This weekend’s TIM TT Assen is the second in a series of back-to-back MotoGP races, one that will truly test the endurance of the world’s fastest motorcycle racers. The 2.830-mile track located in the Netherlands features 17 turns infused in a very technical layout. And since being modified in 2006, there are both old and new sections, one slippery, the other abrasive, which will prove a challenge for establishing a smooth rhythm.
The tricky design, combined with only a few days of rest, will showcase where the talent resides during Round 6 at Assen. The Dutch TT will also mark the 80th anniversary of TT racing at the track, and will be the 62nd time it was part of the Grand Prix World Championship.
The big news still revolves around the lack of the series current legend, nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, who’s now into the third week of recovery from his Mugello mishap. Fiat Yamaha will not have a stand-in racer for the reigning champ at the Dutch TT, but must contractedly fulfill Rossi’s seat at Catalunya.
The other rider out is Interwetten Honda’s Hiroshi Aoyama, who fractured a vertebra during a crash in the warm-up session at Silverstone on Sunday. Honda will replace him at Assen with Kousuke Akiyoshi, Honda’s test rider.
Including Akiyoshi, the grid will feature 16 riders this Sunday. Most of them are looking to beat the Spaniard with an almost perfect point standings leading up to Assen, Jorge Lorenzo. The 23-year-old has 115 out of a perfect 125 points, and is coming off a dominating win at Silverstone.
Lorenzo, who has two 250cc and a 125cc wins at Assen, finished second last year behind his teammate Rossi. And the Mallorcan with three wins and two second-place finishes also says Assen is his favorite circuit.
Jorge Lorenzo says: “We have started this run of three races in a row as perfectly as we could have wished and Silverstone was a great race and very important for the championship. But now we move on and we just have to try to continue in the same way. Next we arrive at Assen, my favorite track, and once again we’re aiming for the podium. The team is working very well together and now we will just concentrate on trying to improve the M1 even more; it’s important to keep growing. I’ve won at Assen in 125 and 250 so I’d really like to try to win in MotoGP.”
A win would help Lorenzo, considering Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso is only 37 points behind. This is the highest position the Italian has ever been in the championship. The 125cc Champion has much incentive to chase down Lorenzo due to four podiums in five races aboard his RC212V, and a sixth-place finish at Jerez. Dovizioso, who is in his third year in the premier class, has a best finish of fifth at Assen during his rookie 2008 season.
Andrea Dovizioso says: “We go to Assen very motivated. After the second place in Silverstone on a new track, we look forward to race on the historical track of Assen. It’s not one track that I particularly like after the modifications, but we feel strong and we will be strong also there. The characteristics of the circuit are not so favorable for us, because it has a lot of corners with high speed, but we are really confident and we look forward to do another step forward. We are improving race after race, so I’m happy and we will work hard to be faster and be able to fight for the win.”
His teammate, Dani Pedrosa, trails by five points with 73. The Spaniard has two podiums, which includes his win at Mugello. He didn’t have much luck at Silverstone, though, battling with grip on his Honda during the race, and bruising his knees during a crash in the warm-up session. Pedrosa’s hoping to make up the points he lost at the British Grand Prix, which is very possible at Assen due to his experience; he has two podiums in the premier class, and also scored his first-ever World Championship victory there in the 125cc class in 2002.
Dani Pedrosa says: “It’s good that we are going to Assen straight after Silverstone because it gives me and the team an early opportunity to put the last race behind us and work towards another strong result like we had at Mugello. We will learn from what happened at the British Grand Prix and then move on. It’s fortunate that I’m not hurt after Silverstone and I’m confident we can get right back on the pace this weekend. Assen is a good track – even if it was better before they changed it a few years ago – and I like riding there. It’s a circuit which requires an agile machine because there are several fast direction changes – as there are at Mugello – so it would be nice if we get another result like in Italy. The team is working really hard and I’m confident we can make a good start in first practice at Assen and have a competitive weekend. The crowds and the history create a special atmosphere at Assen so I’m looking forward to getting out on track again.”
Although not competing, Rossi remains in fourth with 61 points. But if the rider currently in fifth with 52 points has yet another consistent finish, he should be bumped up a spot to his magic number, four. This man, Nicky Hayden, has four fourth-place finishes so far this season, and also finished in the top four at Assen for four consecutive years, including his victory there in 2006 en route to his championship title.
Nicky Hayden says “Assen is a unique and special circuit and I have had some of my best races there. It has been changed a lot over the years – some sections are better and some are worse – but there are a lot of long sweeping corners and the grip is good so you can use it to generate speed. The best part of the track is the last ‘left-right’ switch, a place where you can make a decisive pass on the brakes if you get it right. I’m not happy with the result from Silverstone and at Assen I’d love to be able to take advantage of our recent progress with the set-up of the bike to get a better result.”
