MotoGP heads to Assen
2017 MotoGP content on MCNews.com.au brought to you by Honda Genuine Oils
2017 MotoGP content on MCNews.com.au brought to you by Honda Genuine Oils
MotoGP 2017 – Round Eight – Assen

Beyond the fields and tree-lined lanes of the Drenthe province in the northeastern Netherlands nestles a foothold of motorcycling history, refined today into a ribbon of asphalt that winds its way around 18 corners hewn from a combination of flat-out bravery and tight apexes. The engines fired up near the town of Assen for the first time almost a century ago, and the first foundations of the modern track were laid in 1955.

MotoGP heads back to Assen in 2017
MotoGP heads back to Assen in 2017

Since then, a lot has changed – but the Circuit van Drenthe remains drenched in history, anchored to its past by the finish line first set down in the fifties. “The Cathedral” is itself a legend as much as it has created them, and it is the only track on the calendar to have remained a fixture since the World Championship began in 1949.

In 1992, it was at Assen that Mick Doohan’s right leg risked being amputated after he fell during a qualification lap and got trapped under his Honda. His limb was saved by Dr. Costa, and he came back with the aid of a thumb operated master cylinder that Brembo engineers designed especially for him.

The track is a very technical affair with corners varying from slow turns to high-speed bends. This layout demands good rear grip, especially on the side of the tyre, through the track’s six left-hand and twelve right-hand corners. The design of the Assen circuit has no hard-braking zones and the track is not very demanding on the front tyres, unlike some recently visited circuits, so with these considerations the allocation of Michelin Power Slicks for the front will all be a symmetrical design, available in soft, medium and hard compounds.

The rear tyres will all be asymmetric to manage the stresses that are placed upon them, with the right-hand-side of the tyre having a harder compound to give better durability and optimum grip through the extra right turns, whilst the left side will be a softer compound designed to warm up quicker and give rapid temperature to the rubber after the sustained periods on the right shoulder. The rear will be available in soft (white band) medium (no band) and hard (yellow band), with the compounds designed to cover the medium severity of abrasion that the track is expected to offer. Last year saw the wettest race of the season on the MotoGP calendar at Assen and although no-one wants a repeat of those conditions the allocation will be prepared with the Michelin Power Rain tyres in soft and medium should the wet weather re-appear.

The Dutch TT had been traditionally staged on a Saturday until that changed last year with the first Sunday running, which will continue this year, but with a revised race-time. Michelin and the MotoGP field will take to the track on Friday 23rd June for the first day of practice, followed by further practice sessions and qualifying on the Saturday. Sunday’s 26-lap race will get underway at an earlier than usual start time of 13.00hrs CEST (12.00hrs BST, 11.00hrs GMT/UTC).


Valentino Rossi
Valentino Rossi has a strong record at Assen including seven wins

Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) has written more than a few chapters of that legend. The ‘Doctor’ has taken seven wins and stood on the podium nine times in the premier class – the most successful rider on the grid at the venue – and took his first victory upon returning to Yamaha at the TT Circuit Assen in 2013.

Since then, the nine-time World Champion has won once more – and will have a clear goal in 2017 to stamp some authority back on the field, the standings and his teammate Maverick Viñales.

Valentino Rossi

“I‘m happy to go to Assen, especially after the two days of testing we did in Barcelona following such a bad race. During the test we have tried some interesting solutions and now I want to try them at another track to see if we‘re going in the right direction. The Netherlands is always a great weekend, because the Assen circuit is very nice. I hope to be competitive in Assen because I would like to make it a good race.”

Valentino Rossi
Valentino Rossi

Viñales will have his crosshairs set on the same, however. The Championship leader remains so despite a difficult race for both Movistar Yamahas at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and Viñales will need attack mode switched on if he is to grow his advantage back to what it once was.

Maverick Vinales

“Assen is a good circuit for the YZR-M1 and also for my riding style it‘s quite good. I’ve been doing really good races there in the past. I like it and I always enjoy riding here. After the difficult race in Catalunya we arrive in Assen extra motivated because we really need to be on the podium and take as many points as possible. We can‘t afford to struggle in the next races, so for sure we will give our 100%.”

Maverick Vinales at the Assen press conference
Maverick Vinales at the Assen press conference

Finding the line between attacking and banking the points will be a test of his mettle with such a small gap at the top – but the climate and conditions could mirror more Le Mans than Barcelona. And Le Mans more than proved Viñales’ mettle, as well as his teammate’s resolve.

