Stéphane Mertens back on top in surprisingly dry Assen. \n\n Title defender Stéphane Mertens secured a fine win in the fourth round of the BMW Motorrad BoxerCup 2002 held in Assen on the occasion of the Dutch TT. After qualifying on the second row of the grid, the experienced Belgian rider was in the thick of a huge fight where up to eight riders were involved. In front of over 100 000 eager fans, he eventually fended off all his opponents, and now heads for the next round, in Spa-Francorchamps next weekend in front of his home crowd, as the new BMW BoxerCup provisional leader.
"Things weren't looking so good yesterday after the first practice session, but I was determined not to give up... and it paid off," said the tall Belgian as he climbed down from the podium, the traditional champagne bottle in one hand, and Randy Mamola's winner prize replica helmet in the other.
"My bike was misfiring in the first qualifying, and I must thank Berthold Hauser, the BMW BoxerCup manager, for today's result. He allowed me to use one of their spare machines, with which I was able to qualify in fifth position and was able to take part in today's race."
"It was a really tough one, not only because of the opposition, but also because we did not have any dry track experience. But I believe I had a strong and steady race, while most of my opponents made a mistake at one point or the other."
Markus Barth was eliminated very early in the race after crashing at the last chicane (he was taken to hospital for observation), early contender Brian Morrison was hindered with gearbox problems, while in their quest for a win Thomas Hinterreiter, Roberto Panichi and Mathieu Lagrive all lost time with big slides.
Second placed Andy Hofmann also rode a strong a steady race, finishing only 0.149 sec. behind Mertens despite an aggressive ride from third placed rider Sébastien Legrelle (fastest lap in the race). In fact, with the next round of the series scheduled in Spa-Francorchamps next week, the Belgian riders seemed to carry that extra motivation. It showed in the race but also during practice when, despite very tricky humid track conditions, 21 year old BoxerCup rookie Grégory Fastré qualified in pole position in front of France's Mathieu Lagrive, Andy Hofmann and ex-motocross rider Ivan Lazzarini.
Unfortunate since the start of the 2002 BoxerCup series, last year's vice-champion Fernando Cristobal secured a fine sixth position despite a wrong tyre choice. "We decided to fit an intermediate front tyre, and it started sliding quite badly towards the end of the race."
As very often in Assen with the very uncertain weather, tyre choice proved to be crucial throughout the BMW BoxerCup weekend. "Dry tyres was the right choice for the race," said Metzeler technical coordinator Uli Weiss, " but during the practice sessions I believe we had every possible combination. Now I know what to expect for Spa and maybe we'll have another tyre fitting machine there !"