Bringing Down the Cathedral
MotoGP 2017 – Round Eight – Assen – With Boris Mihailovic – Images by AJRN
I honestly can’t remember a time when Assen didn’t deliver a drama-filled race of both triumph and despair, showcasing the best of MotoGP.
A stone’s throw from the North Sea and protected only by a wall of sand, the racetrack is known as the Cathedral of Speed and has been hosting motorcycle races since 1928, though it’s only been more or less in this form since 1954.
It is climactically challenging, delivering wind, rain and sun in varying amounts over the whole weekend, and often during the race. It has, in fact, had rain at one end of the track, and provided sun at the other end.
This past weekend, Assen served up what it always served up – ADHD weather and a race that will go down in history as a classic of the genre.
Zarco qualified in pole position and speared off the line like he had everything to prove, which he did. After leading heroically for the first few laps, he ended up proving he’d chosen the wrong tyres, and that speeding in pit-lane will always land you a ride-through penalty. But despite entering and exiting pit-lane twice, he still managed to finish ahead of the long-suffering Lorenzo – and it is still unclear if the water pelting the track in the last third of the race was rain or Jorge’s tragic tears.
The Spartan really had a shocker of a weekend. Qualifying in 21st, he surged into the middle of the pack during the race, but as drops of rain appeared on his visor, he went backwards, before deciding to pit and change bikes a few laps from the end. This meant he was lapped by Rossi and Petrucci (when was the last time you saw back-markers in a race?) who were engaged in a duel for the ages.
But the whole race was intriguing right from the get-go.
Four of them sprinted off hard at the start, with Zarco leading the way from Marquez, Rossi and Petrucci. Just behind them, a mosh-pit of speed was brewing as Redding, Dovizioso, Bautista, Iannone, Vinales, Crutchlow and Miller tried not to lose the front four.
Positions were swapped constantly, and the massive Dutch crowd rose as one when Rossi passed Marquez after showing him his front wheel a few times, and put the defending world champion between him and a menacing Petrucci – who quite suddenly and to everyone’s surprise is showing some superb form on the Octo Pramac Ducati this season.
Zarco had chosen to race on soft tyres, probably because he’s French. But the Doctor had chosen hard compounds for his hoops. The Doctor knows what he knows and he sure as shit knows Assen. He passed Zarco and Petrucci passed Marquez, and the second half of the race was a nail-biting slug-fest between the two Italians.
The Grand Master showed just how hard he is to pass when he wants to make it so, but Petrucci clearly has cags the size of moons and pushed Rossi hard.
Behind them, the battle for the last step of the podium was only intensifying. Zarco had fried his tyres and gambled the few spots of rain would turn into a downpour, so he pitted to get his second bike. Lorenzo also pitted, but no-one is sure to what end. It’s possible he was hoping Gigi had installed jet thrusters on his second bike, because that was the only way he was going anywhere. He ended up being lapped, as I said.
Vinales, who was no doubt wondering why he was suddenly struggling to win a race, let alone keep up with the fast blokes at the front, crashed out, and the crowd was treated to something very special as Dovizioso forced his way into contention for the top step.
Three on the hop for the sad-eyed one? Not this time. It was a brief but glorious moment for the Factory Ducati’s number one rider, but Rossi and Petrucci were not to be denied their contest. Dovi dutifully drifted back to engage in a stunning dice for third with Marquez and Crutchlow.
Petrucci actually managed to pass Rossi towards the end of the race, but it was a short-lived exercise. The Doctor was going to win this. It had been a long time between drinks for him (just shy of a year), and if he was going to triumph anywhere, it was going to be at Assen, where his record for wins is nothing short of brilliant.
As it turned out, backmarkers appeared, and Petrucci made some grumbling noises after the race about how there were no blue flags (the colour they show racers who are about to be overtaken) being flown when he was coming up hard on Rins, and was obviously disappointed he didn’t win. Sure, he might have won had Rins not been where he was when he was, but this is not a sport that tolerates ‘ifs’, ‘mights’, or ‘maybes’.
As it was, he finished a scant six one-hundredths of a second behind Rossi. But it might as well have been an hour as far as the championship is concerned.
Marquez just managed to shade Crutchlow over the line, followed by Dovizioso, who now leads the championship by four tiny points back to Vinales. Maverick is himself only three even tinier points ahead of Rossi. Marquez is four points adrift of the Doctor, so we have a championship that is as close as it’s been in recent memory. Even Zarco and Petrucci are within striking distance as they head to Sachsenring next week, followed by a summer break and dancing in Ibiza with bikini girls.
Redding, Bautista, Smith, Folger and Lowes all joined Vinales in the showers before the end of the race, and this is does not bode well for young Sam Lowes, who had been told to lift his game or seek employment elsewhere at the end of the season.
The two Asparagus brothers wobbled home in 10th and 11th, while the hapless Tito Rabat managed to beat a struggling Dani Pedrosa home to take 12th.
In every way and for every lap, Assen delivered once again. This was easily the most exciting race of the season thus far. Perhaps the hand of God does show itself in the Cathedral from time to time.
MotoGP 2017 – Round Eight – Assen Race Results
- ROSSI Valentino ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 41’41.149
- PETRUCCI Danilo ITA Octo Pramac Racing 0.063
- MARQUEZ Marc SPA Repsol Honda Team 5.201
- CRUTCHLOW Cal GBR LCR Honda 5.243
- DOVIZIOSO Andrea ITA Ducati Team 5.327
- MILLER Jack AUS Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 23.390
- ABRAHAM Karel CZE Pull&Bear Aspar Team 36.982
- BAZ Loris FRA Reale Avintia Racing 37.058
- IANNONE Andrea ITA Team Suzuki Ecstar 37.166
- ESPARGARO Aleix SPA Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 1’01.929
- ESPARGARO Pol SPA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 1’09.384
- RABAT Tito SPA Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 1’10.121
- PEDROSA Dani SPA Repsol Honda Team 1’10.344
- ZARCO Johann FRA Monster Yamaha Tech 3 1’35.655
- LORENZO Jorge SPA Ducati Team 1 lap
- BARBERA Hector SPA Reale Avintia Racing 1 lap
- RINS Alex SPA Team Suzuki Ecstar 1 lap
MotoGP 2017 – Round Eight – Assen Championship Points Standings
- Andrea DOVIZIOSO Ducati ITA 115
- Maverick VIÑALES Yamaha SPA 111
- Valentino ROSSI Yamaha ITA 108
- Marc MARQUEZ Honda SPA 104
- Dani PEDROSA Honda SPA 87
- Johann ZARCO Yamaha FRA 77
- anilo PETRUCCI Ducati ITA 62
- Jorge LORENZO Ducati SPA 60
- Cal CRUTCHLOW Honda GBR 58
- Jonas FOLGER Yamaha GER 51
- Jack MILLER Honda AUS 40
- Alvaro BAUTISTA Ducati SPA 34
- Scott REDDING Ducati GBR 33
- Loris BAZ Ducati FRA 31
- Andrea IANNONE Suzuki ITA 28
- Aleix ESPARGARO Aprilia SPA 23
- Tito RABAT Honda SPA 23
- Hector BARBERA Ducati SPA 21
- Karel ABRAHAM Ducati CZE 20
- Pol ESPARGARO KTM SPA 11
- Alex RINS Suzuki SPA 7
- Michele PIRRO Ducati ITA 7
- Bradley SMITH KTM GBR 6
- Sam LOWES Aprilia GBR 2
- Sylvain GUINTOLI Suzuki FRA 1