HISTORIC DUTCH TT WELCOMES HONDA RIDERS

2012-06-25 17:54
The 2012 MotoGP World Championship enters its most intense phase with a trio of consecutive races beginning with this weekend’s Dutch TT on the historic Circuit van Drenthe in the north of the Netherlands.

The Repsol Honda team arrives in Assen second and third in the championship after the recent British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the sixth of 18 championship races. Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC213V) finished the first third of the season second in the championship in front of team-mate Dani Pedrosa. Both have been consistent, with five podium finishes in six races. Stoner also has a pair of wins and will be looking for his third this weekend.

The reigning world champion will be making his final appearance in Assen having earlier this year declared his intention to retire at season’s end. Stoner has had success in Assen, with podium finishes the past five years, including a win in 2008 and a runner-up finish last year.

Last year’s race was plagued by cold tyre high-sides, all three Repsol Honda riders were victims- and Stoner’s injuries continue to affect him. As always, tyres, both front and rear, will play an important role in this weekend’s race.

The front tyre now mandated for use has a softer construction than its predecessor, around which the Repsol Honda RC213V was developed. Stoner liked the previous tyres for their stiffness, which gave him confidence in the all important corner entry and mid-corner areas. The team has worked hard to adapt the motorcycle to the tyre and are hopeful that the fix will work in Assen. Assen has a number of long corners with sustained lean angles, which will also require set-up time to find the best solution.

Pedrosa is looking forward to returning to Assen, having missed last year’s race through injury. On his way to the premier MotoGP class, he won at Assen on Hondas in both the 125cc and 250cc classes. Pedrosa’s first win from pole came aboard an Honda RS125 in 2002. Since joining the MotoGP class, Pedrosa has three podiums, two seconds and a third. Last year he missed the race after breaking his collarbone in a racing incident in Le Mans, France.

Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V), like Pedrosa, did well in the smaller classes while rising through the ranks. Following a pair of podiums, first on a 125 in 2006 and again on a 250 in 2007, he broke through with his first win at the track in 2008.

Bautista is coming off a fourth place finish in Silverstone, the best of the his MotoGP career having earlier earned his first MotoGP pole position. The Spaniard achieved the pole by wisely making the best use of dry track time, something he will likely have to do in the often rainy Dutch north.

Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP RC213V) had a difficult 2011 Moto2 race in Assen. Bradl was in a six-rider pack battling for fifth when he fell in the final hairpin. The German MotoGP rookie is not a fan of Assen, especially the first half of the track. Having been denied valuable dry track set-up time by the inclement weather at most races this season, Bradl is hopeful that the weather will cooperate so that he and his team can spend the maximum amount of time getting his LCR Honda MotoGP RC213V ready for Saturday’s seventh round of the MotoGP World Championship.

This will also be Michel Pirro’s (San Carlo Honda Gresini FTR-Honda) first visit to Assen as a MotoGP rider. Pirro has been developing the Honda CBR1000R-powered CRT machine since the start of the season, using the race track as his development grounds. The work is paying off. The Italian equaled his best qualifying effort in the British Grand Prix and registered his best MotoGP finish. He currently sits third in the championship among CRT riders; the two riders ahead of him are racing factory level machinery.

The Moto2 World Championship is the closest of the three championships after six rounds. Only six points separate the top three riders pending the outcome of the appeal by Pol Espargaro’s Pons 40 HP Tuenti – Kalex team to the FIM decision not to penalise Marc Marquez (Team Catalunya/Caixa Repsol-Suter) following their clash in the Catalunya Grand Prix. A decision on the appeal could be months away.

In the meantime Marquez has 102 points to 96 for Espargaro and Thomas Luthi (Interwetten-Paddock – Suter) as they head for Assen. Marquez has also been the most consistent, with two wins, a second, two thirds, and a DNF. He has also been the most successful in Assen, having won last year in Moto2 and also in his 2010 125cc World Championship-winning season.

Espargaro finished third in the 2010 125cc race won by Marquez, but did not finish last year’s race. The Spaniard is coming off his second victory of the season in the British Grand Prix, a race in which Marquez was a close third. Had he not fallen in the Catalunya clash with Marquez, Espargaro would almost certainly be leading the championship.

Luthi was the leader of the championship when he arrived at Silverstone; he left the British circuit tied for second with Espargaro. Luthi is the only rider in the top three to score points in the first six races. Though he has a win in Le Mans, a second and two thirds, he also has a fifth, in Qatar, and eighth in Silverstone, which cost him his points lead.

