Alice TT Assen – Monday 22 June Preview
Round seven of the 2009 FIM MotoGP World Championship takes place this coming weekend in The Netherlands with the Alice TT Assen giving Valentino Rossi the chance to turn up the heat on his title rivals at one of the most popular circuits on the calendar.
Last season Rossi had his worst result of the year at the Dutch track when he crashed early in the race and fought back to finish 11th, but he is traditionally a strong performer at Assen with victories to his name in all three categories there – four of those in the premier class.
Following his epic battle with his Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona Rossi will aim to maintain his championship momentum with another win, but he knows that Lorenzo and Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner – who are both tied with the Italian on 106 points at the head of the standings – will also be pushing to the maximum at ‘the Cathedral of motorcycling’.
Lorenzo also has a good record at Assen, having won there in the 250cc and 125cc classes, and the 22 year-old Spanish star refers to the circuit as his favourite MotoGP venue. Having been beaten by Rossi by just 0.095s in his home Grand Prix Lorenzo will be desperate for revenge in Saturday’s race.
Last year’s Dutch race winner Stoner is likely to be a far stronger victory candidate than in Catalunya where he rode heroically to finish on the podium despite being unwell, finishing just in front of Andrea Dovizioso before almost collapsing as he dismounted his Ducati Desmosedici GP9.
Repsol Honda’s Dovizioso has been fractions of a second off the rostrum in the last three races and should any of the current top three slip up in The Netherlands the young Italian will hope to take advantage.
Two points behind his factory Honda colleague in the standings, meanwhile, Dani Pedrosa should be in better physical shape than in Barcelona where he took sixth place despite riding with the painful right hip injury which he sustained at Mugello in the previous round.
Veteran American rider Colin Edwards is currently sixth in the classification and the visit to Assen takes him back to the scene of his infamous 2006 crash which saw him miss out on victory on the final corner. Edwards was seventh in Barcelona and is currently enjoying a consistent run of form.
Also currently occupying top ten championship positions Italian competitors Marco Melandri (Hayate Racing) and Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki), along with Frenchman Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) and Capirossi’s Australian colleague Chris Vermeulen will all be in the hunt for good points at round seven.
The Suzuki riders will get a second chance to use their new GSV-R 800cc engines which they debuted last time out in the Catalunya contest but were unable to use in the important Monday post-race test, whilst a number of teams will continue working with new material which they tested at the Montmeló circuit.
The World Championship’s visit to northern Holland sees the riders in the 250cc category lining up for their seventh race of the 2009 season, before a short break whilst the MotoGP field heads onto Laguna Seca and then a return to action in the double header at Sachsenring and Donington Park later next month.
After the Alice TT Assen the championship picture will be more developed, though Spanish rider Álvaro Bautista has already emerged as a strong title challenger, with four podiums and two victories to his name thus far in 2009.
The Mapfre Aspar rider – who also won last year at Assen – was a highly popular winner in front of nearly 90,000 passionate fans in Barcelona, the crowd celebrating wildly as he crossed the line more than seven seconds ahead of nearest rival Hiroshi Aoyama.
At the head of the general standings Bautista has a 12 point advantage over Aoyama, with the Japanese Scot Honda rider having one win and two further podiums under his belt this year. Aoyama has never achieved a rostrum finish on Dutch ground and he was sixth in last year’s race.
Another Spaniard, Héctor Barberá, came home in third place behind Bautista and Aoyama in Catalunya and currently lies third in the standings, just ahead of Italian rider Mattia Pasini who was fourth in the last race and is fourth overall.
World Champion Marco Simoncelli has dropped down the rankings to fifth place having crashed and retired in Barcelona and he now trails Bautista by 47 points, meaning he must improve his form significantly if he wishes to retain the title.
Behind Simoncelli in the top ten are the likes of Thomas Luthi, Raffaele de Rosa, Héctor Faubel, Roberto Locatelli and Jules Cluzel, all of whom will aim to get straight on the pace on Thursday when 250cc free practice commences.
The Assen trip cannot arrive quickly enough for Júlian Simón, who currently leads the way in the single cylinder class and is desperate to put the painful memories of the Barcelona race firmly behind him.
Although Simón came out of the Catalunya weekend with a 1.5 point advantage over his Bancaja Aspar colleague Bradley Smith, the conclusion of 125cc contest was a complete fiasco for the Spanish rider who celebrated a victory one lap too early and was then heartbreakingly denied a podium spot by another teammate, Sergio Gadea, in a photo finish.
Such is Simón’s strength of character and the general form he has shown in 2009, however, it would not be a huge surprise to see him bounce straight back with a win at Assen. One man who will aim to stand in his way will be Englishman Smith, who looked somewhat off-colour during the last GP, but is also generally having a fine season.
Back in the title picture after a brief dip in results Iannone (Ongetta Team I.S.P.A.) took full advantage of Simón’s Barcelona mishap to win for the third time this season. The Italian sits 12.5 points beneath Simón in the classification and is likely to be amongst the frontrunners again in The Netherlands.
Beyond the top three the aforementioned Gadea (also Bancaja Aspar) and his fellow Spaniard Nico Terol (Jack & Jones Team) are both also in good form and could well be in the hunt for podium places on Saturday.
Free practice at the Alice TT Assen commences on Thursday 25th June at 12.40pm for the 125cc category, at 1.55pm for the premier class riders and at 3.10pm for the 250cc competitors, with the races taking place on Saturday as has traditionally been the case at this particular round.