Michael Van Der Mark was speaking to this writer shortly after placing fourth overall in the 2019 WorldSBK Championship as a member of the PATA YAMAHA WorldSBK Official Team.
“Next year we will have a new bike,” offered the Yamaha YZF-R1 pilot and former WorldSSP and European Superstock champion. “Not a complete new bike. It is just an evolution and it looks promising. I think it is good that we don’t have a complete new bike, because we are still making progress. In 2020, 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.”
When the 2020 WSBK Championship fired up at Phillip Island, Australia the weekend of February 28 and March 1, Van Der Mark came out swinging. His fourth year with the Yamaha WSBK outfit and a race-winner in 2019, the 27-year-old raced to four-four finishes in Australia, and while not atop the podium in either 22-lap affair, he left Australia enthused with his results, pace and the high performance of his revamped cross-plane four-cylinder machine.
Van Der Mark was looking for very big things in 2020 until the coronavirus pandemic spun itself up, forcing him home to Holland to wait it all out.
“I’m bored,” he admits. “I’m in Holland and, luckily, we can still go out here. I’m running and cycling and doing everything, and the weather has been really nice. It’s so strange. You go out in the street where I live in Holland and most of the shops are closed. It’s just a ghost town. Bars and restaurants and schools are officially closed. Any other shops can stay open, but many of them are closed because no one is coming into them. It’s weird, but hopefully they’ll find something to take care of the virus.
“The team guys in Italy have to stay in their houses. Luckily, they can work a lot from home. I think next week Yamaha will open their factory again, as well as the workshop. Only people who need to go in can go to work there. All of this has been quite tough on everyone.”
Asked if he had seen any fellow competitors or team personnel out and about in his recent very close to home travels, Van Der Mark sighed.
“Everybody is now at the point where they are getting really bored,” he says. “You now see on Instagram that many of the riders are going on what they call Zwift, which is a site where they can bicycle race against each other and stuff like that. I don’t think they would ever do that normally! What can we do?
“Me, well, I’ve just moved into my new house and I’ve got guys working in my house and renovating it so I can’t do anything inside. However, I’ve been working in my garden and working around the outside of the house. Normally, I’d call someone to do that, but that’s what I’ve been doing because the weather has been so good.”
Catching old school throwback races on the tube not withstanding?
“No, and I’m not interested in watching old races,” he says. “That makes me want to race even more.”
As with the entire globetrotting WSBK racing contingent, Phillip Island was the last time the Dutch rider was on his works YZF-R1. And although the ’20 season was immediately put on hold, Van Der mark entered the forced exile pleased in knowing that his house was in order.
“Phillip Island was the last time I rode, and I think all three races were amazing and spectacular for everyone,” he says. “They were amazing for us, and also for the spectators. It was exactly what everyone wanted to see. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get on the podium in any of the three races, but I was going good enough to be right up front from the first race of the year.
“The biggest surprise at Phillip Island was… well, not really a surprise because I know he can do it, was Alex [Lowes]. In testing he was kind of nowhere, and he kept working and working and he won a race. As I said, in testing he was nowhere. And all the other guys, for example, Scott Redding, we know he has been fast and it was no surprise that he was up front at Phillip Island. But I think the best thing about the weekend was that in all three races, nothing strange happened and we had an awesome race. We were racing and battling and we have respect for everyone in the front group.”
As with many world class motorcycle racers the world over, the primary variable that has everyone equal parts stumped and frustrated is that everything and everyone is in the dark right now with no date to hit or look forward to.
“The biggest problem is that you can’t train like you normally do,” Van Der Mark says. “For example, I have not been going to my trainer. I just do everything by myself. It’s difficult to keep motivated if you don’t have a set date to work to. Of course we will stay as fit as we were before, but it’s difficult to work out without knowing when or what will happen. I want to win races as soon as possible and then try for a championship. That’s my only goal.”