The top Swiss rider in the championship has not been on the Moto2 podium, but he was second while coming up through the ranks in the 125cc class.

Maverick Vinales (Blusens Avintia FTR – Honda) returns to Assen, where he won his second 125cc race of 2011, as the Moto3 championship leader. Vinales has three wins in the past three races, the most recent of which was a thrilling victory in the British Grand Prix. He has fond memories of Assen, he circuit he likes, and hopes to continue his recent string of success.

Team Italia FMI FTR-Honda’s Romano Fenati continues his rookie season in the World Championships with his first visit to Assen. Fenati has proven himself adept at learning new circuits, finishing second in his first race and winning his second. There were missteps in the next two races, after which Fenati began the process of returning to the podium.

Alex Rins (Estrella Galicia 0.0 Suter-Honda), like Fenati, started strongly before slipping. Following his best finish of the season, a third in the French Grand Prix in Le Mans, Rins has not scored a point. Included in that string is a crash on the second lap in Silverstone where he broke bones in both hands. Still, the young Spaniard is hopeful of riding in Assen and turning his season around.

The ‘Cathedral of Racing’ holds the distinction of being the only venue to host a round of the World Championships ever year since the series inception in 1949. Uniquely held on a Saturday in late June, the Dutch TT takes place on the Circuit van Drenthe, a track that has undergone a number of changes over the past 60-plus years, while still retaining the flavor of the original layout, which surrounded a working farm well into the 80s.

The two signature corners remain. The first is the left hand Strubben hairpin that sends riders down the Veenslang back straight. The second is the finishing sequence, a right-left-right chicane within sight of the finish line. An untold number of races have been both won and lost in the final chicane, situated in front of the largest grandstands on the circuit.

The most recent dramatic change to the venue came in 2006 when the length was reduced from over 6000m to 4542m. The changes were not met with praise by the riders, who had always like Assen for its fast, flowing corners. The 2010 race brought more changes, with Ruskenhoek kink on the back straight being re-shaped and shortened by 13 metres, a change that had a dramatic effect on lap times. Last year’s MotoGP race in Assen was the third fastest of the year.

The trend of inclement weather affecting races will certainly be in evidence this weekend. Showers are certain to fall at some point, but the track drains well and has an abundance of run-off. The surface of the layout irregular, with varying degrees of adhesion, having undergone so many changes.

Honda’s history of senior class success in Assen began in 1966 when Rhodesian Jim Redman won Honda’s second 500cc grand prix aboard an RC181 four-stroke. The following year Mike “The Bike” Hailwood won the race, also on an RC181 on the old 7704m layout.

Randy Mamola was the first Honda rider of the two-stroke era to win in Assen. The four-time 500cc runner-up won in 1984 and ’85 on the shorter 6134m layout. Other Honda riders to have won in Assen include premier class world champions Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Alex Criville, Valentino Rossi, and Nicky Hayden. Tady Okada, Sete Gibernau, and Alex Barros also rode Hondas to victory in Holland. Honda’s most dominant period came from 1984 through 2006 when Honda riders won 15 of the premier class races. Nicky Hayden posted Honda’s most recent win in 2006 on the 4555 track. Hayden would go on to win the 2006 MotoGP World Championship.

MotoGP Rider Quotes:

Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner says:
“We've had some great results in Assen, but also some pretty bad ones, so hopefully we can go there this weekend, be competitive and avoid any injury like last year when I hurt my neck, which followed us for the season and still causes me problems now. You spend a lot of the time on the edge of the tyre in Assen and unfortunately on our bike at the moment this is a weak point, so we will need to work on Thursday and Friday to improve before we can consider ourselves competitive there. I really hope the weather is good for us, as we need as much track time as possible to work on various issues on the bike. With three races back to back, it's important to get some good results at Assen, Sachsenring and Mugello, so we need to remain focused.”

Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa says:
“I wasn't there last year due to the injury, but it's a circuit we know well. Assen has changeable weather so I hope we can have some dry sessions to continue setting up the bike and making it more rideable. We need some more experience with the new front tyre and hopefully we can make another step forward this week. In Assen is important to have a good feeling with the tyres because there are several fast corners. I am really looking forward to this race and aiming to ride at my best.”

