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WATCH: Toasting Chris Walker’s stunning soggy last-to-first WorldSBK Assen win

Chris Walker, Assen, WorldSBK, 2021


For the younger demographic among you who may have only watched or been aware of the WorldSBK Championship over the last few years, this next statement may come as a shock; Kawasaki weren’t always dominant in WorldSBK.

In fact, if you trace the history back before around 2010, Kawasaki were not only not winning races but a top ten result was regarded as solid.

It wasn’t always like this but during the 2000s at least, as it funnelled its resources into the relatively shortlived ZX-RR MotoGP programme, Kawasaki was undoubtedly the minnow manufacturer next to the might of Ducati, Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha.

And yet amid all this Kawasaki does lay claim to one of the finest results in WorldSBK history when Chris Walker defied his bike’s competitiveness, the odds and Mother Nature to notch up a famous win in Assen in 2006.

To say it was wet on that day in the Netherlands would be an understatement. Driving torrential rain, a circuit more akin to a shallow river and camerman squinting through the haze to pick up the action - mostly of falling riders - making you wonder who gave the sign-off to start.

Walker may have qualified eighth but after detecting a problem on his PSG-1 Corse ZX-10 on the sighting lap was actually in the pit-lane when the riders set off for the warm-up lap, leaving him last of all.

As with many British riders who cut their teeth on the national scene where difficult conditions have become par for the course, Walker was confident of a decent result even from the back. However, he seemed to scupper his opportunity when he was hit at the rear by Karl Muggeridge and sent well off into the gravel trap.

“I set off down the start finish straight… and got hit from behind by Karl Muggeridge. I then ran into the gravel trap on the first corner and got back in last place. I remember thinking, ‘the team manager was not wrong, this is going to be a long race!’ I did not think for one minute that I would get back to a position where it mattered. I thought if I had a good ride I could get into the points.”

However, he kept the Kawasaki upright and began to get in a rhythm, making the most of using a narrower wet tyre than many of his rivals.

Quickly picking up positions as numerous riders hit the deck in the abysmal conditions - including Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and Yukio Kagayama, who all fell from top three spots - Walker was up to sixth by lap 11 of 22.

Latching onto the fight for second with Andrew Pitt and Michel Fabrizio just three laps later, Walker’s hopes received a major boost when Noriyuki Haga - leading by some 18 seconds - became the latest rider to fall foul of the conditions.

With the win suddenly in his grasp, Walker held his nerve to relieve Pitt of the lead to complete his dead last to first charge in little more than 16 laps.

“When I got to Andrew Pitt, and I was in P2, I was not finding it hard to be behind him,” said Walker. “I definitely had more grip than him and at that point I was calculating when to make a pass while not risking anything.”

The rest is history and Walker collected Kawasaki’s first WorldSBK win since 2000, though even those were achieved by wildcard star Hitoyasu Izutsu. 

Kawasaki wouldn’t go on to win another race until 2011 in not too dissimilar circumstances, when in difficult conditions at the Nurburgring Haga crashed out of the lead on the Pata Aprilia.

That brought out the red flags and - despite protests - allowed Tom Sykes to be classified as the winner on the then Paul Bird Motorsport-prepared factory Kawasaki.

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