After a seventh podium in as many races for Valentino Rossi at Donington Park on Sunday, the Fiat Yamaha team take their title challenge straight to Assen this week for the second Grand Prix in just six days. For 78 years the Dutch TT has been held on the final Saturday in June and despite the quick turnaround this year the tradition will be upheld, as the MotoGP World Championship paddock packs up and races against the clock across the North Sea from England to Holland.
It is a demanding but pleasurable trip for Rossi, who travels from one of his favourite and most successful circuits to a legendary venue where he has celebrated victory on six occasions – including four of the last six races there in the premier-class. The Italian arrives at the ninth round of the season in great form, with an 11-point lead in the championship over Dani Pedrosa and having not missed the podium since the opening round of the season in Qatar and not finishing outside the top two since round three in Portugal.
Rossi’s rookie Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo has dropped to fourth overall after a stressful run of races but the youngster remains in the championship hunt, 58 points off the summit and with conviction and courage back on his side after a confidence-inspiring ride to sixth place at Donington Park, having started from 17th on the grid. A crash-strewn few weeks are now a distant memory for the youngster, who was back to his best in Great Britain and still has ten rounds left to enjoy and entertain before the end of the season.
One of the most technically and physically demanding circuits on the calendar for the MotoGP riders, Assen has barely a straight piece of tarmac in sight. Handling is a major focal point due to high-speed chicanes and dramatic camber changes – the latter, in some places, resembling the profile of the public roads that the original circuit was based around – features that have traditionally favoured the nimble YZR-M1. Last year Rossi took a comfortable victory by 1.909 seconds over Casey Stoner in one of the highlights of his season after starting 11th, whilst Lorenzo also has a strong record there, having won the 250cc race for the past two seasons to add to a 125cc win in 2004.
Valentino Rossi – Aiming for the top step
“I’m really glad that we’re going straight on to Assen, which is another of my favourite circuits. Donington was good and we took important points and extended our championship lead but it was still a bit disappointing not to be able to fight at the front with Stoner and I am happy that I only have to wait a few days to try to turn this around! Last year’s race in Assen was magic, the best of the year, and I would like to repeat that victory again this year. Of course this time I would prefer to start from the front row instead of the fourth, even if making all those overtakes last year was great, great fun! I still miss the ‘old’ Assen but it’s still a fantastic track and the atmosphere is very special, plus our M1 usually works very well there so I’m looking forward to another exciting weekend. Once again Donington showed how strong our rivals are, so we can’t rest even for a moment and we have to be on our best form from Friday morning if we want to achieve our aim of getting back to the top of the podium.”
Jorge Lorenzo – Hoping for some fun
“Thinking about Sunday’s race is still giving me a lot of pleasure and it makes me feel much more confident about riding than I felt this time one week ago! I hope, after the good result in the UK, that the bad times of the recent weeks are now just a memory and in fact I won’t be thinking about them at all anymore, only about the rest of the season. I had a lot of fun on Sunday, which I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and this has helped me to move on and look forward to the next races. Assen is one of my favourite tracks, maybe my best of all. Last year I won there and I hope I can have another good result this year, although I know I still have to take things gently and not take too many risks. I’m really looking forward to riding a MotoGP bike there; I think it will be great fun!”
Davide Brivio – Half-way through
“So now we arrive at the half-way point of the championship in Assen, and I think we can be pleased with our performance so far. We’re leading the championship and our motivation is very strong, but there is no time to rest at the moment. Our primary aim is to be on the podium every round and we did this again in Donington, where we took some important points and extended our lead over Pedrosa, but we really want to be fighting for the win and so we will be trying to make up for this in Assen. Our bike has traditionally been very good in Assen, both on the old and the new circuits, and we hope that we will be in the best shape from the start this week.”
Daniele Romagnoli – Assen is a temple
“The aim at Donington was to get Jorge’s feeling back with the bike and he did that, setting some very good laps towards the end of the race, so whilst there is still no pressure on him to get results I think we have a good chance of success at Assen. For sure he took practice much more carefully at Donington, putting long runs together and avoiding taking risks – especially in the early part of the session when the setting was not perfect. A big part of his job this year is to learn, but unfortunately some lessons are more painful than others! Despite the changes to the track in recent years Assen is still a temple for motorcycle racing and we always look forward to competing there. It is a good track for Jorge’s riding style, as we have seen in the past, and it is also good for Yamaha so I think we can be very competitive.”
