Eleven races and six venues into the 2019 WorldSBK Championship, it all finally came right for Pata Yamaha WorldSBK pilot Michael Van Der Mark when he won his first race of the season at Jerez. Bumped up to third in the WorldSBK title fight, the 26 year-old Dutchman has taken the heavily-developed Yamaha YZF-R1 and brought it all around to his way of thinking – and racing.
Just over a year since his last win – Donington – Van Der Mark has caught the scent of runaway WSBK championship leader Alvaro Bautista and his wickedly fast Ducati, as well as Kawasaki’s multiple world champion Jonathan Rea. With 14 races yet to be run in ’19, Van Der Mark is certainly in the mix, and reaching for a higher gear that just might give him a shot at a world title.
“Right from the first lap of practice at Jerez on Friday morning, the bike provided so much confidence and it just felt nice,” said Van Der Mark of capitalizing on a crash suffered at Jerez by home nation rider Bautista.
“We had an in-season test the week before at Misano and the bike felt really good there, but you never know how it’s going to work on the track. To be honest with you, we just went out at Jerez and the bike felt really good right from the first lap. After that we just made small changes to suspension and the electronics, but it just felt so good right from the first lap that we knew we would be strong the entire weekend.”
According to Van Der Mark, the Yamaha is almost right where he wants it.
“We had already improved the base of the bike the last few years,” he said. “This year, we didn’t change it a lot on race weekends, and we were getting better and better. Jerez was incredible for us because the bike was exactly the same as it was at the test in Misano, yet Jerez and Misano are completely different tracks. The base with the bike that we have now is just really strong right from the start of the weekend.”
A baseline imperative in trying to reel in Alvaro Bautista and his Ducati?
“Bautista is still on another level,” said Van Der Mark. “Bautista and Ducati are a perfect combination. It’s really difficult for us, because every corner exit or where there is a long straight, like fourth to sixth gear, they pull away so much from everyone else. Still, I feel like we are also getting closer to Kawasaki and Jonathan Rea. Of course everybody always wants more horsepower and stuff. Our problem was always to get the power to the ground, especially at the first touch of the throttle, and we’ve gotten better and better there. That makes the bike a lot easier to ride, as well.”
Good timing, too, as the globetrotting WorldSBK circus will soon put stakes in the ground in Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
“Misano comes next for us now,” said Van Der Mark. ”We had a double-podium there last year. After that will be Donington, where I had my first double last season. Then will come Laguna. Laguna is something special and difficult, for sure. I really like it. We haven’t had amazing results there in the past, but we’re getting stronger every year there now. Honestly, every track we go to now I have a really good feeling with the bike and with the results that we’ve had at these circuits before. I’m pretty sure we can fight for more podiums again.”
Doing everything in the outfit’s collective power (horsepower!) to haunt down Bautista, Rea and company, Yamaha, in the form of the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team, has certainly cast its lot with the team.
“The Yamaha superbike project isn’t as big as everyone expects,” offered Van Der Mark. “We are doing amazing results with the bike, which is in its fifth year, and we are still improving. It’s so good to have a really good base bike and still be able to improve on this project. Everything we do must be a step forward, and luckily we’ve had this going on the last few years. It’s a small group of us, but it is a very hard working group.”
Now slotted in at third and rapidly gaining momentum in the in the WorldSBK title chase, Van Der Mark is pragmatic about his title hopes.
“Yeah, we have so many races to go and our goal is to fight for the top three in the championship again, and I think we have a really good bike now,” he said. “We want to fight for as many wins as possible, and to fight for the very top of the championship. It’s motorcycle racing, so you never know what will happen, but I do know that we must be on the podium every weekend.”
And of Michael Van Der Mark’s masterplan in racing?
“My goal is always to win and to be World Champion,” he declared. “That’s my only goal. I want to be that as soon as possible.”