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Ducati TriOptions Cup set to go down to the wire after action-packed Assen weekend

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The battle for the 2014 Ducati TriOptions Cup reached fever pitch at Assen in the Netherlands this weekend (19-21 September), as the 899 Panigale and 848 machines took to the circuit for the penultimate event of their season. 

As the series heads to what’s sure to be a thrilling conclusion at Silverstone in a few weeks’ time, the fight for overall championship glory is going to be between the two P&H/Carl Cox Motorsport riders Leon Morris and Dennis Hobbs. 2011 Ducati Cup champion Morris has held a slight advantage in the standings for the majority of the season, but after two sensational races at ‘The Cathedral of Speed’, the gap has been reduced from 22 to just 13 points.

In qualifying on Friday it was the Hyside Motorcycles 899 Panigale of Rob Guiver that set the pace. He secured pole position by the tiny margin of 0.052s ahead of title challenger Hobbs, with reigning champion Marty Nutt in third for JHP/Ducati Coventry and a frustrated Morris in fourth.

For the first race on Saturday, Morris looked to have resolved his set-up issues and he launched into the lead from the second row. He was to come under immediate pressure from pole-sitter Rob Guiver, however, and the Hyside Motorcycles rider re-took the lead going into the final chicane on the opening lap.

From there Guiver initially pulled an advantage, as Morris, Hobbs and reigning champion Marty Nutt rode hard to stay in contention. Sean Neary was also in the hunt early on but retired with mechanical issues on lap four.

Hobbs and Morris made it through on Guiver at mid-distance, but as the #25 bike of Hobbs pulled a slight gap, Guiver made a last lap, last corner lunge to try and grab second place back from Morris. This forced the pair wide and just gave Nutt enough room to slip through and take second place with Guiver crossing the line ahead of Morris in third and fourth respectively.

Assen’s unpredictable weather played a big part in the second TriOptions Cup race, as a Sunday rain shower just before the grid formed up left the riders with very difficult drying conditions to negotiate. Most of the front-runners opted for a wet front Pirelli tyre and dry rear, and for the opening laps the strategy appeared to work – with Guiver the only rider going for a full dry set-up.

Hobbs was sitting on pole having set the fastest lap in race one, but a slow getaway meant that it was his team-mate leading the way on the opening tour. Nutt made a good start from third on the grid to challenge Morris for the lead, and it wasn’t long before Guiver was also in the hunt on his dry tyres.

The top three traded places for much of the contest, but as the track continued to dry out Guiver’s 899 Panigale came alive and he streaked away at the front with a couple of laps remaining. He went on to cross the line 6.391s ahead of the pack to take his second win of the year having won the season opener at Brands Hatch way back in April.

Perhaps the battle of the race came from a trio of riders on older 848 machines, as Mark Cheetham, David Ferns and Jonathan Railton traded blows for much of the 7-lap sprint. In a typically spectacular last lap Assen showdown it was Railton who emerged as top 848 in seventh, just 0.2s ahead of Ferns.

Back at the front Nutt edged out Morris for second place and Hobbs finished fourth, so the championship battle has been left finely balanced going into the final event at Silverstone (3-5 October) with the two Carl Cox Motorsport competitors the only ones now capable of lifting the Ducati TriOptions Cup.

Leon Morris said: The aim is to beat Dennis at the moment regardless of where the two of us end up. Today turned out a fair bit better than yesterday – we went with the safe option in the drying conditions – if we didn’t have a championship to worry about I’d definitely have gone with the dry front like Guiver. We lost a fair bunch of points yesterday so to claw a few back is really important – it’s all about winning the championship now – the P&H boys deserve that trophy more than anyone, and I want it to be me not Dennis that gives it to them!

Dennis Hobbs said: The bike was perfect yesterday but I got a bad start and had to be careful not to make any mistakes. Once I got through to the front I just put my head down and didn’t look back – it’s really important to have closed the gap going into Silverstone, it’s definitely all still to play for.

Marty Nutt said: It’s been a good weekend. The team has been brilliant and the bike has been right on the money all the time, even in the really tricky conditions in race two. The main aim was to beat everyone who was on the same tyres – once it was dry there wasn’t really anything I could do about Rob [Guiver] on the dry tyres, but it’s been a really good trip to Assen for the whole team.

Rob Guiver said: The track was drying really quickly, so even though it was quite a short race it turned out to be the right choice to go on dry tyres. Everyone was very cautious at the start so I could stay with them, and then I could push so much harder on the dry sections. The race just came to me which was perfect!

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