WorldSBK Catalunya: Van der Mark competitive again despite slippery front tyre

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Yep, that's VDM being harangued by rookie Gerloff
Yep, that's VDM being harangued by rookie Gerloff Picture: GeeBee Images

Michael van der Mark’s WorldSBK weekend in Catalunya provided him with a happy deck of three finishing cards – fourth, first and second – that lifted his spirits as well as giving him his first win of the campaign.

He was almost only third in the final race after the sudden arrival of one of last year’s Yamahas, in the shape of Garrett Gerloff’s GRT R1.

“I was more surprised during the race that he was there,” said VDM about the race he had with Gerloff, and being given a surprising chance to get back into second place after Garret made a late mistake in his defence of what was his first ever podium.

“I was not expecting Garrett but he did a fantastic job. To be honest two laps before the end I messed up and that is when he passed me. I just struggled the last few laps.” He did, however regain second place.

VDM had looked a potential winner at one stage, but it was to be Chaz Davies and Ducati’s race on Sunday afternoon. “The win was possible without these issues,” said VDM about a sliding front.

“We needed a front – also in race one we were a bit on the limit with it – and we came away a lot better today than yesterday. You are always hoping somebody had a little bigger issue. Chaz and I both had our strong points on the track.

“For me I was just catching up every time where he pulled away in the middle of the circuit. I tried it once but I had to go over the limit to stay in front of him. Tyre management used to be the biggest problem but we improved this so much and this track is just hard on front tyres.

“If we had another day we would try another harder tyre but I think we must be happy that we had a good pace and so close to the victory. When I was behind Chaz I struggled because he could push more on the front and I had more rear tyre.

“In the middle of the circuit you need a lot of confidence on the front. I pushed a bit too much on the front tyre and towards the end I was changing buttons to see if I could get the bike a little better. We need to find something for the last few laps.”

The fact that van der Mark has a 20129 Yamaha, and a 2020 rookie rider for such close company at Barcelona, may point to the fact that his own 2020 factory bike is not that much of a step up from what he had last season.

“The bike has improved and we want the best for Yamaha, we want to get them to the front all together. I think they are doing a fantastic job to provide nearly everything the same to the junior team as well. Garrett was doing a fantastic job, so their plan is working to get the young kids quicker. To get passed on the straight by him is not what you want but it was all about the exit on the last corner.”

The biggest deal for van der Mark was to join the 2020 winners’ club, which he did in the sprint and Davies was to do in the race two. How important is it to a rider who can win but hasn’t yet this year, to get that one done?

“You are a lot calmer before race two. They always say after the first one the second one is easier. Of course, it didn’t become a second victory but it I like a relief. You know you can do it but you have to see it. That is why apart from the mistake I made, race two was going to be as good as the Superpole race.

“This morning I had the same feeling I had last year when I started winning, and then I crashed obviously. But I felt I could ride around, getting the bike everywhere I wanted. With that feeling and taking a victory it is like a double bonus.”

VDM’s second in the final race was in some way a gift from Gerloff, but as the Dutch rider said, “I saw it coming. Arriving in turn ten he was all the way on the left and I was like, ‘Dude, you have to turn left at one stage!’

“I tried to be calm and smooth and I got on the knee and had to pick up the bike and my tyres were so much gone I had to really stop the bike and make him stop for not passing me. In this situation you try everything. He was riding really smooth really clean, so it was not really difficult to fight with Garrett.

He was doing a fantastic job. You have some rivals who are really aggressive, the bike moving everywhere. He was being smooth and calm and made it easier to fight with him.”

Van der Mark, like all his peers, is now in a landscape populated with more competitive bikes and riders, and the competition varies track by track.

“The differences are quite small but at the end of a race they are quite big. You saw in Superpole it was pretty close so you have to be perfect every lap. It is also good to have some different bikes on top. A little bit of change is in the results but hopefully we can stay there.”

VDM would not be drawn on if this variety of competitive bikes was to do with the rules Dorna/FIM has made to even out the class. “For sure Alvaro with Honda has a big advantage on top speed. Chaz and the Ducatis are really fast on the straight. We will always lose time there but I think everyone could get their bikes working for the tyres we had this weekend.

“I think we used to struggle with that in the past, could not find the right tyre for the whole race but it seems everyone can get a good setup for every tyre that they like. Our bike is a little bit complicated, to be honest. We know that, we knew that and when you are in a window… this weekend we did not change a lot on the bike.

“We arrived here and the bike was fast, and you shouldn’t touch it a lot then. You will not make a massive step. When the bike is fast the only thing we can do is make small steps. That is a weakness of the Yamaha, unfortunately, but we know how it is and we know that when we have an OK feeling, we are not that far off.”