Without any podium finishes, Hayden’s teammate Casey Stoner is currently in eight in the championship. The Australian has two DNFs, and a best-place finish of fourth at Mugello. But he has luck in Assen; he has finished there in the top three for the past three races, and gave Ducati their first win there in 2008.
Casey Stoner says: “I have made some mistakes at times this year and at other times we have struggled to find the right set-up but for one reason or another things have not worked out as they should done despite the fact we have had opportunities to do well and even win races. We have the pace, we have a competitive technical package and the whole team is doing a great job, as always, so hopefully we can put everything together at Assen. We found a good set-up in the warm-up last Sunday – we could have maybe done with a little more grip but in general I was happy with the bike so in theory we should be on the pace in Holland too. I don’t want to make any predictions, just keep working well with my team and see if together we can turn this situation around.”
LCR Honda rider Randy de Puniet is having the best season of his five-year MotoGP career, and currently sits in sixth in the championship with 46 points. The Frenchman is also the highest placed non-factory rider, and has finished in the top ten in every race, although never higher than sixth. He finished in seventh at last year’s Assen race.
Randy de Puniet says: “I like the Assen circuit very much as it is a floating track and suits my riding style; some corners are the same as the Silverstone track. Last year I finished seventh, but I presume we can get a better result this year because I can rely on my machine. Assen could be another good track for us to maintain the sixth position in the classification.”
This year’s most talked about rookie, Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Ben Spies, garnered his first podium finish of his nine-race MotoGP career last week at Silverstone. His third-place finish bumped him from 10th to seventh in the championship.
The San Carlo Honda Gresini team rounds out the top 10, with Marco Melandri and Marco Simoncelli. Both riders have 32 points in the championship.
Marco Melandri says: “I feel much more confident going to Assen than I have done about the past few races. We had a great weekend at Silverstone up until a small mistake in the race. Finally on the Sunday morning at Mugello we found a better base setting to work from and I am sure we are going to be more competitive in the upcoming races so I’m happy. My opinion of Assen is that they spoiled it in 2005 and I don’t like it as much, but they have made the corner around the back of the paddock faster now so I prefer it. After the first three turns the track is quite flowing so it should be a place that suits our bike well.”
Marco Simoncelli says: “I’m starting to feel really good on the bike and I hope to continue with this progression. I have a seventh place finish under my belt and I am finding the right level of confidence with the bike. What I need to do now is be more consistent when the tire performance drops over the last few laps but overall things are looking positive. Assen is a circuit I like and I hope I can improve on my result from Silverstone and take another leap forward. My past results at the Dutch TT haven’t been brilliant – I remember I was leading one year in 125 and crashed on the last lap after touching with Luthi and was third for the past couple of years in 250. However, as I said it’s a circuit I like so I hope to have a good race there. Apart from the first hairpin it should suit the Honda so I am confident.”
Besides the typical racing action, fans will be treated with seeing a legend take a few laps, Giacomo Agostini. He will be a guest for Yamaha, and ride around the circuit aboard his 1975 YZR500 OW23 machine.
The TIM TT Assen will be broadcast live on SPEED TV at 9:30 a.m. (EST) Saturday, June 26.
Valentino Rossi (Fiat Yamaha) 2009, 1:36.558
Casey Stoner (Ducati Marlboro) 2008, 1:35.520
Grand Prix Results: Assen 2009
1. Valentino Rossi (Fiat Yamaha): 42:14.611
2. Jorge Lorenzo (Fiat Yamaha): +5.368
3. Casey Stoner (Ducati Marlboro): + 23.113
MotoGP Championship Standings
1. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Fiat Yamaha Team, 115
2. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) Repsol Honda Team, 78
3. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Repsol Honda Team, 73
4. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Fiat Yamaha Team, 61
5. Nicky Hayden (USA) Ducati Marlboro Team, 52
6. Randy de Puniet (FRA) LCR Honda MotoGP, 46
7. Ben Spies (USA) Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 36
8. Casey Stoner (AUS) Ducati Marlboro Team, 35
9. Marco Melandri (ITA) San Carlo Honda Gresini, 32
10. Marco Simoncelli (ITA) San Carlo Honda Gresini, 32
11. Colin Edwards (USA) Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 26
12. Hector Barbera (SPA) Aspar Team, 24
13. Aleix Espargaro (SPA) Pramac Green Team, 22
14. Hiroshi Aoyama (JAP) Interwetten-Honda MotoGP, 18
15. Mika Kallio (FIN) Pramac Green Team, 15
16. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Rizla Suzuki MotoGP, 13
17. Alvaro Bautista (SPA) Rizla Suzuki MotoGP, 12