Van der Mark and Yamaha Make History in WorldSBK Race 1 at Donington Park
It was a historic Saturday at Round 6 of the 2018 Motul FIM World Superbike Championship at Donington Park for Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team's Michael van der Mark as the flying Dutchman stormed to his maiden WorldSBK victory in Race 1 after a sensational ride. Starting from 6th on the grid, he battled at the front throughout the race before taking the lead on lap 15 and showing blistering pace to secure the first ever WorldSBK victory for a Dutch rider, plus the first for Yamaha since its return to WorldSBK in 2016. It was a fitting way to celebrate the team's home round and local hero Alex Lowes added to their joy by finishing in fourth after a superb ride. Wildcard Niccolò Canepa did not have the best feeling with his R1 but showed excellent fighting spirit to battle hard and bring home a 20th-place finish.
After the torrential rain and high winds that had affected Friday at Donington Park, Saturday saw an upturn in the weather with no sight of rain and track temperatures rising to 30°C for Race 1. The last time Yamaha had tasted victory in the WorldSBK Championship came in Race 2 at Portimao in 2011 at the penultimate round of the season, before Yamaha spent four seasons away from the class. Since their return in 2016 with the Pata Yamaha team, they have gone on to secure ten podiums although victory had managed to escape their grasp but all of that was about to change on Saturday at Donington Park!
Van der Mark ended Friday's practice in sixth overall but his crew made a few minor changes to his Pata Yamaha R1 overnight and, aided by the better conditions, he immediately improved his pace to finish the morning's FP4 session in fourth with a 1:28.180. When it came to SP2, he found another step, improving by 0.708s to set a 1:27.472 and qualify in sixth for Race 1 but the best was yet to come. When the lights went out, the 25-year-old Dutch rider got his trademark blistering start and was up to fourth by the first corner. He then enjoyed a good battle with his teammate Lowes, passing him before they started lap 2 and setting his sights on Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes ahead of him. Never letting the two Kawasaki's getaway, his pace improved as the race went on. The pressure he was exerting on the front two began to tell as the race progressed and they were struggling to keep van der Mark at bay. On lap 13, a small mistake by Rea left the tiniest of gaps for him to take advantage of and the 2014 WorldSSP Champion did not need a second invitation.
Up next was pole-man Sykes but van der Mark made short work of him too, pulling off another super overtaking manoeuvre at the Melbourne Hairpin on lap 15. With a clear track ahead of him, he 'pulled the pin' and showed his true race pace, opening up a one second advantage over Sykes in just one lap. Controlling his lead beautifully, not even a late charge by Rea could shake van der Mark out of his rhythm and he kept his cool to secure his maiden WorldSBK victory by 1.136s. In the process, he rewrote the record books by becoming the first Dutch rider to ever win a WorldSBK race, plus it also saw Yamaha return to the top step of the podium for the first time in just under seven years and he was the first non-British rider to win at Donington Park since 2012. It was just reward for the commitment shown by the whole Pata Yamaha team have put in over the last three seasons and the 25 points van der Mark collected means he is now fourth in the WorldSBK Championship standings with 138 points, just 15 points behind Sykes in third. He will line up in ninth on the grid for Sunday's Race 2, hoping to repeat his Race 1 heroics.
Local hero Lowes has shown great pace all weekend, ending Friday's practice in fourth overall, before improving in FP4 to set a 1:28.097, which was good enough for third on the timesheets. The 27-year-old British rider loves racing in front of the British fans and he managed to find another 0.675s in SP2 to qualify in the middle of the second row ahead of his teammate. When the lights went out for Race 1, the 2013 British Superbike Champion got a blistering start, riding around the outside at Turn 1 to move up into third. Duelling with his teammate on the opening lap, he did not quite have the same feeling with his Pata Yamaha R1 as van der Mark but bravely fought to try and stay with the leading trio. Sticking on his teammate's back wheel, he rode superbly before, just over halfway through the race, it became obvious he was losing out on corner exit and maturely decided that it was not worth risking pushing over the limit to try and stay with the podium battle, bringing his R1 home in a strong fourth-place and securing 13 championship points. Lowes is now seventh in the overall standings with 105 points and will start Race 2 from pole position, confident that with a few small changes, he will be able to fight for victory.
