It’s been 100 years since motorcycles first raced near the town of Assen and the track shares the same finish line now as it had in the 1950s. This is the 70th time the event has counted towards the World Championship.
In 2018, the MotoGP grid arrive in the Netherlands in the shadow of one man: Jorge Lorenzo. After two dominant victories in which the ‘Spartan’ was uncatchable and unmatchable, he’s now ahead of teammate Andrea Dovizioso in the Championship for the first time since he joined the Borgo Panigale factory. If he wins at Assen, he will become only the second Ducati rider to win three races in a row, the first was Casey Stoner.
Circuit van Drenthe hasn’t always been kind to the number 99 though with Lorenzo having taken only one premier class win at the track, in 2010 – but for every bad memory, such as a broken collarbone sustained at the track in 2013, there’s a counterpoint…such as the Spaniard’s ride through the pain barrier that same weekend, taking a superhuman fifth place.
His teammate Andrea Dovizioso will be wanting to reverse the swing of momentum within the garage, however Dovi doesn’t have the most impressive record at the track. If it rains, as it so often does at Assen, he might come to the fore as he always does well in difficult conditions.
That’s also true of the master of Assen, Valentino Rossi has made the magic happen no less than ten times across all classes and the rider from Tavullia will be looking to paint the stands yellow once again as Assen was the scene of his and Yamaha’s last victory when The Doctor took victory by a whisker over Danilo Petrucci With three podiums in a row, the stage is set for a repeat performance from Vale.
His teammate Maverick Viñales will also, like Dovizioso, want to strike back against the other side of the garage. While Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) will want to take his first podium of the season after a run of bad luck.
But Assen hasn’t been the best for either – something not true of reigning Champion and points leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). With a considerable lead in the Championship, the number 93 just needs to keep bagging the points. But with Assen ‘Rossi territory’ in a way and the scene of an epic showdown between the two in 2015, neither of the pair will give any ground.
Or will this weekend hark back to 2016, when Marquez rode to a safe second behind a stunning maiden win for Jack Miller? Alma Pramac Racing rider Miller will be hoping for history to repeat itself. After two tough rounds coming off the back of eight consecutive top ten finishes, the Queenslander will be pushing hard to get back in the mix.
The race for top Independent Team rider will be hard fought once again – former Assen podium finishers, teammate Danilo Petrucci and LCR Honda Castrol rider Cal Crutchlow, will be tough to beat – as will Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).
Johann Zarco – 4th
“Assen is a nice track with a lot of history and a circuit, I won only one time in 2016. I could be fast with the Moto2 and last year with the MotoGP it was quite ok. The race has been difficult, because it was raining a little bit and I was scared to crash, so I did the wrong decision to come back to the pit lane. So, this year, I’m going to see what the weather will be like. I want to be on the top. I think it’s a track, which is also good for the Yamaha, Valentino is always incredibly strong there and it means, I can also do great things with my bike. Therefore, I will try to push all the time and even in the race, if it’s raining a little bit, I will keep full throttle to stay with the top guys.”
Then, finally, there’s that all-important battle for Rookie of the Year. Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) leads as it stands, but Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is close behind – can he take over at the TT Circuit Assen? Especially if fortune favours the Malaysian rainmaster with the weather?
“I will try my best for the Assen race because I want to finish the race in the points again and try to make the same like in Barcelona from FP1 to race day before I crashed. I hope I can do well there, as I know from last year, that the Yamaha bike works really good there. Furthermore, I hope the conditions will be pleasant as well. I keep working hard on myself and try to be ready with the team from FP1. I want to fight for the best rookie spot and aim to go to Q2 for the first time.”
Watch magic and myth collide at the ‘Cathedral’ from Friday 29th June, with race day now Sunday 1st July. Gone are the days of racing on a Saturday and gone are the tree-lined lanes that formed the track – but the TT Circuit Assen remains drenched in history.
Michelin on Assen
The Dutch TT – as it is officially known – has been running since 1925 and this season sees the 88th time the event has been raced. It changed to a Grand Prix in 1949 when the championship was founded and is the only race track to have remained of the calendar consecutively for the full seven decades that the motorcycle World Championship has been staged.
The short-circuit venue was built in 1955 and was 7,705m long – prior to that the race was held on the local roads and streets around Assen and the surrounding villages – and following changes to the layout, the current track is now 4,542m in length.
It is this mix of six left and twelve right corners, which form one of the most loved tracks in the world and ‘The Cathedral’ of motorcycle racing, with its high speed curves and ideally banked corners makes it a particular favourite with racers.