Andrea Dovizioso
Andrea Dovizioso has proven another contender, closing in Vinales and winning the same number of races

Another man to have more than proved himself of late is the man on the chase behind Viñales in the Championship: Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). ‘DesmoDovi’ joked that he earned his name at Mugello, but the phrase rings even more true after another stunner in Barcelona to take him seven points off the top.

Andrea Dovizioso

“After two wins on the run in Italy and Spain, it’s been a fantastic week for me! Even though I’m second overall in the standings I’m not thinking too much of the championship because there are still a lot of races left and we must continue to work to improve some aspects of our bike. It’s true that we have dominated the last two GP and that the Desmosedici GP has gone really well but these were peculiar races, in particular Barcelona. In any case I’m pretty relaxed about everything and also at Assen I’ll be trying to get the best result I can.”

Andrea Dovizioso celebrates with Team Ducati at Catalunya
Andrea Dovizioso celebrates with Team Ducati at Catalunya

Since the lights went out in Sepang last year – the first race the Italian won since 2009 – Dovizioso has won a third of the races: the same number as Viñales.

Although a realist to the core and refusing to be drawn, that record speaks for itself in the ever-changing Championship. Teammate Jorge Lorenzo will be hoping to continue his progress, too, after a first podium in Jerez and a first front row at the Catalan GP.

Jorge Lorenzo

“The race at Montmelò proved once again that this Ducati can win and I’m really happy for Dovizioso and for the entire team. We’ll be starting from scratch again at Assen, but I’m positive and I think that the Desmosedici can adapt well to the track. As for me, in the Netherlands I’ve always scored good results, especially the unforgettable memory of what happened in 2013, and it’s always a great place to race. The most important thing is to continue to work in the same way and improve every weekend as we have in the latest races.”

Jorge Lorenzo
Jorge Lorenzo

The ‘Spartan’ has a mixed history at Assen with a win and some lows, but the track also staged a definitive moment for the five-time World Champion: after his top five result with a broken collarbone in 2013, Lorenzo’s grit can never be doubted.

Marc Marquez

“I’m looking forward to this weekend and trying to be competitive from FP1 – trying to find this stability that has been our weak point, but I think we’re getting better and better. Assen is a track I like and good for my style. In the past it was one where we struggled more with Honda but I think with the character of the engine this year we can be closer. We know Yamaha here are strong and Ducati were fast last year. We’ll see – the weather is always a question mark too…”

Marquez hasn't shown the same consistency as 2016 this year, but is still capable of taking the top spot
Marquez hasn’t shown the same consistency as 2016 this year, but is still capable of taking the top spot

Reigning Champion Marc Marquez and Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa also bounced back in Barcelona after a more difficult Italian GP. A podium for both men – Marquez in P2 and Pedrosa completing the rostrum from pole – made for valuable points after the Catalan GP, and both riders moved up a place in the Championship as they leapfrogged Rossi.

Dani Pedrosa

“This weekend we head to the Dutch TT fresh from a podium in Catalunya. This is a race which usually requires great concentration in order to be prepared and deal with every situation the weekend may throw at us! You never know how much dry-track time you’ll get there and having to try several tyres during the weekend you must fully exploit every session. It’s a fast track that I like and we’ll push from Friday morning ready to make our best to be able to fight again at the front on Sunday”.

Dani Pedrosa
Dani Pedrosa

Marquez dueled the ‘Doctor’ for the win in 2015 and won at Assen in 2014, and Pedrosa counts on five previous podiums at the track in the premier class.

Fellow rostrum finisher Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) could be a dark horse at Assen. Previously on pole and on the podium at the venue, the Brit has form there – and will be pushing hard to bounce back from a difficult Catalan GP. Crutchlow has also been buoyed by a further two-year extension to his contract with HRC and LCR Honda which will take him through to the end of MotoGP season 2019. 

Cal Crutchlow

“Obviously I’m really pleased with the support we’ve always got from Honda. I’ve had three years here now (with LCR) so I might as well make it two more! This is my longest time in any team, I’m really happy and HRC have made me a fantastic contract. I have to thank LCR for putting the team together and getting us to race week in and week out – Lucio does a great job and I’m really looking forward to the next two seasons. The support we get from HRC is already very good, our bike is competitive enough and I’m pleased with the way it’s gone so far. Of course having a direct contract with a manufacturer makes things different in your personal life; but here at the track, being at a satellite team with a factory contract, I don’t think it changes too much and it doesn’t change anything for me as I always give 100 percent. I’m really looking forward to this weekend. I love this place (Assen), it’s a great track, although I’ve always said I’m really disappointed I didn’t get to ride the old track here – everyone told me it was spectacular and I think it was a year before I started the World Championship. We always have a great crowd here, a lot of UK fans come over as it’s close to home and I’ll try and put on a show for them. The goal is always to win, but I’d be happy to come away with a top-five.”