San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista says:
“Silverstone was definitely a very positive weekend for us. After the changes we made in Barcelona my feeling with the bike improved a lot and at Silverstone we were able to confirm it. I felt comfortable and safe on the bike from the start and I was able to have fun, which showed through with the pole position on Saturday, my first in MotoGP, and in the fact I ran with the front group throughout the race on Sunday. It was an important race for me and I was able to learn a lot from running with them. It was a very significant fourth place because it is my best result in MotoGP and it was a nice reward for the team. I was able to celebrate a little after Silverstone with my friends, but I have been training hard because we have three back-to-back races coming up and fitness will be crucial. At Assen I will try to confirm my good form from Silverstone, run with the front pack again and continue making progress. The next objective is obviously the podium, but we can't become obsessed with chasing it because I am sure that if we continue working as we are then sooner or later it will come. Assen is a legendary track with a mixture of fast and slow corners and a lot of fast direction changes. Obviously the weather always plays an important role with the cold temperatures and constant threat of rain. The old circuit was definitely more interesting and I really liked it but the new layout has some nice corners too. The atmosphere is always incredible at Assen and it's just a big motorcycling festival.”

San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Michele Pirro says:
“At Silverstone we were able to confirm that we are on the right path. We made significant progress at the tests in Barcelona and Aragon and in England we were able to have a good race and run with the best of the CRTs. The work that the guys in the team are doing is so important and I think that if we can take another step than we can make a strong challenge to be the top CRT. We have some updates on the way that I think will help us move forward and I am very optimistic about the future. Over the week off I made a quick trip home to Puglia to catch up with friends and family and now I am ready for Assen. The circuit is one of my favourites and I am sure we can have another strong race. Obviously the question mark will be over the weather because you never know what you will get in Holland and it can change very quickly.”


LCR Honda MotoGP rider Stefan Bradl says:
“Hopefully we can have some better weather condition and improve our bike in Assen. The Assen race track is not one of my favourite race tracks, especially the first part is not really good for me, but I think it’s completely different with a MotoGP bike. But I’m looking forward to a nice and sunny weekend in Assen.”

Moto2 Rider Quotes:

Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol – Suter rider Marc Marquez says:
“Assen is a fast circuit which is similar to Silverstone in certain respects, but I think that it is a better track for me. We will be focusing on finding a good setting, because at the British GP we suffered a bit with that. We will be giving 100% and keeping calm over the weekend, as we may perhaps be facing unstable weather conditions again. Last year I felt very comfortable at the track; we had a wet race and I took the win. This year we have a completely different bike and will have to work hard.”

Pons 40 HP Tuenti – Kalex rider Pol Espargaro says:
“Last year for me in Assen was a disaster, as the first four or five races. I was not 100% with the motorbike. The feeling was not so good. But it was last year. So we have to be confident. We have an incredible motorbike now with an incredible setting. Kalex is working so hard with us and I think we will be quite good to be in front there.”

Interwetten-Paddock – Suter rider Thomas Luthi says:
“In England I had a high-side on the first lap and lost a lot of time. After that the leading group was gone. But as Márquez got beaten the points are still looking good. Of course we try to stay in the top three of the championship. My goal for Assen is to be up front already in the first session Thursday. My team got bigger this year, one more mechanic, so my crew chief Alfred Willeke can work more relaxed.”

Moto3 Rider Quotes:

Blusens Avintia FTR – Honda rider Maverick Vinales says:
“Assen is a circuit that suits my riding style very well, in addition to bringing back some fond memories. I won for the second time in the World Championship there, so I am excited about going back to Assen. The fast section is where I go best, but we will work on the engine and the chassis in order to go all-out in every part.”

Team Italia FMI FTR – Honda rider Romano Fenati says:
“Silverstone was fun, and I hope people at home had fun too. I got off a good start and never lost contact with the front. This goes to show how with good teamwork we can always be competitive. Next race is Assen, a sacred temple for us riders. I can't wait to get there and race on such a historic track.”

Estrella Galicia 0.0 Suter-Honda rider Alex Rins says:
“Going to the Netherlands really excites me, because Assen is a classic circuit at which everyone wants to ride. I've been recovering over the past few days and will be motivated, although the crash at Silverstone means that I won't be at 100%. It's going to be a new track for me, which means a lot of work together with my team to earn a good result, leaving behind the bad luck of recent races. We have three consecutive race weekends coming up, and we are very motivated.”

Source: Honda Pro Image

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