INTERVIEW: Michael Van Der Mark

INTERVIEW: Michael Van Der Mark

“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,” said Michael Van Der Mark. “We want to fight for as many wins as possible and to fight for the very top of the championship.”

The Dutch Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team rider was chugging right along on his way to achieving his goals when, a fortnight later, he suffered a massive crash during Free Practice at Misano, coming to a halt in Turn 16 with a right radius fracture. Undaunted and even more motivated, Van Der Mark and his YZF R1 returned to the fight, holding steady and picking up points.

Now, with only two rounds remaining in the WorldSBK Championship, he is a mere five points adrift (279 to 274) of third-place competitor and teammate Alex Lowes. Having just come off a fantastic runner-up finish behind 2019 World Champion Jonathan Rea at Magny-Cours in France, the 26 year-old is gaining momentum, which is exactly what he’ll need to continue in order to slot in at third at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar on October 26.

Q: The races this weekend will be very important as you and your teammate, Alex Lowes, are only separated by five points in the fight for third in the 2019 WorldSBK World Championship.

MARK VAN DER MARK: Yeah, we’re battling, and some weekends he’s quicker and then some weekends I’m quicker. It’s nice. We’re third in the championship, and I think we’re both getting the most out of the bike and at the last race at Magny-Cours he was just a second slower than me. Yeah, we’re really quick and both getting the maximum amount out of the bike.

Q: In recent weeks, news broke that your Pata Yamaha WorldSBK teammate Lowes will be leaving the organization at the end of the season. Word is that you were very surprised by the move. True?

MVDM: Yeah, it came at a weird time because he is third in the championship and he’s doing really well. He’s improved again. Sometimes, though, it’s good to change some things and things happen for a reason. I will get a new teammate and pretty sure I’ll be fighting with Alex again next year, although he will be on a different bike.

Q: It also became known earlier this week that your new teammate for 2020 will be the Turkish rider Toprak Razgatlioglu. Is that correct?

MVDM: Yeah, yeah, Toprak.

Q: Do you guys know one another?

MVDM: Yeah, I know him. He’s got loads of talent. I’m curious to see how he will do on the Yamaha. Maybe it’s good for the team to have someone new there again.

Q: Two rounds remain in the WorldSBK season – Argentina this weekend and Qatar in a fortnight’s time. Do you like the two tracks and venues?

MVDM: To be honest, last year at Argentina we struggled quite a lot, but the bike has improved a lot and we have a lot of data from last year. The bike is a lot different than it was last year, so we should be doing better here this year. Qatar is a track that is one of my favorites and I want to do really well there, so yeah, we have two really nice tracks where we can still fight for third in the championship.

Q: You’re coming off a fantastic second race at Magny-Cours in France where you raced Jonathan Rea hard right to the finish to get second. Good momentum going into this weekend?

MVDM: Yeah, I tried everything to win, but he was just a little bit quicker at the end. Still, it’s nice to see that we were able to fight with him for two-thirds of the race distance because normally he just disappears. Now, we are really fighting with him and this is also good for our confidence.

Q: How do you feel about your results this year? You have a win, a number of podium finishes and you have hovered very consistently around the top five. Despite some of the ups-and-downs you experienced this season, not bad at all.

MVDM: I have some mixed feelings about it, especially before Misano. We were on great form and showing great speed there, but I crashed and broke my wrist and lost quite a lot of points in Misano. Okay, I rode at the next round in Donington, but I wasn’t fit. Like you said, we’ve had quite a lot of podiums, but we never know what would have happened if I wouldn’t have crashed at Misano. If we continue the flow that we have now, I must be really happy.

Q: Back in June you mentioned to me that you’d be very happy if you could be inside the top three at the end of the championship. You’re right there. If you can surpass Lowes and wind up third, will you be pleased with the year?

MVDM: Yeah, for sure. We started the season wanting to be in the top three, but unfortunately we weren’t strong enough, especially in the beginning of the year. If we can finish third again in the championship (Note: as Van Der Mark did in 2018), I will forget all the bad races this year and be really happy with the season.

Q: I wanted to ask you if fans have been following your travels around the world in your quest to be a World Champion?

MVDM: It’s getting better and better. It also helps with the motocross with Jeffrey Herlings and Glen Coldenhoff doing really well. Also, in Formula 1, we have Max Verstappen. The bike and car racing are getting better for publicity and fan support. It’s growing. Not as much as we want to, but it is growing.

Q: Do you want to get to MotoGP one day?

MVDM: Yeah, of course. They call me, I come! (Laughter). But to be honest, I only have one goal and that is to win races. As long as I am not winning races I won’t be really happy. We’re getting there now and then and we’ll keep building, for sure.

Q: Come 2020, can you win the WorldSBK Championship?

MVDM: Next year we will have a new bike. Not a complete new bike. It is just an evolution and it looks promising. It will be better than this year, which is what we need. I think it is good that we don’t have a complete new bike because we are still making progress. Next year, for sure, the competition will be Kawasaki and Ducati again, but I hope we will be closer to them at the start of the season and we need to win as early as possible to fight for a World Championship.