Assen, The Netherlands
Dani Pedrosa topped a rain-hit practice session on Friday morning, leading the session once the brief rain shower which hit in the early part of practice had passed. The shower passed quickly, leaving the track fairly dry, with just a few wet patches, one of which caught Casey Stoner out, the Repsol Honda man suffering a huge highside on a damp patch at De Bult. Stoner was slow to get up, but eventually rejoined the session, ending in 6th.
Jorge Lorenzo finished in 2nd, just behind Pedrosa, and ahead of San Carlo Gresini's Alvaro Bautista. Despite his still painful ankle, Cal Crutchlow put his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha into 4th, ahead of teammate Andrea Dovizioso and the banged up Stoner. Stefan Bradl posted the 7th fastest time on the LCR Honda, ahead of the Ducatis of Nicky Hayden and Hector Barbera, while Ben Spies rounded out the top 10.
The final standings in the session did not carry that much significance, however. The mixed conditions meant that placings were determined to some extent by timing and the willingness to push. After seeing Casey Stoner crash so badly, there may have been some riders building in a small safety margin.
The times were close after the first day of practice, closer than they have been for a very long time. Just 0.471 seconds separates the top 11 MotoGP prototypes (Karel Abraham is barely fit enough to ride, after breaking fingers in his left hand, and is way off the pace), with Ben Spies leading Cal Crutchlow by just 0.006, just a tenth separating Nicky Hayden in 3rd from Dani Pedrosa in 6th, and less than a tenth between Andrea Dovizioso in 7th and Stefan Bradl in 11th. It has all the makings of a great race, right?
Not according to Cal Crutchlow. "Lorenzo will run away with it," the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man opined. Everyone except for Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa had set their fastest time on the soft tire, Crutchlow explained. Lorenzo's best time, a 1'35.057, was set in the middle of a run with a used hard tire, his race rhythm in the 1'35.0 while everyone else was running 1'35.3. Lorenzo was looking very smooth on the bike, team manager Wilco Zeelenberg saying he was pretty pleased with the bike and the way the first day had gone.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the first day of practice at Assen:
Press releases after the first day of practice at Assen:
Ben Spies topped the timesheets in a thrilling afternoon session of free practice for the MotoGP class. After Jorge Lorenzo led the session early, the lead started swapping frantically in the last third of FP2, with Dani Pedrosa, Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden taking turns at the top. In the final moments, Ben Spies retook the lead, Cal Crutchlow's attempt falling just a few thousandths of a second short.
Behind the two Yamahas, Nicky Hayden put the factory Ducati into 3rd spot, ahead of the San Carlo Gresini Honda of Alvaro Bautista. Lorenzo ended the day in 5th, a couple of tenths quicker than the Repsol Honda of Dani Pedrosa. Andrea Dovizioso took 7th, just ahead of Valentino Rossi and Hector Barbera, while Casey Stoner, who spent most of the session in the pits, rounds out the top ten, just over four tenths behind Spies.
Pol Espargaro has got his weekend at Assen off to a flying start, the HP Tuenti Pons team rider dominating the first session of free practice for the Moto2 class. Espargaro had a gap over over half a second for most of the session, with only Andrea Iannone getting anywhere near towards the end. Tito Rabat took 3rd spot, over eight tenths off the time of his teammate, while Thom Luthi ended the session in 4th, ahead of Claudio Corti and Marc Marquez. Scott Redding took 7th place, ahead of a brace of FTRs, Alex de Angelis' Forward Racing team having abandoned the Suter for the FTR from Assen onwards, the man from San Marino finishing ahead of Simone Corsi.
Jorge Lorenzo ended the first session of free practice for the MotoGP class at Assen on top of the timesheets, squeaking ahead of Casey Stoner as the session ended. Stoner had dominated for much of the session, but the Yamahas closed the gap as FP1 drew to a close. In the end, Lorenzo took a slim lead over the Australian. Stoner's Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa also slipped through ahead of Stoner to take 2nd, leaving the Australian in 3rd.
Ben Spies posted a respectable 4th fastest time, at the track where he secured his first and so far only victory in MotoGP. Nicky Hayden put the factory Ducati in 5th, three quarters of a second behind Lorenzo, and just ahead of Alvaro Bautista on the San Carlo Gresini Honda. Hector Barbera took 7th on the Pramac Ducati, following Andrea Dovizioso around to end ahead of the Italian, forcing Dovizioso down into 8th, just ahead of Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Cal Crutchlow. Valentino Rossi rounds out the top 10, just under a second slower than Lorenzo.
Three races in 15 days, right in the middle and most important part of the season. MotoGP lines up at Assen with one third of the season gone. By the time the triple header is finished at Mugello, just over two weeks' later, we are half way through the season and the title is a lot closer to being settled. These three races are crucial.
Not that it changes anyone's approach. During the press conference, I asked the riders if they took a more cautious approach, knowing that the cost of injury is much, much greater now than it is when there is more time to recover between races. They looked at me as if I were stupid - a conclusion they have some justification for drawing - and told me that they treat these three races the same as the first race, the last race, and every other race in between. Flat out, and trying to win. It is impossible to win championships without winning races, as Casey Stoner likes to point out, so it is better to focus on that than on worrying about what might happen.
Though it is hard to see Assen without remembering the old a painful reminder of the old six kilometre long layout, we’ll still be glad to watch the Moto3 bikes racing for first time at Dutch TT this weekend. Especially if you are still thrilled by the action seen at Silverstone a couple of weeks ago -with up to eleven riders fighting for a place on the rostrum-, you just can’t wait to watch a new chapter of these young lions racing and writing Moto3 history in its debut season.
Maverick Viñales is the new leader in the standings after the British Grand Prix (105 points) with Sandro Cortese in second place (103). Luis Salom stands third (75 points) thanks to his fighting spirit and getting best out of his Kalex KTM, exactly the same bike Aspar riders Héctor Faubel (28 points) and Alberto Moncayo (36) are riding nowhere near the front at this moment of the season. Kalex riders have been progressively provided with a new frame since the Barcelona race, but Faubel and Moncayo still have problems in finding the speed the new class demands. It’s a hard situation for a team which dominated the series in four of the last six seasons of 125 class history, until its end in 2011.
Marc Marquez will not receive the time penalty initially imposed upon him by Race Direction after his crash with Pol Espargaro during the Moto2 race at Barcelona. The International Disciplinary Court (CDI) has upheld the decision of the FIM Stewards, who overturned the penalty imposed by Race Direction, meaning that the results of the Barcelona Moto2 race will stand, and Marc Marquez keeps his 6 point advantage in the Moto2 championship standings.
Espargaro's team, the Pons 40 HP Tuenti team, had appealed the decision of the FIM Stewards to the CDI, but after reviewing the evidence, the CDI decided to scrap the penalty and uphold the decision of the court. The team now has five more days to appeal the CDI decision to the CAS, the Court of Arbitration of Sport, sport's highest legal body.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams ahead of the Dutch TT at Assen on Saturday: