THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE ASSEN
Monday, 24 June 2019
The headlines in Barcelona were dominated by one incident, but looking ahead to the Motul TT Assen they certainly shouldn’t remain that way. The script for the Catalan GP was written early but if there’s one venue where the plan always gets a shake up, it’s Assen. Whether it’s final chicane drama, the incredible close racing often created by the track or the risks that can arise from the weather, the Dutch GP is often as classic as the circuit around which it is raced. And the TT Circuit Assen truly is a classic – it’s the longest-serving venue on the calendar, with the first traces of the track already laid as the Championship was in its infancy. There’s no place like the Cathedral.
For Championship leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), it has a mix of good and not-so-good memories, but this season he now arrives 37 points clear as the dust settles after Round 7 and that’s worth more than a little spring in his step. He’s also now in the best position of power he’s been in all year, but that can fall both ways – attack and defend. Will he play it safer to protect that lead? Or will he feel free to go all-out and attack with less now at stake?
Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) is the first man hoping Marquez will play the wrong hand. Looking good in the early stages after another stellar start, ‘DesmoDovi’ was the biggest casualty of The Incident in Barcelona in terms of the Championship and it’s now game on for the Italian. It’s no longer enough to keep more of an eye on the long game, he now has to go weapons free in a bid to close down that lead. Both he and teammate Danilo Petrucci have showed they can take on Marquez and win this season – but can they do that at Assen?
One joker in the pack – in terms of what had increasingly become a Honda vs Ducati fight at the front, plus Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) – will likely be the Yamahas. Especially at Assen. Qualifying was a stellar day for the Iwata marque in Barcelona before race day saw big rewards for the man who finished, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), and pace was not what put the proverbial spanner in the works of his fellow M1 riders. First crash out the way earlier in the weekend, Quartararo rode a stunner to take his first podium and that could release the rookie from a few nerves at Assen – but in those first few laps it was Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) stealing the scene.
After a litany of sluggish getaways – plus a jump start – Viñales in 2019 was the late race pace man (and the bad luck man, now crashed out through no fault of his own a few frustrating times). But in Barcelona he was out the gate more aggressively than we’ve just about ever seen from him, chopping his way through to the business end before his race was chopped short. Would that have continued all race? In Assen the number 12 will be an interesting one to watch, and he was a key player in the battle of Assen 2018. His teammate, however, will likely have even more eyes on him.
Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) fills the stands wherever he goes, and the Dutch GP is no exception. But some circuits have seen him accrue better track records than others, and the TT Circuit Assen is one the number 46 has set alight time and again, winning ten times in total. If Saturday at Catalunya and the time preceding the crash set a precedent, Rossi is more than a podium threat. Controversy, chaos and control; the ‘Doctor’ has reigned through all.
And then there’s Rins. Another tough qualifying in Barcelona was quickly leapfrogged by the Suzuki man on race day, and he was right in the battle for the podium – looking feistier than his normal serene style when the gloves came off against Danilo Petrucci. He was only just off the rostrum after the mother of all avoidance tactics set him back a few places when he overcooked it, but he had pace once again – and he was one of the standout performers in the all-out war for the Dutch GP last season. He’s another to add to the ever-increasing list of expected names battling it out at the front.
Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) won his only premier class Grand Prix so far at Assen and he was back staying the distance at Catalunya, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) wants to regain his control over the Independent Team rider standings, and teammate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemistu) wants to get in his way. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) wants to gain on Quartararo in the fight for Rookie of the Year, and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) wants to convert Saturday pace into Sunday points. Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) wants to replay his stellar start in Barcelona before it all went wrong, and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) wants to try and bounce back. His brother Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) just wants to keep raking in the rewards for an incredibly impressive season so far. The narratives, battles and stakes are endless.
The TT Circuit Assen is more than a postcard or a slice of nostalgia. It earns its place in legend year after year, and 2019 will likely be no different. The standings got a shake up in Barcelona but this time last season the Dutch GP was shaking the foundations of MotoGP™ with one of the best races of all time. There’s no reason to believe the Cathedral will not bless us with another.
Tune in on Sunday 30th June as the grid try to tame one of the best tracks on the calendar – you won’t be disappointed.