Cal Crutchlow
Cal Crutchlow may well be a surprise at Assen and has taken pole and placed on the podium in the past

As will last year’s winner in the rain Jack Miller (EG 0,0 Marc VDS), who crashed out in Barcelona but has shown some impressive top ten pace this year – and will be riding back onto the set of some incredible memories.

Jack Miller

“Obviously I’ve got some decent memories of Assen, after standing on the top step of a MotoGP podium for the first time there last year, and I’m looking forward to this year’s race. We go to the Netherlands after a solid weekend in Barcelona that was spoilt only by the crash in the race. I like the Assen track and I think we can do a good job there, we just need to keep working in the same way we’ve done since the start of the season. Conditions will be cooler than the last two races, but I don’t think that will make a big difference, but rain could shake things up a bit. It might be summer, but this is Assen we’re talking about, so the weather can change in an instant. We’re ready whatever it throws at us.”

 

Jack Miller - Image by AJRN
Jack Miller, pictured at Assen last year in the wet where he went on to win – Image by AJRN

 

Another of those tipped to challenge once again is Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), as well as his teammate Jonas Folger. Zarco already has a podium finish as a rookie and is now a firm presence at the front, with Folger also getting in the mix in Barcelona to stay with the top runners for some time. Rookies have nothing to lose – and everything to gain.

Johann Zarco

“Assen is a really impressive circuit, but the weather can complicate matters because it often rains. However, I know that the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team and I will adapt to any situation as best as we can. The Catalunya week, including the test, was a very good experience for me and I want to use the knowledge that we gained to have a more rewarding weekend in the Netherlands. I can use this information to manage the practice sessions more effectively so that I can qualify well and then have a stronger chance in the race to get another podium. This is the target and I am excited to get back on the bike and I must say that it’s always fantastic to ride the Yamaha YZR-M1.”

Johann Zarco
Johann Zarco

Jonas Folger

“I’m sure that the Assen circuit is going to be positive for us because the track suits the Yamaha’s style and it is very meandering and flowing. However, I hope that the weather stays clear because, in Assen, it’s always a bit tricky and unpredictable with the rain. Nevertheless, the team and I want to continue in the same way that we did in Barcelona. We made a good step, which allowed us to improve and be consistent throughout the weekend. We did some great work there, so we fully intend to prove that we can do the same in the Netherlands to close the weekend with a strong result before we head to my home race.”

Jonas Folger took a dip in the pool at Catalunya
Jonas Folger took a dip in the pool at Catalunya

Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is another rookie with high hopes, expecting to be back on the bike after being sidelined through injury. Testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya to re-familiarise himself with the MotoGP machine saw Rins give positive feedback about the possibility, and both him and teammate Andrea Iannone will be interesting names to watch on the timesheets. Rins as he settles back in, Iannone as he pushes on to get back to the front.

Alex Rins on the Suzuki saw strong results in testing at the same track
Alex Rins on the Suzuki saw strong results in testing at the same track

Progress is the name of the game for more than just Andrea Iannone. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) suffered a mechanical problem in Barcelona but then enjoyed a positive test, and rookie teammate Sam Lowes will also be looking to move forward.

Aleix Espargaro’

“After three races with zero points, we deserve to show the true potential of the Aprilia RS-GP and I hope I am able to bring home a good result at Assen. I like the circuit a lot. After the tests at Montmelò, we confirmed that we have a great pace in race simulation, so now it’s time to demonstrate that with a great Sunday.”

Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia
Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia

Sam Lowes

“I like the Assen circuit. I can’t wait to get on the track, have fun and show my progress. For myself and for the team. Hopefully I’ll do my best race of the season.”

Sam Lowes
Sam Lowes

Then there’s Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, who fought for points but just missed out in the Catalan GP. The Austrian factory found huge positives in their three days of testing after the race, however – one Official Test day and then two more private sessions – and feel ready to race for the Dutch GP. Bradley Smith should also be back with the team after missing Barcelona, with his injured finger after a free practice crash in Catalonia on the mend.

