Of the many things to get excited about at the first round of the season the sheer pace and carefree performances of WSB rookie Michael van der Mark on the Pata Honda was a major highlight, if overshadowed in the results by the leading British trio in each race.
The 2014 WSS Champion rode to a fifth place in race one, less than ten seconds behind the winner, and he even led race two, before just pushing too hard late on and falling to no-score.
Fourth in Superpole, nobody doubts the pace of the 22-year-old Dutch rider, but to be a part of the race two podium chasing pack for so long and even lead it confidently for a time, as a surprise to everyone, even Michael, despite being a two-time Suzuka 8-Hour race winner in a CBR1000RR Superbike.
“Everybody was surprised, even myself,” said van der Mark. “The 8-Hour bike is completely different so I am not really looking at that point. But I really like Phillip Island and in hot conditions the bike was working better than in previous years.”
In his first WSB year VDM has to rely on his team for comparisons with previous times but Mikey feels the new technical rules have had an early desired effect. “I think the new rules are a good change for everybody because now we can see how many different bikes were in the front and how close it was,” he stated. “We have to wait and see at some other tracks, but for us it is a positive change.”
The way van der Mark rode up front with some big names was impressive to all bystanders, and the magnitude of his performance was not something Mikey was aware of at the time. “I was just really having fun, to be honest. The first race was quite long, the tyre was done quite early but in the second race I was having so much fun. At a certain moment I even thought about winning the race but there was quite a long way to go still. I had no tyre left but I just pushed too much on the front and that is why I crashed. At the end I came into the pitbox and every body was still happy! Everybody was laughing and asking me how I did that…”
Now VDM and the WSB paddock faces an all-new Chang International Circuit in Thailand for round two. A more level playing field possibly than PI was, as none of his rivals will have any experience of it, on their own bikes or any other? “We do not have two days of testing before and I am really looking forward to it,” said van der Mark. “I showed in the past that I learn new tracks quite fast so I cannot wait to get there.”
Van der Mark is not only a Dutch rider in a Dutch team, but also a product of Ten Kate since he rode and then won the Superstock 600 championship in 2012, then the WSS series with the team two seasons later. Understandable, then, that the special relationship he has with his team is well known to Mikey? “A little bit,” agreed van der Mark. “They always had some comments from people about why they never took a Dutch guy in the team, and they always said “if there is a guy we believe in and is really fast we will take him into the team.” That is what they did with me a few years ago and it is quite special. Also it is different for the guys to speak their normal language sometimes. I am just having fun there and the team feels a little bit like home, a bit like family, when you speak the same language.”