end. His poor result may also have something to do with the fact that the almost 25-year-old Italian experienced a world championship round for the first time on a track in which he had never been able to test as a rookie on the superbike. With only one point ahead of Toprak and Bautista, he may lose his lead in the intermediate rankings on Sunday. In this case, the Italian would of course benefit from the fourth round being held on his home track in Misano. In front of a home crowd on a racetrack that he knows like the back of his hand, the former protégé of Valentino Rossi can be seriously reckoned with again.

A stunned Andrea Iannone (GoEleven Ducati) in the gravel trap. After one lap he was still in P2, but the former MotoGP star went back one position each time when a crash on the sixth lap ended his race prematurely.
The borderline conditions resulted in a result that has rarely been seen in WorldSBK in recent years. A substitute driver as a rookie won ahead of all the established riders, although he would probably have been caught by the best 6 to 8 just a few laps after the early termination.

History repeating itself in WorldSSP

A tire poker also decided the race in the middle class. On the first lap, Finn Niki Tuuli was extremely lucky not to be hit after his crash between turns 1 and 2. Similar to the WSBK, the pilots, who were apparently equipped with ideal tires in initially very wet conditions, took the lead early on. The two Australians Edwards and Power, as well as the Frenchman Debise and the former Moto3 ace John McPhee (Scotland) had clear advantages on their rain tires compared to the pilots with slick tires. But then the conditions changed like before in the Superbike class and the track dried out more and more. Ducati factory driver Huertas in particular gradually worked his way forward in order to ultimately win this first race in a convincing manner. Manzi was just able to catch Valentin Debise, while local hero Van Straalen missed the podium by just 111 thousandths behind the Frenchman. Tom Edwards in fifth and Luke Power in P10 still held their own in the top ten.

After the start of the WSSP, Marcel Schrötter (MV Agusta with number 23 in the middle of the picture) was still in P2, after which turn 7 was his downfall on the first lap. The German then fought his way up to 12th place, which earned him an important 4 points. Of course, the goals for Sunday are much higher.
Yari Montella (Barni Ducati) fared even worse than Marcel Schrötter, for whom a technical problem even made it impossible to start, which means he is now level on points with the German in second place in the World Championship, 10 points ahead of winner Huertas and only 9 behind Manzi .

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© WorldSBK).