Assen is not a venue that is particularly severe on front tyres, so the Michelin Power slicks in a soft, medium and hard symmetric compound will not be pushed to the extremes that are experienced at other circuits, but it is a different examination for the rears.
With the technical layout and many high-speed turns, the soft, medium and hard asymmetric rear Michelin Power Slicks will have plenty of work to do, with the harder right-hand-side having to contend with the increased temperatures and stresses that are experienced through Assen’s plethora of fast rights.
Assen has also been known to have its fair share of wet weather. If conditions do deteriorate then the Michelin Power Rain tyres in a soft and medium compound, for both the front and rear, will be available to contend with any precipitation, with the rears featuring an asymmetric right-side, the same as the slick version.
MotoGP World Championship Points
Marc MARQUEZ Honda SPA 115
Valentino ROSSI Yamaha ITA 88
Maverick VIÑALES Yamaha SPA 77
Johann ZARCO Yamaha FRA 73
Danilo PETRUCCI Ducati ITA 71
Cal CRUTCHLOW Honda GBR 69
Jorge LORENZO Ducati SPA 66
Andrea DOVIZIOSO Ducati ITA 66
Andrea IANNONE Suzuki ITA 66
Jack MILLER Ducati AUS 49
Dani PEDROSA Honda SPA 40
Alex RINS Suzuki SPA 33
Pol ESPARGARO KTM SPA 28
Tito RABAT Ducati SPA 27
Alvaro BAUTISTA Ducati SPA 26
Franco MORBIDELLI Honda ITA 19
Hafizh SYAHRIN Yamaha MAL 17
Aleix ESPARGARO Aprilia SPA 13
Takaaki NAKAGAMI Honda JPN 10
Scott REDDING Aprilia GBR 9
Bradley SMITH KTM GBR 7
Mika KALLIO KTM FIN 6
Karel ABRAHAM Ducati CZE 4
The man of the Moto2 moment in Barcelona was neither of the two biggest title contenders so far this season, it was Fabio Quartararo. The Frenchman took his first Moto2 pole on Saturday and converted it into his maiden Grand Prix win on Sunday – in some style. The dominant win after some good progress this season begs the question: can the number 20 repeat the feat at Assen? Time will tell.
But what of the two biggest title challengers so far? Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) came from P17 on the grid to take a stunning second at the Catalan GP, and he was the winner at Mugello.
Now only a point behind Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) in the Championship, the Portuguese rider is in a good position. Bagnaia still holds that slim advantage, but after some tougher races and struggling with fitness, will Oliveira make the tide turn at the ‘Cathedral’?
Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP 40) aren’t too far behind, however – and they’re only a point apart, too. Marquez also got on the podium at Catalunya, and both have had serious speed this season.
Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) was the man who finished highest last year, however – with the three on the podium having graduated to MotoGP. Behind him were Oliveira and Marquez and, in P9, a solid result for then-rookie Fabio Quartararo…
There’s home representation to think about at Assen, too, with rookie Bo Bendsneyder (Tech 3 Racing) looking to impress and take his first points of the season – after coming close twice already this year.
With the top ten, fifteen or even twenty often split by almost nothing in Moto2, there’s everything to play for every time they go out on track. Who will reign at the ‘Cathedral’? And, crucially, who will leave with the lead?
Moto2 Championship Standings
Francesco Bagnaia (ITA) KALEX 119 points
Miguel Oliveira (POR) KTM 118
Alex Marquez (SPA) KALEX 94
Lorenzo Baldassarri (ITA) KALEX 93
Xavi Vierge (SPA) KALEX 70
It was another dramatic Moto3 race at Catalunya, but this time, only for some – and it was Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) who lost out the most in the Championship, crashing as he did out of the lead and taking home another 0.
At the front, meanwhile, Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) won for the first time since Motegi 2016 – and gained 25 points on the front.
Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PrüstelGP) may have ultimately been the bigger winner, however. The Italian struck when it mattered to just take second on the line and banked 20 precious points, taking his lead up to 19 points and the pressure down a few notches.
With only Bastianini ahead of him, Martin suffering a DNF and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) forced a comeback ride to P7, the cards fell right for the Championship leader – and he made the most of them. Di Giannantonio’s heroics did pay off however, as he’s now the man on the chase.
Now it’s time for a very different challenge at Assen – with a very different final corner. Tactics can be everything at the Dutch track and it can all go down to the wire.
With some feeling the pressure to win and gain back points and some with a little breathing space, how will that affect those last lap lunges? There’s not the drag to the line to rely on in the Netherlands.
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