Bradley Smith was forced to sit out Barcelona but now returns
Bradley Smith was forced to sit out Barcelona but now returns

Álvaro Bautista arrives at Assen looking to repeat his recent performances in Italy and Catalunya. The Pull&Bear Aspar rider has two targets in mind: to rack up more points finishes and put his early season no-scores behind him, whilst returning to the battle for top five positions. 

Álvaro Bautista

“In the Netherlands you always have to keep one eye on the track and one eye on the sky because the weather is very changeable and it can rain at any moment. The last two races have given the team a boost in morale, having finished fifth at Mugello and seventh in Barcelona after fighting at the front. It was important for us after the start of the season we have had. Let’s see if we can keep this level of performance up this weekend and fight, as I set out to do at the start of the season, for a top five finish, which would be a great result. Assen was one of my favourite circuits up until they made the change and made the first section so tight. After that there is a fast section, where you need an agile motorcycle for all the changes of direction. Now we have back-to-back races where we need to maintain our level and keep picking up points.”

Alvaro Bautista
Alvaro Bautista

His team-mate Karel Abraham heads into the eight round of the season feeling positive about the progress made alongside his technical staff during the last two rounds, which have seen him set a competitive pace and pick up two more important points for his season tally.

Karel Abraham

“I have good memories of Assen, from the old layout and the current one. It is a track I like, with flowing, fast corners. We go there feeling good after the two races in Mugello and Barcelona, where I think we took a big step forward, and now I feel even better on the bike, especially in terms of the front end. Everything is going well and I am determined to continue in the same way this weekend.”

Karel Abraham
Karel Abraham

Assen is one of the favorites of the Reale Avintia riders and both hope to be fighting for a ‘Top 10’ result in the “Cathedral of Motorcycling”. Last year, the race was interrupted due to rain showers after 14 laps and in the second 12-lap-race, Hector Barbera managed to secure sixth place.

Hector Barbera

“After the good weekend in Barcelona, I have been training very hard and with more motivation than ever. I come to Assen looking forward to improve what we did in the last race and to leave the first part of the season behind with a great result. I like the circuit and we have to work hard from Friday to get the most out of the tyres and to choose the right ones for the race on Sunday. It will be important to do well in Assen and in Germany so we can say good-bye to the first part of the season with good feelings.”

Hector Barbera
Hector Barbera

For Loris Baz, this will be his first time in Assen with Ducati. Last year, he did not take part in the race due to an injury, but now he is back eager to fight for a good result.

Loris Baz

“I am happy to go to Assen because it’s a circuit that I love. I was a bit tired after Mugello and Barcelona, so it was great to have a weekend to rest and re-charge the batteries. I’ve also been training hard, because I want to be strong for the race on one of my favorite circuits. Last year I was injured and I couldn’t race. Now, I’m even keener to ride my Ducati at Assen. We will have to wait and see how the weather develops, because even though the forecast is not bad, it can always rain at Assen. I want to finish the first half of the season in a positive mood, so I’ll give my best in the next two races.”

Loris Baz
Loris Baz

Jack Miller’s MarcVDS teammate Tito Rabat heads into the Assen weekend after once again scoring points last time out in Barcelona. The former Moto2 World Champion has scored points in every race he’s finished this season, a trend he’s determined to continue this weekend at the Circuit van Drenthe.

Tito Rabat

“Last year Assen was a disaster for me, but we go there this season in much better shape. My feeling with the bike and the Michelin tyres has improved as the season has progressed and we also enjoyed a very positive test in Barcelona immediately after the last race. I’ve scored points in every race I’ve finished so far this season but, while I’m strong towards the end, I still need to improve at the start. I need to be more aggressive from the start, to make up places early rather than having to pick people off as the race enters the final stages. Like always I will be giving it 100% this weekend and I hope I can continue my run of points scoring finishes in Assen.”

Tito Rabat
Tito Rabat

The track and the timetable have changed since racing began at the Circuit van Drenthe, but the legend remains the same. No longer racing on Saturday, MotoGP kicks into gear for 26 laps of the TT Circuit Assen at the slightly earlier hour of 2100 AEST on Sunday.

MotoGP World Championship Classification
  1. Maverick Viñales (SPA – Yamaha) 111 points
  2. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA – Ducati) 104 points
  3. Marc Márquez (SPA – Honda) 88 points
  4. Dani Pedrosa (SPA – Honda) 84 points
  5. Valentino Rossi (ITA – Yamaha) 83 points
    …13. Jack MILLER (AUS – Honda) 30 points

Going Dutch: who can break the Marquez-Morbidelli domination in Moto2?

