With World Superbike testing now complete, the hay is in the barn, so to speak, and when the actual racing begins this weekend at Phillip Island, the off-season work completed by the riders and teams will pay off—or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Michael van der Mark hopes his long wait for a victory will finally come to an end.

The 2014 World Supersport champion came to the Superbike class heralded as a true natural talent. His speed is beyond doubt but his effort has been questioned. Having teamed with two world champions, Sylvain Guintoli and Nicky Hayden, van der Mark has seen the dedication required to succeed. But has he fully grasped those lessons?

Few people in the paddock know van der Mark as well as Kervin Bos. A fellow Dutchman, Bos now manages Honda World Superbike, but as a racer he trained with van der Mark and worked with him at Ten Kate. Bos believes that, despite his Superstock 600 and World Supersport titles, van der Mark has only scratched the surface of what he can achieve.

Michael van der Mark
Center of attention: Michael van der Mark with his Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team crew at Phillip Island.Courtesy of Yamaha

“Michael’s approach is so different to other riders,” Bos said. “Some of that is due to his age, and I hope he becomes more of a man now. He needs to be harder on himself because he’s only reached 60 percent of his potential. You need to push so hard in racing and his puzzle is almost complete, but getting those final pieces in place will make the difference for him.”

The move to Crescent Yamaha last year appeared to come at the right time for the 25-year-old van der Mark. It’s relatively easy for anyone to stay in a comfortable position with a team around you that offers good support. In a lot of situations, however, you need a change to grow. Since joining Yamaha, van der Mark feels he has evolved.

“With age and experience you do mature,” he reflected. “I’m definitely more relaxed away from the track. Racing in MotoGP helped me grow with parts of the technical side. Obviously, the bikes are totally different, but you can take elements from it and try to understand how it could help our bike. It’s the same when I rode the Suzuka bike. All those experiences help.

“The goal this year is to win a race, and I hope that we can fight for the podium in Phillip Island. The most important thing is that we are more consistent. Last year we got stronger and finished the season on the podium, but we really struggled at some tracks. I think we’re close to the right base setting to be more competitive everywhere.”

Team manager Paul Denning believes van der Mark can finally break his World Superbike duck and pick up his first victory. “I didn’t expect Michael to win last year, but for a tire failure at Misano he would have won that race. Michael has a huge amount of natural talent, as much as anyone on the grid, but he’s still learning how to get the most from a Superbike.

Michael van der Mark
Van der Mark made his MotoGP debut with Monster Yamaha Tech 3 in place of Jonas Folger in Malaysia and Japan, where he finished 16th and 17th, respectively.Courtesy of Yamaha

“Michael’s approach is so different to other riders,” Bos said. “Some of that is due to his age, and I hope he becomes more of a man now. He needs to be harder on himself because he’s only reached 60 percent of his potential. You need to push so hard in racing and his puzzle is almost complete, but getting those final pieces in place will make the difference for him.”

The move to Crescent Yamaha last year appeared to come at the right time for the 25-year-old van der Mark. It’s relatively easy for anyone to stay in a comfortable position with a team around you that offers good support. In a lot of situations, however, you need a change to grow. Since joining Yamaha, van der Mark feels he has evolved.

“With age and experience you do mature,” he reflected. “I’m definitely more relaxed away from the track. Racing in MotoGP helped me grow with parts of the technical side. Obviously, the bikes are totally different, but you can take elements from it and try to understand how it could help our bike. It’s the same when I rode the Suzuka bike. All those experiences help.

“The goal this year is to win a race, and I hope that we can fight for the podium in Phillip Island. The most important thing is that we are more consistent. Last year we got stronger and finished the season on the podium, but we really struggled at some tracks. I think we’re close to the right base setting to be more competitive everywhere.”

Team manager Paul Denning believes van der Mark can finally break his World Superbike duck and pick up his first victory. “I didn’t expect Michael to win last year, but for a tire failure at Misano he would have won that race. Michael has a huge amount of natural talent, as much as anyone on the grid, but he’s still learning how to get the most from a Superbike.

“That does take time, and I think he still needs to learn how to apply himself harder with the technical aspects of the team and working with his engineers to get the most from the bike. That could be a reason why some weekends he races at the very front and other weekends he can be a bit further back.

“I’ll be very surprised if Michael doesn’t win a race this year,” Denning continued, “because that’s where the project is heading and he has the talent to do it. I think if he can fight at the front the belief that he knows he can win will kick in. Once you have the confidence that you can run with the leaders and win races, it gives you the momentum to keep winning.”

Having started from pole position and claimed 11 podium finishes so far, van der Mark has shown he has the talent and temperament to get the job done. Standing on the cusp of success is difficult for any athlete; he or she can sense the expectation. But for van der Mark, his past experiences help keep the pressure in perspective.

“I drove trucks for years,” he explained. “It taught me a lot about myself and also allowed me to understand exactly what I want to do in racing. It’s important to be able to analyze yourself when you go racing. Driving a truck sounds like an easy job, but it’s very demanding and it definitely made me respect other people a lot more.

“I know what it’s like to have to get up early in the morning and work all day. It allowed me to understand that racing a bike is the best job in the world. It also developed my work ethic because I knew in the past I had to work hard if I wanted to have money. That experience offers a big benefit when you’re younger.”

Van der Mark will soon find out if those experiences will benefit him on the track as he focuses on becoming the first Dutch rider to win a World Superbike race.