2013 Assen MotoGP Preview: A Flowing Track And A Final Chicane - A Recipe For Thrills?

Ask anyone what makes a great circuit, and they will tell you that it takes three things: fast corners, great scenery and lots of elevation changes. So what makes the TT Circuit at Assen so great? It only really has one of the three factors that makes it a great circuit: if the track has elevation changes, they can be measured in centimeters. The scenery is mostly absent, though that does allow more of a view of the expansive skies the Dutch masters of the 17th Century were so famed for. The only factor which the track still possesses is a collection of really fast corners, testing the mettle of anyone with ambition to take on the circuit.

Despite having the splendor of the old North Loop surgically removed, leaving it with just the flaccid remnant of a sequence of right handers, the southern section of the track is still as glorious as ever. From the Ruskenhoek and then De Bult, the track starts to build, the tempo picking up through Mandeveen, Duikersloot and Meeuwenmeer, before the high speed flick of Hoge Heide, and then the vast, sweeping left at the Ramshoek. The GT chicane has seen more than its fair share of last-lap battles, acting as judge, jury and executioner before heading back across the line again.

Though the removal of the North Loop took away some of the Dutch track's glory, Assen remains a favorite with the riders. Given the way the track still flows - at least, once you have left the Strubben hairpin - that is hardly surprising. It is a riders' track, suiting anyone who can string a series of corners together, and has the courage to keep the throttle hard open.

Of course, some bikes make it easier to do that than others. The flowing nature of Assen, where carrying corner speed counts for more than getting the bike stopped and turned, plays to the strengths of the Yamaha, as three victories in the past four years can attest. It could potentially have been four in a row, if Alvaro Bautista hadn't suffered a first-corner brain fade last year and wiped out Jorge Lorenzo - and one of Lorenzo's fresh engines - at the start of the race. Casey Stoner's victory on the Honda is the one blot on a Yamaha landscape.

Given the state of the title race, and Jorge Lorenzo's current form, it would be a foolish fan who would bet against the reigning champion. Lorenzo is coming off two back-to-back victories and has started to make serious inroads into Dani Pedrosa's championship lead, closing the gap to just 7 points. Going on past form, the only thing that will keep Lorenzo from victory at the Dutch circuit is the atrocious luck he has had at the track in recent years: while Alvaro Bautista took Lorenzo out in 2012, the year before it was the turn of Marco Simoncelli to ruin Lorenzo's race. The Italian got into the Strubben hairpin too hot, taking Lorenzo down in his fall. At least Lorenzo could continue the race after being hit by Simoncelli. Lorenzo will be staying as far away as possible from Hondas in Gresini colors come Saturday.

One thing which many fans are wondering is whether Valentino Rossi can finally find his feet on the Yamaha M1. So far, Rossi has struggled on his return to the Japanese factory from whence he departed in 2010. His biggest problem has been braking: the combination of a revised M1, an extra 200cc and 10kg, and a modified front tire has made it difficult for Rossi to brake with the kind of confidence he used to have. At the test at Aragon, after the race at Barcelona, his team finally found a set up which Rossi believed alleviated the problem. Assen will be his first chance to put the solution to the test. His first objective will be to get onto the first two rows in qualifying, something he has signally failed to do so far this year. The second row would be adjudged a success; the front row could herald a Rossi renaissance. But first, there is the small matter of actually riding.

A Rossi podium would suit Jorge Lorenzo very well, as long as the Italian could insert himself between his teammate and Dani Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda man has had his strongest start to a season ever, and looked like a man on his way to his first world title. Pedrosa knows he can bide his time, as Assen is the last of the 'Yamaha tracks' before heading to tracks where the Honda is strong. While he may be content to sit in behind Lorenzo, and allow him one last hurrah, there is good reason to believe Pedrosa will be out for glory at Assen. Though he has amassed plenty of podiums here, he has never won a MotoGP race in Holland. In fact, he has won only once at Assen, and that was 11 years ago on a 125cc bike.

His teammate, on the other hand, has won the last three races he contested at the circuit. Marc Marquez won at Assen in his final year in 125s, and then both times he raced here on a Moto2 machine. Marc Marquez' lightning fast adaptation to MotoGP continues apace, and at a track which he clearly loves, he should once again get a chance to shine. Assen proved to be a turning point for Marquez in 2011, when he won the Moto2 race while then championship leader Stefan Bradl crashed out. The Dutch circuit could serve the same purpose in 2013, if he can stay close to Jorge Lorenzo in the opening laps. With a chicane made for last-lap passes, the circuit seems tailor-made for Marc Marquez. After two races where Marquez has been hesitant to pass his teammate, and not close enough to attack Lorenzo, the gloves could well come off in Holland.

The wildcard at Assen could well turn out to be Cal Crutchlow. The Tech 3 Yamaha man continues to impress, despite crashing out of the race for the first time this year at Barcelona. Though he professes to love the track, Crutchlow's record is not exceptional here, either in MotoGP, World Superbikes or World Supersport. Even in his championship-winning season in World Supersport, Crutchlow only finished second, though his gap to winner Eugene Laverty was negligible, only a tenth of a second. But the Englishman is on a roll, and he must fancy his chances at the track. With Jorge Lorenzo having tipped Crutchlow to start winning races soon, this could well be the place where it starts.

