It has been a relatively long haul for both Yamaha and Michael van der Mark to win in WorldSBK. VDM’s first ever race victory – and the first win by a Dutch rider in WorldSBK – was the first Yamaha win since they came back as a serious official effort in 2016.
At times masterful, at times nervy and error-strewn, ‘Magic Mikey’s’ 15th podium and first race win was as much relief as ecstasy.
“I am really happy to have taken my first victory in four years, and also for Yamaha,” said VDM, speaking at the track. “They (Yamaha) are three years in this project and we have had some podiums.
“Sometimes we got lucky and got some podiums we did not deserve, but I think today we showed that if the bike is getting better we can fight for the victory. We are not there yet, but today we showed that when the bike is like 95 per cent, we can fight for the wins. I am really happy.”
Michael, a rider who has won Superstock 600 and Supersport championships, had a bit of a positive feeling on raceday morning.
“On Saturday morning I woke up and on Facebook I got a memory that four years ago I won my second Supersport race here,” he said. “So I made a screenshot and sent it to my crew chief and look where we are now. It is really strange.”
VDM had a decent build up to his first win, not spectacularly so.
“Yesterday we were quite fast, this morning we had quite a good pace and we did not change a lot on the bike compared to Friday, and Superpole was OK. I improved a with the race tyre when I went out, immediately, and then improved with a qualifier a little bit I was quite happy with Superpole and P6 was an OK start.”
Letting the two warring Kawasakis do much of the work was key for van der Mark in the early laps.
“I found my way to the front and when I was behind Tom and Johnny, you always know they have the pace,” explained VDM. “I decided to stay behind them to pull away from the rest of the field and it worked out quite well. I was fast in some areas but all I was thinking about was to stay with them.
“When they started battling we were losing time and towards the end I think Johnny tried to overtake Tom, so I passed him and I saw that Tom was struggling, smoking the rear tyre a lot. I thought ‘OK; it is maybe time to pass him.’ I was quite surprised that one lap after I had quite a big gap compared to Johnny and Tom.
“I was pushing a lot and maybe too much because there were eight laps to go. You always know they are strong so I was trying to stay calm – which wasn’t really working to be honest – and in the last few laps Johnny was getting closer and closer. On the big screen I saw that the distance was staying similar so I knew that if I did the last three laps normally, at a good pace, it might come closer but not there.”
It nearly went all wrong; such were VDM’s jitters as the lap counter ticked down.
“I nearly crashed coming down the hill!” he said. “I spoke with Johnny and it upset him as well, so I did not lose any time there. For two laps I went slower and then I went faster again so I am really happy to have taken the win.”
Part of VDM’s success was down to using a larger development rear tyre than the choices the KRT riders made, as he had more grip and drive in he longer, flowing sections, with Rea better in the stop-start-areas.
VDM’s history-making win promoted him from the only Dutch rider to have scored podiums at this level to the only Dutch race winner, even though another 37 Dutch riders have competed at WorldSBK level over the years, albeit mostly as wildcards or one-off riders.