In Aragón at the start of the European season, Leandro Mercado returned to the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup with a bang. Having spent a year in the World Superbike category, the Argentinean went back to STK1000 and gloriously charged to victory from seventh on the grid. In fact, Aragon marked a remarkably impressive start to the campaign for the Aruba.it Racing – Junior Team, as Mercado and Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s 1-2 finish splendidly completed a weekend on which Chaz Davies won both World Superbike races on his premier class bike, fielded by the same Feel Racing squad.
With eight races still to go, Mercado’s closest challengers all come from Italy. On a grid consisting no less than 21 Italian riders, seven of them feature in the top ten of the riders’ standings. The aforementioned Rinaldi is second overall from Raffaele de Rosa (Althea BMW Racing Team), who has now finished seven of his most recent eight races on the rostrum. Fourth is Riccardo Russo from Frenchman and PATA Yamaha Official Stock Team partner Florian Marino, who is looking to bounce back at Assen following a tough opener in which he finished fifth from pole position.
After Round 1, the manufacturers’ title chase sees Ducati hold a nine-point advantage over BMW, while Yamaha is a further three points adrift for third overall.
Last year at Assen, the race was similar to Aragon 2016 in that a red flag came out in the early stages. On that occasion, it was Roberto Tamburini who suffered the unfortunate misfortune of clipping the bike of 2014 winner Kevin Valk on the pit straight at the start of Lap 2. This would prove to be Tamburini’s only retirement of the season, causing him to jettison the championship lead; one can only ponder how the season could have panned out had Tamburini, who finished eventual runner-up to Lorenzo Savadori, had not suffered this hardship at the second race. With that fresh in his mind, his season affectively starts now, having crashed out of the opener in Spain while running fourth and fighting with de Rosa on the final lap. Other notable names have even more ground to make up, as the likes of Jeremy Guarnoni and Marco Faccani both failed to score in Round 1.
As Assen stages its 25th anniversary weekend of WorldSBK, the more superstitious riders may be aware of the fact that, over the last six years, the winner of the Dutch STK1000 race has gone on to claim the title on four occasions: Ayrton Badovini in 2010, Davide Giugliano in 2011, Sylvain Barrier in 2012 and Lorenzo Savadori last year. Mercado, on the other hand, had his hands full during the title-winning season of 2014, as his Assen race ended in fifth place and almost 11 seconds behind the winner.
Two Dutch wildcards feature this weekend. Danny De Boer pilots the #4 Yamaha YZF R1 with the SWPN team, making his 17th start in STK1000 but his first since 2013; De Boer, now 26, has won the Dutch Superbike Championship three times and now returns to the scene of his Superstock 1000 debut in 2007. His fellow wildcard will be Nigel Walraven on the #111 Honda CBR1000RR SP with Stichting Walraven Racing: his first venture into the paddock since his season-ending MotorLand crash of 2015.
Sunday’s 14-lap Superstock 1000 race will begin at 2:20pm local time (GMT +2).