Crutchlow could well be helped by the weather, as Assen is set to take place under typically Dutch conditions. Weather is expected over the weekend, and lots of it, a region of low pressure passing through and likely to disappear again on Sunday. Rain seems a certainty for practice, and probably for qualifying as well, while race day* could go either way.

That could also play into the hands of the Ducatis. Though the flowing nature of the circuit does not suit the bike at all, the Desmosedici still suffering with understeer, wet weather is when the Italian machine shines. Both Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden will be hoping for rain at the track, as it offers their best hope for a good result. The disappointing test results of the lab bike means that progress with the Desmosedici has come to a standstill. Forward momentum is likely only to return once the next step reaches fruition, a second upgrade to the chassis aimed at tackling understeer. That is only likely to appear at the Misano tests, however, and that is still nearly three months away.

After two runaway victories at two iconic tracks, MotoGP fans will be hoping to see a return of some excitement. Assen has seen both monster victories and very close racing at the circuit, and so both are clearly possible. A shortage of set up time, and a chicane offering the perfect passing opportunity could be the magic ingredients to spice MotoGP up again. We live in hope.

*Race day at Assen is always a Saturday. The reason for that lies in the earliest years of the race: when the first Dutch TT was staged back in 1925, racing, along with all forms of sport, was banned on a Sunday, as it violated the strict Calvinist ethos of the region. The race remained on Saturday, joining the Grand Prix circus when the World Championship started in 1949. Despite the region undergoing the same process of secularization which the rest of the Netherlands also went through, racing on Saturday had become a tradition. Though the circuit management is constantly evaluating whether a switch to Sunday would be a good idea or not, there are no plans to change. For the short and the medium term, The Dutch TT at Assen will be run on the last Saturday of June.

Round 7
2013

Comments

That last corner...

Assen will forever be, to me, the track where I screamed and shouted at the TV for Edwards' first GP victory only to have the train derail at the last corner. At least it was Hayden picking up the scraps. Maybe Bradl can pull something out for Saturday. Guy seems to deserve a little luck and a reward for his efforts.

Total votes: 50

Ping

Alvaro "Torpedo" Bautista :)

Total votes: 46

I dislike the new qualifying practice format

Straightforward criticisms:

  • Results in 2 rushed outs
  • Doesn't account for circuits of different lengths
  • Massive change in team strategy; too much like Superpole; huring some riders (trying not to sound like a VR fanatic ;-)
  • A function of previous practices that were not qualifying but affect qualifying. What about bad weather for Friday/Saturday morning? Accidents? Etc.
  • The workaround for the previous point is bumping the top from the losers session up. This is not necessarily lame in and of iteself but it is so very arbitrary. Why not 1, or 3, or 4? Ugh.

The old system was great. Sure, occasionally QP was boring, but often it was an amazing display of riders chipping away at eachother's times or racing the weather, and engineers tuning to the last second. And it was actually a "session".

Why don't they have a spot in parc fermé for the top rider of the losers session? They've got one for top CRT? It's this kind of slice-and-dice rule hackery that introduces unnecessary complication and strips the elegance from good old-fashioned whomever-is-fastest racing.

Total votes: 60

Short memory

Mrslave,

What about all the times last year when it started to rain 15 to 30min into the hour long qualifying and we sat breathless as we watched all the teams stay in their pits wearing rain coats and occasionally come out to look at the sky?.

The set up now is brilliant, and has on the most part been incredibly exciting.

Total votes: 62

A great track

I love Assen. Not only because it's the only circuit I've ever seen a MotoGP race at (twice), but also because of that last section. A great pity for the Northern loop, used to be the rider's favourite part of the circuit, but perhaps a bit outdated in some ways.

Although Assen has served some great races throughout the years, it's been some time since there was actual fighting for the lead. 2006 will most probably remain Colin's best chance at a MotoGP checkered flag (still haven't understood how he fell there), but also one of the best last laps. 2007 was Rossi playing cat and mouse with Stoner, but Rossi's pace (read tyres) were way better, so as soon as he understood there was no way of making Stoner crash by exerting pressure, he cruised past him and won. I would still include it in the exciting races category though, just because Rossi came from 11th on the grid to claim that victory. From 2008 onwards, there has always been someone at the front clearly in control of the situation. Lets hope this year it will bunch up a bit more.

Lorenzo must be thrilled by the prospect of finishing a race at Assen (or just not being taken out within the first few turns of the first lap). Last time he did that (2010) he won easily and I remember witnessing first hand this "smoothness" of his. I think the TV doesn't do justice to many things and one of them is just how gentle Lorenzo's bike looks, especially in slow, twisty sections of the track.

Anyway, I could rumble on until Saturday, but better drop it for now. Here's to a good race weekend!

Total votes: 44

northern loop

The northern loop was the best section of the whole track in my own opinion, and neutering the circuit like they did was and still is a travesty.

Assen is not even a shadow of its former self.

