Assen has always had a way about it. Every season, the Cathedral throws up moments that we remember, moments that we return to again and again, to savor and treasure. Saturday was no different.
It broke records – something that has sort of become convention this season, not that we are complaining. It was crazy, wild and fantastic – it confused us, kept us on our toes, fingers crossed, praying that the madness wouldn’t end.
It started as always with the weather.
The start was delayed, as the dark clouds kept their end of the bargain, and rained. The pit lane was ordered chaos. Bike set-ups were changed, once, then twice. Slicks or wet tyres. This was going to be a wet race, they said.
The grid was an odd one, with Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi qualifying a disastrous 9th and 12th place, courtesy the rain gods. Aleix Espargaro was shining and got himself a pole position after clocking a fantastic, record-breaking 1’38.789s. Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa got themselves a 2nd and 3rd spot, with Andrea Iannone at 4th, Cal Crutchlow at 5th, Bradley Smith at 6th and Andrea Dovizioso at 7th.
Not that any of it matter by the time Race Day dawned. The heavens opened up and threw everyone for a loop. Even Rossi. Two sighting laps later, Rossi found himself in the pits changing his bike from slicks to wets, even as the rest of the pack began the 26-lap battle.
The Italian fought his way up from the back of the grid, while Aleix Espargaro led the pack – very, very briefly – and was soon passed by Dovizioso. The Ducati rider held strong and steady, giving Marquez a fight. They changed positions again and again – and the first lap wasn’t even done yet!
Weather conditions were changing however, and the track started drying. Marquez and Dovizioso entered the pits for a few graceful pirouettes, as they swapped bikes – this time for slicks. Then, Marquez made an uncharacteristic error, running wide and giving room to Dovizioso who took lead. But it was just for a brief while.
The Honda’s pace was just too fast and Marquez passed the Ducati and opened up a lead, building it up to a whopping 6.714s.
Marquez went on to win the race and became the first rider since racing legend Giacomo Agostini in 1971 to win the first eight premier-class races of the year.
Dovizioso took his second podium finish of the season, ending the race at 2nd place, ahead of Dani Pedrosa. There does seem to be hope for the Ducatis.
Meanwhile behind, a massive battle had broken out between Pedrosa and a charging, confident Aleix Espargaro. Aleix had held on to a 3rd place at the start of the race, until six laps in when he pitted to swap his bike for one with a dry setup. The 24-year-old Spaniard pushed Pedrosa to the limit for the remainder of the race, swapping positions with the factory Honda, and giving us a taste of proper racing. This is one rider who deserves a podium – and fingers crossed he gets several before the season is out.
Aleix ended the race in 4th place with a 6th place in the championship courtesy 67 points. It’s perhaps the best run the NGM Mobile Forward racing has had so far. He later said in a team press release, “It was a great race and the battle with Dani Pedrosa on a factory Honda was hard but it was good fun. On the wet, I was cautious so I lost the contact with Andrea. But with the dry setup I pushed hard to fight for the podium. We had a very good battle with Dani: he was overtaking me on the straight and I passed him on the corners. It’s a pity, but I am happy with this result.”
The factory Yamahas however had a race from hell. Rossi pushed hard. Despite a terrible qualifying, a disastrous tyre choice, and starting from pits, he fought a terrific battle to work his way up to 5th place.
His teammate Lorenzo however, slipped into an oblivion; it was a far cry from last year when he surmounted pain after a surgery on his broken collar-bone to finish 5th. This year however, he ended his race at 13th place.
The former world champion however later apologized for his lack-lustre performance. “I have to say that the bike was working quite well on the wet and the dry, I just had a bad race as a rider. My confidence wasn’t great; I didn’t want to crash like last year. I didn’t have value enough like the other riders to go fast, it was a bad race for me. I would like to apologize with my team, the engineers and my fans because they all did their best, but today it was definitely my worst race ever. In the dry, I’m confident and not afraid of crashing but when it’s spitting maybe I have the memory of last year and I didn’t have things clear in my mind. In future if something happens like this I hope to be more confident and less scared of crashing.”
Broc Parkes, however, deserves a special mention. The young Australian swapped for slicks early in the race and made a brilliant run for 11th place on his PBM machine.
And so the Cathedral said good-bye to MotoGP, fulfilling its promise of a fantastic race weekend, as always. Next up, Sachsenring. Will Marquez continue his charge?