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2006 Assen Free Practice 2 - Leader Board

In this afternoon's Free Practice session, Texas Tornado Colin Edwards was fastest, setting a 1:38.144. Carlos Checa was in an outstanding second place, 0.115 behind, ahead of Casey Stoner, Kenny Roberts Jr, Randy de Puniet, John Hopkins, Chris Vermeulen, Makoto Tamada, Shinya Nakano and Nicky Hayden, in tenth spot. Dani Pedrosa is 11th, ahead of Valentino Rossi. Marco Melandri is in 14th, with Loris Capirossi down in 16th, behind temporary team mate Alex Hofmann. Less than 1 second covers the top ten.

Based on data from the World Endurance Championship races run at Assen earlier this year, Ohlins engineers calculated that the MotoGP bikes should be able to lap Assen in 1:36. So there's plenty of room for improvement.

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2006 Assen Injury Update - Elias Returns to Barcelona

Toni Elias is flying back to Barcelona today, after injuring his shoulder in a fall during the first free practice session. A bone chip was found in his shoulder at the hospital, and he has suffered some ligament damage.

So now we have two teams consisting entirely of injured riders: Fortuna Honda, with Marco Melandri injured but riding, and Elias gone home; and Marlboro Ducati, with Loris Capirossi injured but riding, and Sete Gibernau back in Barcelona, his place taken by Alex Hofmann. With Rossi also injured, but riding, this season is really taking its toll of the MotoGP paddock.

For news of Elias' 2007 crash at Assen, see this story.

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Rossi Injury Update

Valentino Rossi is back from the hospital, where he was diagnosed with chest contusions, hairline fractures to the right hand and left ankle, and a haematoma (that's a very big and very nasty bruise to you and me) on his elbow. He is scheduled to undergo a CAT scan on his chest, and if no serious problems are found, is expected to return to the track, where he hopes to take part in this afternoon's practice session.

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More Injuries: Rossi With Suspected Broken Wrist And Collarbone

This morning's free practice seems to have caused a veritable tsunami of injuries, once again affecting the championship standings:

Valentino Rossi fell heavily at the fast Ruskenhoek sweeper before the GT chicane and was taken to hospital in Assen after the Free Practice session ended, with a suspected fractured wrist and collarbone;
Toni Elias also fell heavily, bruising his shoulder in the process;
Nicky Hayden fell, but was thankfully uninjured.

If Rossi is injured, it would mean missing at least two rounds, putting paid to his chances of title prolongation, and a continuation of his season long run of bad luck.

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Melandri Rides At Assen

Marco Melandri took part in the first free practice session at Assen today, after having received the go ahead to ride from his doctors. The session was longer than usual, due to the major changes at Assen, though rain interrupted at one point, and Melandri set reasonable times. Shinya Nakano was fastest, followed by John Hopkins. FP times to follow later.

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Buy a Piece of Racing History

Former Dutch GP star Jurgen van den Goorbergh is reporting that Riders For Health (Dutch site, International Site) will be selling off chunks of the old Assen TT circuit during the Assen TT weekend. For just € 25 you can own a piece of the historic track that so many great names have raced on. The track is being sold at the Riders For Health stand, behind the main stand at the circuit itself during the race weekend. All proceeds will go towards supporting Riders For Health's projects in the Gambia.

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Hofmann to Replace Gibernau at Assen

This just in from an official press release by the Pramac d'Antin Team:

For the eighth round of the 2006 MotoGP World Championship that in Assen, Holland, this weekend, ALEX HOFMANN, PRAMAC D'ANTIN MOTOGP rider, will replace SETE Gibernau on the Official Ducati. The Spanish rider injured himself during the frightening accident of last Sunday in Spain and his return will depend on how fast his recover will be. As a replacement for ALEX HOFMANN, there will be the Spanish IVAN SILVA, already racing for the Team of LUIS D'ANTIN in the EXTREME category of the Spanish Championship, that also did a race of the 2006 World Championship in the Superstock 1000 class.

A big opportunity for ALEX HOFMANN, that will have a great occasion to race with the Official DUCATI (BRIDGESTONE tyres), but also for IVAN SILVA that will ride on the DUCATI DESMOSEDICI GP06 for the first time in the World Championship, assisted by the technical staff of the Team PRAMAC D'ANTIN MOTOGP.

ALEX HOFMANN: "I'm excited and so happy! Having the possibility to race on the Official DUCATI DESOMOSEDICI is an unbelievable opportunity and I will give my 100% to take advantage of it the most I can. I know this motorcycle well, I also know the evolution level of the BRIDGESTONE tyres that I developed until the Valencia GP of the 2005 Championship, with which I had a good feeling that I hope to get back from the first laps I will make in Assen. I'm very motivated and I want to make something good. In our world, these kind of agreement doesn't happen very often and I want to thank everybody: DUCATI, PRAMAC, LUIS D'ANTIN and PAOLO CAMPINOTI, for thier confidence, that I hope to reciprocate giving the maximum. I also have a special thought for SETE GIBERNAU to whom I wish to get well at the soonest and in the best way possible."

