There’s no place like Assen

2019-06-24 09:57
Remember last year? The Cathedral of Speed is a race you don’t want to miss.
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.
Championship standings
1 - Marc Marquez (SPA - Honda) - 140
2 - Andrea Dovizioso (ITA - Ducati) - 103
3 - Alex Rins (SPA - Suzuki) - 101
4 - Danilo Petrucci (ITA - Ducati) - 98
5 - Valentino Rossi (ITA - Yamaha) - 72
Can Alex Marquez make it four in a row at Assen?
The new Championship leader looks nigh on unstoppable. Will the Motul TT Assen change that?
Le Mans is a very different track to Mugello, and Mugello is different to Catalunya. And yet, as we arrive at the TT Circuit Assen, one man has ruled them all: Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS). He’s now the new Championship leader by seven points, too, despite a 0 at Jerez through no fault of his own, and in Barcelona he showed he could do it from sixth on the grid. So is he unstoppable?

The bad news for his rivals is that each of the three-in-a-row wins – something he’d never done before – has been taken with a significant amount of time in his pocket and at Catalunya in the post-race Press Conference he said it himself: he made zero mistakes. In addition, until this season, the only back-to-back wins he’d taken had been in Moto3™ in his Championship-winning 2014 season at Catalunya and…Assen.

The good news is that everything can change in an instant. It’s an overused trope but it’s true – as Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) proves. A lead and a shield of invincibility accrued in the first part of the season is now fourth overall and a third DNF in seven races, so he’ll be top of the list wanting to hit back. But Marquez, along with the likes of Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) – the man closest to the number 73 in the standings and a rider with a solid record at Assen – will be big hurdles in the Italian’s way. Jorge Navarro (Beta Tools Speed Up) also remains very much a man in form, and Speed Up were second in the hands of Fabio Quartararo last season.

The fight doesn’t stop with a handful of names, however. Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) has some serious speed, Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) is looking to keep his pace rolling on race day, Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) just won’t stop impressing in the fight for Rookie of the Year…can KTM fight back? The list goes on. And as the season goes on, everyone learns more in this new era of Moto2™.

There’s one home hero on the grid for the crowd to cheer for, too: Bo Bendsneyder (RW Racing GP), who’s scored a few points so far this season, and the TT Circuit Assen could be a good venue for a few more.

The Motul TT Assen fires up on Sunday 30th June.
Championship standings
1 - Alex Marquez (SPA - Kalex) - 111
2 - Tom Lüthi (SWI - Kalex) - 104
3 - Jorge Navarro (SPA - Speed Up) - 89
4 - Lorenzo Baldassarri (ITA - Kalex) - 88
5 - Marcel Schrötter (GER - Kalex) - 73
Down to the final chicane: Dalla Porta looks to strike back
The Italian lost out in Barcelona through no fault of his own – now he’ll be pushing to cut down the gap to Canet
Moto3™ made more history at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) taking his first Grand Prix win to make it seven different winners in the first seven races and 12 different winners in a row. Despite that record though, it was an expensive day for one man in particular – Ramirez’ teammate Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing). A mechanical problem took him out the race, and Aron Canet’s (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) second place means the Spaniard now has a 23-point lead. The mission for Dalla Porta will be simple: hit back quick and score big.

The Netherlands is a good place to do just that. The classic TT Circuit Assen’s final chicane rewards bravery and tactics, two things Dalla Porta has shown already in 2019. Canet has too, but the Italian’s motivation on the back foot will be hard to match.

It’s not a two-horse race though. Despite a grid penalty that compounded a tough qualifying for Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse), the Italian kept himself in touch and is just five points off compatriot Dalla Porta in the standings. Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) impressed to take yet another podium in his first full season and he’s not far behind either – and then there’s earlier Championship leader Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai), who crashed out and will want to move forward…

Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers), now a race winner after his Mugello stunner, was another man out of the reckoning in Barcelona after a mechanical as well, and the likes of John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) are looking to recover from their last lap shenanigans at Catalunya. The field is deep, and Canet will have a fight on his hands to defend his lead and attack to try and increase it.

Last year the Sterilgarda Max Racing Team rider was in the fight right to the end against eventual winner – and now Moto2™ rider – Jorge Martin, so he knows he has pace at Assen. Now, he just has to go one better and make that tough decision, like the likes of Dalla Porta, where exactly he wants to be going into that final chicane on that final lap.

The word classic can be overused but it’s the only word for the TT Circuit Assen. Tune in for another Moto3™ melee on Sunday 30th June.
Championship standings
1 - Aron Canet (SPA - KTM) - 103
2 - Lorenzo Dalla Porta (ITA - Honda) - 80
3 - Niccolo Antonelli (ITA - Honda) - 75
4 - Celestino Vietti (ITA - KTM) - 68
5 - Jaume Masia (SPA - KTM) - 65

Source: Dorna Sports

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