MotoGP 2018 heads to Assen’s the Cathedral
Since the beginnings of the Dutch TT way back when, much has changed – but not the heart and soul of one of the most iconic races on the calendar. Amongst the green fields of the picturesque Drenthe province nestles a true classic, now an 18-apex racetrack made of equal parts courage and precision.
It has been a hundred years since motorcycles first raced near the town of Assen, and the track we know today began to appear half a century ago – with the finish line the very same today, unchanged since the 1950s. The only track to have remained on the calendar since 1949, the TT Circuit Assen is drenched in magic and myth – and this is the 70th time the event has counted towards the World Championship; a year to remember.
In 2018, the MotoGP grid arrive in the Netherlands in the shadow of one man: Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team). After two dominant victories in which the ‘Spartan’ was uncatchable and unmatchable, he’s now ahead of teammate Andrea Dovizioso in the Championship for the first time since he joined the Borgo Panigale factory.
If he wins at Assen, he will become only the second Ducati rider to win three races in a row, after Casey Stoner. But the Circuit van Drenthe hasn’t always been kind to the number 99 – with Lorenzo having taken only one premier class win at the track, in 2010 – but for every bad memory, such as a broken collarbone sustained at the track in 2013, there’s a counterpoint…such as the Spaniard’s ride through the pain barrier that same weekend, taking a superhuman fifth place.
His teammate Andrea Dovizioso will be wanting to reverse the swing of momentum within the garage, however. The number 04 doesn’t have the most impressive record at the track, but he may have an ace card if it rains, having always been one of the best in difficult conditions.
But that’s often been true of the master of Assen, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), who has made the magic happen no less than ten times across all classes. Penciled in as a threat at the Dutch track even before the season begins, the rider from Tavullia will be looking to paint the stands yellow.
In addition, as well as contributing ten wins to the ‘Doctor’’s stunning record, the TT Circuit Assen was also the stage of his most recent victory, taken in 2017. That’s the last time a Yamaha stood on the top step, and the Iwata marque – and Rossi – will be keen to update the season on that stat. With three podiums in a row, the stage is set.
His teammate Maverick Viñales will also, like Dovizioso, want to strike back against the other side of the garage. And Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) will want to take his first podium of the season after a run of bad luck. But Assen hasn’t been the best for either – something not true of reigning Champion and points leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team).
Will Marquez be racing to win? With a considerable lead in the Championship, the number 93 just needs to keep bagging the points. But with Assen ‘Rossi territory’ in a way and already having staged a showdown between the two in 2015, will that be the blueprint? Or will it be 2016, when Marquez rode to a safe second behind a stunning maiden win for Jack Miller?
Alma Pramac Racing rider Miller will be hoping for history to repeat itself. After two tougher rounds coming off the back of eight consecutive top ten finishes, the Queenslander will be pushing hard to get back in the mix. But the race for top Independent Team rider will be hard fought once again – former Assen podium finishers, teammate Danilo Petrucci and LCR Honda Castrol rider Cal Crutchlow, will be tough to beat – as will Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).
Then, finally, there’s that all-important battle for Rookie of the Year. Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) leads as it stands, but Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is close behind – can he take over at the TT Circuit Assen? Especially if fortune favours the Malaysian rainmaster with the weather?
Watch magic and myth collide at the ‘Cathedral’ from Friday 29th June, with race day now Sunday 1st July. Gone are the days of racing on a Saturday and gone are the tree-lined lanes that formed the track – but the TT Circuit Assen remains drenched in history.
MotoGP Championship Standings
- Marc Marquez (SPA) HONDA 115 points
- Valentino Rossi (ITA) YAMAHA 88
- Maverick Viñales (SPA) YAMAHA 77
- Johann Zarco (FRA) YAMAHA 73
- Danilo Petrucci (ITA) DUCATI 71
Moto2: Oliveira and Bagnaia ready for round eight
The man of the Moto2 moment in Barcelona was neither of the two biggest title contenders so far this season, it was Fabio Quartararo (HDR – Speed Up). The Frenchman took his first Moto2 pole on Saturday and converted it into his maiden Grand Prix win on Sunday – in some style. The dominant win after some good progress this season begs the question: can the number 20 repeat the feat at Assen? Time will tell.
But what of the two biggest title challengers so far? Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) came from P17 on the grid to take a stunning second at the Catalan GP, and he was the winner at Mugello. Now only a point behind Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) in the Championship, the Portuguese rider is in a good position. Bagnaia still holds that slim advantage, but after some tougher races and struggling with fitness, will Oliveira make the tide turn at the ‘Cathedral’?
Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP 40) aren’t too far behind, however – and they’re only a point apart, too. Marquez also got on the podium at Catalunya, and both have had serious speed this season. Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) was the man who finished highest last year, however – with the three on the podium having graduated to MotoGP. Behind him were Oliveira and Marquez and, in P9, a solid result for then-rookie Fabio Quartararo…
There’s home representation to think about at Assen, too, with rookie Bo Bendsneyder (Tech 3 Racing) looking to impress and take his first points of the season – after coming close twice already this year.
With the top ten, fifteen or even twenty often split by almost nothing in Moto2™, there’s everything to play for every time they go out on track. Who will reign at the ‘Cathedral’? And, crucially, who will leave with the lead?
Moto2 Championship Standings
- Francesco Bagnaia (ITA) KALEX 119 points
- Miguel Oliveira (POR) KTM 118
- Alex Marquez (SPA) KALEX 94
- Lorenzo Baldassarri (ITA) KALEX 93
- Xavi Vierge (SPA) KALEX 70
Moto3: Advantage Bezzecchi approaching the Cathedral’s final chicane
It was another dramatic Moto3 race at Catalunya, but this time, only for some – and it was Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) who lost out the most in the Championship, crashing as he did out of the lead and taking home another 0. At the front, meanwhile, Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) won for the first time since Motegi 2016 – and gained 25 points on the front.
Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PrüstelGP) may have ultimately been the bigger winner, however. The Italian struck when it mattered to just take second on the line and banked 20 precious points, taking his lead up to 19 points and the pressure down a few notches.
With only Bastianini ahead of him, Martin suffering a DNF and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) forced a comeback ride to P7, the cards fell right for the Championship leader – and he made the most of them. Di Giannantonio’s heroics did pay off however, as he’s now the man on the chase.
Now it’s time for a very different challenge at Assen – with a very different final corner. Tactics can be everything at the Dutch track and it can all go down to the wire. With some feeling the pressure to win and gain back points and some with a little breathing space, how will that affect those last lap lunges? There’s not the drag to the line to rely on in the Netherlands.
Watch Moto3 take on the TT Circuit Assen from Friday 29th June, with race day the 1st of July.
Moto3 Championship Standings
- Marco Bezzecchi (ITA) KTM 103 points
- Fabio Di Giannantonio (ITA) HONDA 84
- Jorge Martin (SPA) HONDA 80
- Enea Bastianini (ITA) HONDA 68
- Aron Canet (SPA) HONDA 61