Assen, Netherlands – Race

Chris Northover, 04/08/06 – 06/08/06
European SuperStock 600 Championship
Round 6

Right, Brands was good, time to top that and more good finishes. Living in relative luxury, I managed to blag a space in a chalet with Mum, Dad, Clive and Sally, result! Armed with a hire bicycle (and looking very Dutch for it) I made it Thursdays mission to do some testing over race distance, admittedly under pedal power! Despite the fact that I’ve ridden Assen before, the circuit had changed since last season! I can hear Roger mumbling something about excuses already, but I reckon if I get them out the way now I won’t be needing them after the first practice session.

Friday – Free Practice

Focussed and ready, went much better than in the past. Felt a little flustered in first half, but managed to keep it fairly smooth and build up a good repertoire of reference points. The weather was “iffy butty”, but stayed dry. The new section of track is pretty good, but sucks compared to old circuit! The bike was a bit unstable on the brakes over the bumps, and when hitting the bump out of turn 11, it was letting go big style at the rear. The bike didn’t seem to be recovering after the bump – too much rebound damping? Grandmaster Steve and the Furious Five were consulted, well Steve was. My suspicions were confirmed and I backed the rebound damping off 2 clicks to let the shock keep the rear tyre pinned to the floor.

Friday – First Qualifying

Again the weather held off giving us clear skies and a dry track for the afternoon session. First half I was trying too hard to find reference points but after a couple of laps managed to pick it up a bit and get going. Came in for a breather/checkup with Mike and formulated a plan so cunning for the second half, it almost out-foxed itself in the making. The plan was to get a good tow and use this to drop my lap times and improve my position, simple yet brilliant. There was however, one slight flaw in an otherwise superb plan. I struggled to find a tow and was greeted by a red flag when I did.

Once restarted and I chased regular podium finisher, Niccolo Canepa of all people, nothing like ambition eh? I then aimed at a black yam, but he was being a mobile chicane and I nearly hit him into turn 1 – I had to use the outside kerb on the brakes just to avoid him – another lap buggered. Thinking I still had 2 mins to go (silly me, relying on the signals given by the start line!) I held off for another tow, only to be greeted by the chequered flag when I came back round.

Friday night saw another 3 laps of the track on the coolest bicycles on the planet. Need to keep my head up and focus on things to drive towards, not just the reference points on the track, thus giving me directions to aim at as well as points to hit. Marvelous!

Saturday – Second Qualifying

Like a certain captain Scott who went to all the trouble of getting to the pole, but some bugger got there before him, I managed to go 2 seconds faster only for every other rider to do the same thing ARRGH!

Having said that, going that much faster in the final qualifying session is almost unheard of for me, so it’s a step in the right direction. I got my head sorted, got my reference points clear and tagged onto the back of anyone I could, even chasing Davide Jugglyjigglygiano (well, summat like that) for a bit. With no major moments and smoother, more consistent lines my lap times dropped and it was all rosy. That is, until we realised that everyone else had gone faster as well so I remained in 30th position on the grid. Still, this has been my strongest non-UK qualifying all season, so tomorrow’s race should hold forth an abundance of overtaking and see me in a decent position. Hopefully…

Sunday – Race

Awaking Sunday morning to the sweet sound of the rain hammering the roof of the chalet and the wind howling, it was nice of the Dutch weather to try to make me feel at home! We cycled to the circuit to avoid the traffic but someone forgot to pack any waterproofs… Not to be defeated by the weather, I rigged up a brolley into the straps on my bag and managed to stay surprisingly dry! I also learnt that it is not possible to wheelie a bike when the umbrella you’re attached to decides to behave like a sail!

With the race scheduled for 2:30 I was looking forward to a wet race, something I’ve never done before. I watched the first superbike race which made me even keener for rain. A touch of water and everyone except the brits seemed to take it upon them selves to dive into the largest puddles they could find and spread their bikes across the grass. Needless to say I was absolutely inspired by Chris Walker’s superb against all odds win and wanted to do my own rendition.

Not long after, things stopped going to plan; the rain stopped and the Supersports had a big pile-up delaying my race till the end of the day.

When we eventually got to race, we were held in the collecting area for what felt like hours before finally taking to the track. I knew where I was going to be for the first 6 corners and had been running through the first lap in my head all Saturday night and all day. Stay out of trouble in turn 1, then go for it round the outside on the 3 left-handers and stuff it up the inside of whoever’s left at the hairpin. It bloody worked too!

Having made loads of positions on the first lap, I was in the pack that went right through the teens and charging hard. After a hard battle with a Dutch wildcard, with no lack of argy bargy, I made a pass on him round the outside exiting a right hander out the back of the circuit. Despite there being plenty of room, he swerved across the track into me, sending me into a viscous tank-slapper, zig-zagging across the track before finding myself heading across a swamp masquerading as an infield.

Despite my best efforts (caught on camera and big screen!!) I was finally flung off the bike into the biggest puddle around, whilst the crowd was treated to Gixxer Gymnastics once again! Laying in 4 inches of muddy water was definitely not how I had envisaged Assen finishing and I was understandably gutted. But, as they say, (and who might they be?) racing’s a tough game and when you go out looking for a fight, you’ve got to expect to get hit. Enough philosophising, time for the thanks!

We had a huge team of people for Assen, all of whom did a sterling job over the weekend, especially in the most pants weather we’ve had all season.

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