The following is from Repsol Honda…
The Repsol Honda Team goes into its fourth race in five weekends at Assen, round nine of the 18-event 2008 MotoGP series and thus the World Championship’s halfway point. The team travels to the Netherlands in very positive mood, Dani Pedrosa out to battle for victory once again, Nicky Hayden looking forward to his second race using the pneumatic-valve RCV engine. Pedrosa battled for second place and finished third at last Sunday’s British GP, despite qualifying on the third row. Currently second overall on points, the Spaniard is confident he can improve on that at Assen where he will be aiming to score his third win of 2008, following his victories at Jerez and Catalunya. Hayden finished seventh at Donington Park, in the process gathering vital data on the pneumatic-valve engine which he hopes to put to good use this weekend.
Assen is a unique MotoGP event, the only venue that remains on the calendar from the motorcycling World Championships’ first season in 1949. It is also the only World Championship event that is not a Grand Prix. TT stands for Tourist Trophy, the name applied to many races during the early days of motorsport when touring machines, rather than pure-bred racers, were used. Assen is a fast track with high-speed, interlinking corners that prioritise handling and stability. The circuit is also banked in the middle like a public road which requires riders to deal with complex changes of camber as they enter and exit corners.
“We got some useful points at Donington last week but at Assen we want a better result. First of all, I hope the weather stays dry because that way everyone can prepare better for the race. It will be a tough event because the level in MotoGP at the moment is just incredibly high. Assen used to be a beautiful circuit but the big changes they made two years ago have spoiled some of its character. The track surface is quite smooth, which is good, but it’s not as grippy as some other tracks. My favourite section is the final chicane, which is a legendary corner, the site of many great battles. Getting the set-up right at Assen is difficult, even though the new track layout doesn’t require such special settings as the old circuit. You need to prepare the bike so that it is agile and provides good grip. Assen requires medium-hard tyres. As far as riding style goes you need to be a bit aggressive because you have to use a lot of strength when changing direction at high-speed. The atmosphere at Assen is very much a motorcycling atmosphere, with a lot of life in the town, in the restaurants, everywhere. The atmosphere is the most classic left in the World Championship.”.”
“I’m feeling pretty positive going into Assen. We learned a lot about the new engine last weekend – fuel consumption, tyre life and so on – that we hope we will be able to put to good use at Assen. I love the track. Sure it’s changed a bit over the years but it’s still pretty good. I really like the last section, the fast bit coming back towards the pits, the fifth-gear change of direction at Hogeheide. That’s one of my best corners, you’ve definitely got to be physical with the bike through there. Changing direction fast at any speed is hard but in fifth gear it’s even harder. Assen has caught some flack for changing the first part of the track but the place is still plenty safe with good runoff. I’ve had some good results there in the past. It’s certainly been one of my better tracks and it’s always been a good Michelin track. You need a little bit of everything from the bike there, but the one thing that stands out is all the banked corners.”
The following is from Honda…
Honda’s main man in the high-pressure 2008 title race is the assiduous Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V). The Spanish superstar is under no illusions that this Saturday’s race will be a strong indicator of who has the means and the will to take the biggest prize in bikesport.
There are still three, perhaps even four, riders in with a realistic chance of taking the title: series leader Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) with 162 points, Dani second on 151 points, reigning World Champion Casey Stoner (Ducati) third with 117 and Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) a marginal fourth on 104. With ten rounds to go including this one, the fight is now on.
A cursory examination of the points standings might suggest Rossi and Pedrosa are too far in front for either Stoner or Lorenzo to threaten. But with the Aussie Champ fresh from a pole to flag win at Donington, and Lorenzo latterly showing speed and determination in Britain after a lay-off through injury, the current Rossi/Pedrosa supremacy is under threat.
All four of the title hopefuls have shown they have what it takes to prevail here at Assen. Rossi won here last year with Stoner second and Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V) third. Nicky won in 2006 with Dani third. Premier class rookie Lorenzo won on a 250 in 2007 and 2006. All have the ability here – machine set-up might well be the determining factor at this race.
With Nicky now scheduled to give the pneumatic-valve engine another outing after Donington Park last weekend (where he finished seventh), the data gathered there should give the former World Champion and his crew the extra information they need to get this potent new machine properly on the pace here.
And if Nicky is in a position to fight for podium places it can only help Pedrosa’s cause. Stoner is the sole Ducati man at the sharp-end of the Championship fight and as such cannot rely on any team-mate or satellite team riders taking places and points from his rivals. Rossi, if Lorenzo is on the pace, can count on the Spaniard denying his rivals valuable places. Nicky could be a valuable ally for Dani this weekend.