Official Test Rider Niccolò Canepa is featuring as a wildcard at Donington Park this weekend and after ending Friday in 14th overall he just couldn't quite gel with his bike on Saturday in the warmer conditions. Readjusting to the Pata Yamaha machine after riding the endurance-spec GMT94 Yamaha R1 to second at the 8 Hours of Slovakia Ring two weeks ago, the 30-year-old Italian would have preferred more dry-track time on Friday, but undeterred he ended Saturday's FP4 in 22nd and qualified for Race 1 in 24th. During the race, he gave it his all but could not find a great rhythm, although he pushed as hard as he could to cross the line in 20th place. Canepa will work hard with his team overnight to try and find an improvement and the reigning Endurance World Champion is determined to fight back in Race 2 on Sunday from the back of the eighth row.
After a simply amazing day for the Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team at Donington on Saturday, they are ready to do it all again on Sunday. The action kicks off at 9:45 am local time (GMT+1) with Warm Up, while the 23-lap Race 2 is due to start at 1:00 pm.
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - 1st
"It's an incredible feeling to win again! This morning I felt good, I had a good pace with the bike and we didn't change a lot from yesterday and, to be honest, nobody had a lot of dry track time. SP2 was alright, we finished sixth and I felt good. For the race, I had a good start and made my way up to the front. I was behind Tom and Jonathan and tried to follow them to pull away from the other guys and at a certain point, we had a safe enough gap to the riders behind. Jonny and Tom were fighting, Jonny made a small mistake and as I closed on Tom, I could see he was struggling. I spotted an opportunity to pass him and pull away and then towards the end Johnny came really, really close but it was amazing to take the first victory for myself and, of course, the first victory for Yamaha since their return. They have been in this project now for three years in WorldSBK and it feels incredible to bring them their first victory, especially at the team's home race. The whole team did an amazing job and it was worth the wait. In Race 2, I will start from ninth on the grid and Donington can be tricky to overtake, so we just have to be lucky, get a good start and try and fight for the podium again."
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - 4th + 6.642s
"First thing I would like to say is a massive congratulations to Michael, all the Pata Yamaha team, and all the sponsors because we have been working really hard with this project to try and get this first win and hopefully it is the first of many and I can be there soon. From my side, we have struggled a lot this weekend with the setting of the bike coming off the corners, so I knew before the race it was going to be tough. I hung in there as long as I could but, unfortunately, my feeling with the bike and my pace was not strong enough although it was still another solid race for me. At the last few rounds, I have been just missing 'something', the end of the race always used to be my strongest point and I would rely on that to come forward but at the minute we can't do that so, we need to make some changes for tomorrow. I start from pole position tomorrow and I am really looking forward to it!"
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - 20th +52.188s
"Today has been very tough. Honestly, I just haven't been able to find a great feeling with my R1 as I try and adjust to the factory Yamaha and the Pirelli tyres, having come straight from the 8 Hours of Slovakia Ring and the endurance-spec R1, a fact that wasn't helped by the lack of dry track time on Friday. I pushed as hard as I could during the race but, obviously, I was disappointed with finishing in 20th, although we will work hard overnight to study the data to understand where we can improve and I am looking forward to Race 2 on Sunday. As the Test Rider for the team, I'm really proud about the first victory for the new Yamaha R1! Congratulations to Michael and the whole team for an amazing job!"
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team Principal
"What a race! To win Yamaha's first WorldSBK race since the comeback in 2016 at the team's home event and in such an exciting manner was, honestly, beyond our expectations this morning. Michael's crew gave him an improved package to try in FP4 this morning, the changes were clearly in the right direction and the performance that Michael extracted from the R1 and himself was sensational and very special. To win is one thing, but to win in a straight fight with a three-time World Champion and to manage the pressure in the last few laps as he did, was incredible. Well done Michael, well done team, and let's hope this is the first of many!
Normally for Alex, this P4 and close to the two Kawasaki's would be viewed as an okay result and something to build on but, obviously, Alex wanted more here at Donington and probably expected more. He didn't quite have the same level of comfort in the package as Michael did today, but also was very impressive in controlling his race and using the maximum of the potential he had and not allowing any frustrations to get the better of him. Alex's reaction, both with Michael on the slow-down lap and the rest of the team, shows what a sportsman he is and we are very sure that the first victory for Alex is also not so far away, so let's improve Alex's R1 overnight and aim for that tomorrow from pole position.
Niccolò's weekend at Donington Park has been really tough so far and the race today was no different. We all know how fast he is from his previous races with the team and his winter testing results this year, so clearly there is something that is severely restricting his ability to ride in a natural way and I am sure that the guys looking after him at Donington will redouble their efforts overnight to give him a better package tomorrow."