 

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More Injury Updates on Melandri, Capirossi and Gibernau

Although, thankfully, no one was seriously injured, the chaos at Catalunya is having a number of interesting repercussions. An update on the latest developments:
 

  • Loris Capirossi is out of hospital, and though badly bruised, expects to start as normal at Assen on Saturday.
  • Sete Gibernau is expected to undergo an operation to replace a plate on his collarbone today (Tuesday), and will be out for at least two races (Assen and Donington). Gibernau is likely to be replaced by fellow countryman Ruben Xaus, currently riding in the World Superbike series, rather than Ducati's test rider Vittoriano Guareschi, though this has not yet been officially confirmed.
  • Marco Melandri has also left the hospital. He has a severe concussion and a great deal of bruising, but will be flying to Assen together with MotoGP's own Dr Costa. Dr Costa will judge whether Melandri is fit to ride on Thursday morning before the first free practice session. Melandri is expected to be fit for Donington, and as a result, Fortuna Honda is unlikely to field a replacement for him, as MotoGP rules only oblige teams to provide a replacement if a rider is out for two races or more. The organizer of the Dutch TT at Assen, Jos Vaessen, has been heavily involved in trying to persuade Fortuna Honda to run the Dutch ex-GP star Jurgen van den Goorbergh as replacement, which is entirely feasible, as van den Goorbergh is currently involved with Honda in Enduro and Supermoto racing, and is a test rider for Michelin, so has spent a good deal of time recently on a range of top MotoGP bikes which run Michelin tires, including the Honda.

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A Review of the Track Changes at Assen

There was a good deal of sorrow at the end of 2005, as racers around the world said goodbye to the old North Loop at Assen. Although already much shortened over the years, the North Loop still held some remnant of the old country roads that used to form the track when racing started at Assen over 80 years ago, with its high-speed, off-camber crooks, combined with tighter, but still fast bends. But for the sake of commerce, this glorious cathedral of racing was to disappear, to make way for a vast entertainment complex-cum-theme park-cum-shopping mall.

The digging equipment moved in in late Autumn, tearing up the old track, and piling up the mounds of earth for what will become new seating areas around the new Haarbocht, Strubben, and laying the foundations for the TT World entertainment complex. But the long, cold winter we suffered in Holland threw a spanner in the works, delaying work on the track by several weeks due to frozen ground, which in turn set back the date for the first races planned around the new track.

As a result of these delays, a special practice day was opened to the competitors in the Dutch National Championships. Reports from the practice spoke repeatedly of the problems riders were having finding their way around the new northern section, with the redesigned, and tightened up, Strubben hairpin causing the most chaos, with too many different lines possible, making choosing the right one extremely difficult.

Then, a friend who races in an open streetbike class, fell at the Strubben and broke his shoulder on the new kerbstones, which he struck as he slid over them. So I decided to visit the World Endurance Championship 500 km race on Easter Monday, to get a look at the new section, and see for myself what effect the track changes have had.

Although the track and gravel traps are finished, construction on the stands is still in full swing around the new section, and so it wasn't possible to get a close look at the new Madijk and Ossebroeken section, but I got a decent look at the revised Strubben hairpin, and from the grandstand and pit building.

As you can see from the comparison image, the new northern section is very much shorter: turn one (the Haarbocht) is now a right-angle right-hander at the end of the finish straight, a short section leading on to turn two (Madijk), a 45-degree right-hander. Another short section leads into the new Ossebroeken: a very long, double apex right-hander, reminiscent of turn 2 at Shanghai. As you leave Ossebroeken, you fling the bike over for the extremely tight left-handed Strubben hairpin. The Strubben turn has been tightened, and the exit modified, so you have a quick right flick directly after the exit of the hairpin. The Strubben is also very round, an almost perfect arc, and the track is very wide at this spot, so there is plenty of room for overtaking.

Because the Strubben has been tightened up so much, it has been made incredibly slow, and could well be the slowest turn of the season. At just about every race that's been held at Assen this year, the riders have complained about how difficult it was to get round it, and there have been plenty of fallers at the hairpin as well.

But what do the changes mean for the racing? Overall, the new section is pretty interesting. Because of the layout, there are several lines through the section, and plenty of places to pass. Taking a late entry into the Haarbocht gives you an advantage at Madijk over someone squaring the corner off. Similarly, the double apex of the new Ossebroeken is not so much a turn with two obvious apexes, as a long turn which you need to pick a couple of spots to hit the inside kerb at. Because you make your own apexes, you can pass other riders by turning in earlier or later for the second apex.

Of course, if you do that, you better take care to shut the door at the Strubben. This has turned into a real monster: I saw passes here where the rider getting the decent drive by turning in later and standing up early, would take 10 to 15 meters on the exit. But if you pass at Ossebroeken, there's a good chance you'll get bitten by the Strubben. I saw some decent duels around the new section, riders passing each other two or three times before getting out of the hairpin and down to the old south section.

It's obvious that the track designers knew they had a tough act to follow, when they removed the fast, flowing section that was the North Loop, and tried to compensate by giving the riders plenty of places to pass in the new design. They have succeeded in their intention, and created a piece of track that will see great racing action. However, by a section of track so thoroughly modern in design, they have broken the track in two: the south end still bears the marks of the old Dutch farm roads, where the new section is more like a modern stadium track like Valencia.

Is the old Assen dead? Not exactly. The track still has much of its original charm, but like a middle-aged movie starlet after one face lift too many, that charm is looking more and more contrived and artificial with each stroke of the surgeon's knife.

You can find more information about the track at the Official Dutch TT Assen Website

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Catalunya Injury Update

The three riders injured in today's first corner pile up seem to be less badly injured than was first thought.
 

Marco Melandri was diagnosed with a collarbone dislocation, minor concussion, and various minor injuries. He was airlifted to hospital, where he underwent various scans.
Loris Capirossi had scans to his chest and abdomen, to check he hadn't aggravated the internal injuries he suffered at Phillip Island last year. Nothing serious showed up on the scans, but he is being kept in hospital for observation.
Sete Gibernau was doubly unlucky: He will need an operation to fix a fractured collarbone, and the ambulance taking him to hospital was involved in a traffic accident just short of the hospital, Sete's second crash of the day. Fortunately, Sete suffered no further injury during the traffic accident.

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