After the dust settles in the wake of an uncatchable Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) at the Catalan GP, the paddock heads for the Motul TT Assen with the title fight close at the top. With Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) proving himself the rider to beat in the first races of the year and Marquez unstoppable on home turf, twice, both will be confident ahead of the Dutch GP. In 2017, they’re getting used to splitting the bill.

Franco Morbidelli has proven a driving force in Moto2 with his main competition from Alex Marquez
Franco Morbidelli has proven a driving force in Moto2 with his main competition from Alex Marquez

Morbidelli has already visited the podium in the Netherlands, so he will surely be in the fight for the win. On his part, Marquez won the Catalan GP and then doubled down in the Dutch for his first ever back-to-back wins on the way to his Moto3 crown in 2014. So the EG 0,0 Marc VDS dominion could well continue.

The only man to have stopped the duo thus far is Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team), who was the hero of Mugello before coming home best of the rest behind Marquez in Barcelona. With raw pace now converting into podiums for the Italian, Pasini has experience and confidence ahead of the Dutch GP – one of those ready to fight at the front to break the VDS stranglehold once more.

Mattia Pasini battles with Alex Marquez at Mugello
Mattia Pasini battles with Alex Marquez at Mugello

There are more big names lining up to try their hand, too. Last year the TT Circuit Assen saw Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) take his first ever Moto2 win, and the Japanese rider will have good memories to give him a serious confidence boost as he arrives at the venue this year.

Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) is another who will have his crosshairs trained on the win from the outset, with a solid record at Assen. Lüthi is now only seven points off the top of the Championship and if the Swiss veteran were to win, the worst-case scenario would be a deficit of only two points. The best-case would see him take over at the top.

Tom Luthi
Tom Luthi

However, the path to victory never did run smooth. The difference between hero and zero can be mere tenths of a second – and the grid in Moto2 is deep. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) has become a constant threat, last year’s Moto3 winner Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) will want to hit back in the battle for Rookie of the Year and Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) is an experienced frontrunner and winner.

Then there’s Forward Racing Team riders Lorenzo Baldassarri and Luca Marini, Xavi Vierge (Tech 3 Racing), Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) – all having shown impressive pace this year.

Remy Gardner
Remy Gardner

Remy Gardner will also be aiming to build on his championship points, with two to his name thus far in 2017.

Moto2 World Championship Classification
  1. Franco Morbidelli (ITA – Kalex) 123 points
  2. Thomas Lüthi (SWI – Kalex) 116 points
  3. Álex Márquez (SPA – Kalex) 103 points
  4. Miguel Oliveira (POR – KTM) 83 points
  5. Mattia Pasini (ITA – Kalex) 69 points
    … 26. Remy Gardner (AUS Tech 3) 2 points

Joan Mir has a definite target on his back as Assen awaits the young men of Moto3

After another stunning and studied victory for Championship leader Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) in the Catalan GP, the Majorcan is squarely in the sights of his rivals as they bid to stay in touch with him. The gap at the top is now 45 points – so to start reeling him in, it’s now or never.

Joan Mir leads the Moto3 championship by a massive 34 points
Joan Mir leads the Moto3 championship

Next in the standings after a well-fought P2 in Barcelona is Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers). With two top fives at the venue before, the Italian is confident ahead of the event – as are his rivals. Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) got another podium in Catalunya, too – and claimed another pole – and will be reset and ready to push once more for his first win.

Most of the top ten last year at the Dutch GP have been some of the key challengers this season so far. Behind race winner Francesco Bagnaia – now in Moto2 – Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3), Mugello winner Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46), Fenati, Mir and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) all had good races, making good reading for the grid ahead of the 2017 event. Wet it may have been, but wet is something Assen always can be.

Estrella Galicia 0,0 riders Aron Canet and Enea Bastianini will be joining John McPhee (British Talent Team) looking to improve last year’s results after they had tough races, as will RBA BOE Racing Team’s Juanfran Guevara and Gabriel Rodrigo. Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) will also be a key contender looking for more, despite an impressive rookie P9 at his home GP last year. Now a sophomore, Bendseyder will want to make a bigger impression in 2017.

Moto3 World Championship Classification
  1. Joan Mir (SPA – Honda) 133 points
  2. Romano Fenati (ITA – Honda) 88 points
  3. Aron Canet (SPA – Honda) 85 points
  4. Fabio Di Giannantonio (ITA – Honda) 80 points
  5. Andrea Migno (ITA – KTM) 76 points