Andrea Dovizioso (JiR Scot Honda RC212V) who has scored well here on a 250cc machine is a rider in form right now – a fourth place in Catalunya and a fifth in Britain suggest the Italian rookie may well be gunning for a rostrum here on Saturday – another Honda man in the mix can only help Dani’s cause.
Alex de Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) is another man who has the ability to make his presence felt here too. The San Marinese rider has twice finished on the podium at this track on a 250 and despite a fall at Donington, he has shown he has adapted well to the demands of an 800cc bike.
His team-mate Shinya Nakano (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) mustered a second place here in 2006 riding a Kawasaki and after three top ten finishes at the last three races, the experienced Japanese rider could be further up the field here. The capable yet unpredictable Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) cannot be ruled out of the running either.
This classic track has changed recently. The entire ‘Northern Loop’ section of this classic track was bulldozed in 2005 to make way for a hotel and conference centre complex, reducing the lap distance from 6.027km to 4.555km, but whatever’s people view of the changes made – The Circuit Van Drenthe remains an imposing task for riders.
One hundred miles north of Amsterdam, Assen is a fearsomely demanding track. A former ‘road’ circuit, with some of the old layout retained, the track is very narrow and cambered, essential for drainage on a highway, gives the track a significant crown and this is one of the features of a tricky track that catches many riders out.
The surface can ‘drop away’ owing to negative camber on entries to turns, and perhaps more significantly, many exits are plagued with the same condition. Just as a rider needs maximum drive – the asphalt conspires to deprive him. And this is only one element that makes Assen so challenging. The turns (six lefts and 11 rights) almost merge into one here and riders are painfully aware that one small mistake can have severe repercussions in terms of overall lap time.
Much will depend on how the teams and riders wrestle with getting these 800cc machines adapted to the specific demands of the circuit. A certain amount of stability is vital for the swooping turns, yet quick-steering is essential for the ultra-fast back section where rapid changes of direction at 170mph are the requirement.
Dani said: “We got some useful points at Donington last week but at Assen we want a better result. First of all, I hope the weather stays dry because that way everyone can prepare better for the race. It will be a tough event because the level in MotoGP at the moment is just incredibly high. Assen used to be a beautiful circuit but the big changes they made two years ago have spoiled some of its character. As far as riding style goes you need to be a bit aggressive because you have to use a lot of strength when changing direction at high-speed. The atmosphere at Assen is very much a motorcycling atmosphere, with a lot of life in the town, in the restaurants, everywhere. The atmosphere is the most classic left in the World Championship.”
His team-mate Hayden said: “I’m feeling pretty positive going into Assen. We learned a lot about the new engine last weekend – fuel consumption, tyre life and so on – that we hope we will be able to put to good use at Assen. I love the track. Sure it’s changed a bit over the years but it’s still pretty good. I really like the last section, the fast bit coming back towards the pits, the fifth-gear change of direction at Hogeheide. That’s one of my best corners, you’ve definitely got to be physical with the bike through there. It’s certainly been one of my better tracks. You need a little bit of everything from the bike there, but the one thing that stands out is all the banked corners.”
Dovi said: “The Assen circuit has never been among my favourites and in the last two years with the 250 I took fourth and third place finishes. The circuit is pretty unique with lots of high-speed corners and chicanes. I arrive in Holland off the back of two good performances and I’m confident we can repeat this with the MotoGP bike. My style has changed radically from the 250 and for me when you come to a circuit you know on the 250 it’s like a new track on the RC212V.”
De Angelis said: “Last year I had a great ride at Assen on the 250, producing a strong comeback after a bad start and setting some really fast times. Obviously I’ve never been there on a MotoGP bike before so I’ll have to learn it all over again but we’re in good form and I feel confident heading to Holland: we’ve actually been making great progress lately. We’ve reached a level of competitiveness that allows me to fight consistently amongst the top six and I hope that continues at Assen.”
Nakano said: “Assen is another very unique circuit layout, which is difficult to grasp, but I like it a lot. I recorded my best ever result in MotoGP there with second place two years ago. The key to being competitive will be to find a setting that allows me to be effective in the fast corners. I think that if we can manage to continue on the same path we were on last weekend at Donington, where I felt comfortable and had fun on the bike, we can definitely have a say.”
De Puniet said: “Assen is one of the most spectacular circuits of the calendar, but they’ve made a lot of changes in the past years. I don’t like the fast part. The straight is not very long and it’s very important to make the bike smooth in the direction changes and in the braking points. The set-up we used in Donington made the bike too heavy so we’ll focus our work on the chassis and suspension regulations. Like this I will feel more comfortable.”