:( :( :(

I know it will never happen, but:

Bring back the northern loop!

Total votes: 49

We all want

I think, a Lorenzo-Crutchlow-Rossi Yamaha steam train with the bandit riders, Pedrosa and Marquez, nipping in and out and causing much exitement among the passengers (the fans). Assen could well provide this, especially with the Dutch weather playing it's "is about to (start/stop) raining?" card. I sure hope so. And if it does rain, and the Desperado Ducatis can join the mix, so much the better!

Total votes: 44

Rossi's Last Chance.

I've been completely un-enthusiastic about Yamaha using up one of the best bikes on the grid just for Rossi, and I feel this is his last chance to prove himself. Aside from the opening race he has been thoroughly underwhelming in all aspects, and now after testing he can no longer blame it on the bike, so if he's not mixing it up in the top 4, notwithstanding another racing incident, then i think it's time to say he's done.

I'm really fascinated to see how all of the testing and upgrade affect parc ferme this race, but i feel like there will actually be little to no difference: Lorenzo, Marquez and Pedrosa will create a gap that only gets larger from the get go; Crutchlow, Dovi, Rossi and maybe Bradl/Bautista will have a scrap for fourth with at least 2 of them crashing out due to not understanding the limits of their bike, and then Espargaro and De Puniet battling with Smith and Iannone.

Total votes: 57

Got it all figured out - why race

I know Rossi is a lightening rod but the un-objective statements drive me crazy (fore and agianst). We have five guys that could win the race on any given race day. Three have higher odds but the other two are right there given a problem with the first three. It has been six races since Rossi came back to Yamaha from the Ducati which everyone to a man says it rides very differently. So far Rossi has had finished two - fourth place, one - second place, two 'bad races' and one DNF. Twelve races left. I would say there is still plenty of time to pull it together. The biggest problem for him is the three front guys are simply flat out crazy fast. Being 6 seconds behind them does not mean the career is over.

This year has been interesting from my perspective. I like the new qualifying method although I do wish there was more time in the final session and I agree with the previous comment about track length should come into time factor. Top three do stand out but I love the fight to get to that level by the next group. It seems Rossi and Cal are barely behind and Alvaro, Bradl, Dovi, and Hayden are not so far off that they cannot play into the mix from time to time. Six races do not make a season. There is still time to make is five or six fighting for the lead. Remember, these are the best riders in the world. I do not think lack of understanding 'limits' is the problem. The problem is there are some really fast riders at the front.

Total votes: 54

You're a bit confused.

That's cute, but i could say then that the entire grid can win a race on any given day given a problem with every bloke in front of them. Why pay Rossi an exorbitant amount of money to continually only be good for fourth place unless there is a problem with the front three? Those front 3 haven't had 'bad races' attributable to them personally. So why should a quarter of the best bikes in the paddock, as well as 12M in salary be wasted on a guy who even you admit has to rely on a mistake to get any higher than fourth?

He's blamed the bike - just like he did at Ducati and now this season dovi is right on Valentino's heels on that same ducati - but now he says the bike is fixed so he can't blame the bike. All i mean is, this race will indicate whether Rossi is a champion still and deserves a factory ride, or that he's begun his decline and will never contest for a podium in normal circumstances again.

My knowing the limits comment was more aimed at Crutchlow, Bradl and Bautista. It feels like i can't remember the last race Crutchlow didn't run it off track trying to keep up with some other rider.

Total votes: 30

re: colin edwards / last corner

yeah - I'm a bigtime Colin Edwards fan, have been for years, and I'm STILL absolutely heartbroken about Colin not getting that first victory.

Poor guy just never broke that duck. :(

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That last corner... new
Submitted by Your Teeth on Tue, 2013-06-25 23:19.
Assen will forever be, to me, the track where I screamed and shouted at the TV for Edwards' first GP victory only to have the train derail at the last corner. At least it was Hayden picking up the scraps.

Total votes: 39

Steeped in history

Assen is today as demure as LeMans. Featureless. Uninviting,unenticing. It ranks along with Indianapolis and Le Mans as one of three chessboard flat circuits. On the other hand its uniquiness in that company generally throws up a great spectacle by the very nature of its predictability favouring one or another team.
I almost want to say 'thank nature' that the weather is so unpredictable session by session at this track. A Yamaha bent circuit for sure as most have been thus far.
Off topic for sure,but was the LeMans 24 hour something special or not ? Now. Would that they could replace Assen with neighbouring Spa Francorchamps, Le Mans with Paul Ricard and Indy with...oh well,the Texans have already done it with Austin.
Reminder to all if needed. Assen on Saturday not Sunday. I almost missed the Hayden/Edwards race for the win back then. It was something special.

Total votes: 44

I might be somewhat naive

I might be somewhat naive when it comes to racing two wheels even though I've been watching for well over twenty years, but I'd love to see a GP bike around Spa !

Total votes: 38

don't even put assen

in the same sentence with indy. indy is a great oval but a terrible road course. has there been any oval than has housed a road course worthy of racing on? i don't think so- despite it's history, not even daytona.

Total votes: 40

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