Assen, The Netherlands
If the Honda is so bad, why are two RC213Vs at the top of the timesheets? That seems like a very valid question, given the public struggles which all of the Honda riders have had with the bike this year. Has the 2014 chassis finally fixed the Honda's ailments? Is Márquez back?
If only it were that simple. Firstly, of course, Marc Márquez never went away. The double world champion still possesses a gargantuan talent, and the desire and will to use it. He was hampered by many aspects of the 2015 bike, including both the engine and the chassis. The 2015 chassis, he explained at Assen, was more precise and could be used more accurately. Unfortunately, the only way to get the best out of it was to ride it like every lap was a qualifying lap. That level of intensity is just not sustainable over race distance. At some point, you will make a mistake, and the 2015 chassis punishes mistakes mercilessly. So HRC have reverted to a hybrid version, using a 2014 chassis and the new swingarm which Márquez first tested at Le Mans. That works better for Márquez: he has been forced to sacrifice some precision, but at least now he has a chance to recover from mistakes.
The Dutch round of MotoGP, the Dutch TT at Assen, is to switch from Saturday to Sunday. From 2016, the event will surrender its unique status as the only MotoGP round to be held on Saturday, and fall in line with the rest of the MotoGP races. It will, however, remain on the last weekend of June, but will now be on the last Sunday, rather than the last Saturday of June.
The decision was taken by the circuit management after long consideration and discussions with many of the parties who have an interest in the race. The circuit also commissioned market research into the use of leisure time among the Dutch public, which showed that Sunday is the day most people set aside to spend attending sporting events, such as the Dutch TT. Circuit director Peter Oosterbaan and chairman Arjan Bos said that the market they were operating in was such that Sunday was a better day all round for sporting events. "All of the major football games, all of the big sporting events are on Sunday. People expect to go to a big event on a Sunday," Arjan Bos said. The move would also mean better media exposure for the event, as Sunday is the day with the most exposure for sports on TV and radio.
After the chequered flag waved, Johann Zarco crossed the line with a 1'37.670, stealing the top spot from Simone Corsi who had held it for five minutes until the end. Sam Lowes, fastest in the morning and the only Speedup in the provisional front three rows, could only muster the third fastest time.
The top six were all within half a second of Zarco's time and the top 13 were all within a second of provisional pole.
Dani Pedrosa has topped the second session of free practice for the MotoGP class at Honda. The Repsol Honda rider was fast for much of the session, then set a very quick lap at the end of the session once the battle for Q2 commenced. Marc Marquez ended the session in 2nd, but he did so by setting a very quick lap early, despite having a major moment on a previous lap. Marquez is still visibly struggling to get the bike stopped, his Honda RC213V still sliding wildly and running wide into the first corner.
Valentino Rossi looked to have the strongest race pace, leading the session early and maintaining a strong pace. He ended in 3rd, ahead of Andrea Iannone and Cal Crutchlow, both of whom posted fast laps at the end of the session to secure their spots in Q2. Jorge Lorenzo concentrated on race pace, ending the session in 6th but never showing the dominant pace he has in previous races, while Andrea Dovizioso put the second Ducati into 7th.
Aleix Espargaro ended the session in 8th, the Suzuki rider quicker on race pace than a single lap. Danilo Petrucci was the impressive filling in a Suzuki sandwich, the Pramac Ducati rider ending in 9th, just ahead of Maverick Viñales on the other Suzuki.
Danny Kent has kept up the pressure in the second session of free practice for the Moto3 class. The Leopard Racing rider upped his pace in the second half of the session to take control again, holding off challenges from the Italian hordes. Romano Fenati closed the gap to just over a quarter of a second, and well ahead of the two Estrella Galicia 0,0 riders, Jorge Navarro leading Fabio Quartararo. Karel Hanika had a strong session, leading early before slipping to 5th, and ending the day ahead of Niccolo Antonelli, who had been quick early, but crashed without consequences later in the day.
Sam Lowes has ended the first session of free practice for the Moto2 class at the top of the time sheets, the Speed Up rider putting in a late charge to set the fastest lap. Lowes took over the top slot from Dominique Aegerter, who had in turn nudged his compatriot Tom Luthi off the top of the timesheets. Aegerter ended in 2nd, six hundredths behind Lowes, while Luthi was another tenth of a second behind Aegerter.
Tito Rabat ended the session in 4th, nearly half a second off the pace of Lowes, and ahead of Julian Simon and Johann Zarco. Championship leader Zarco was fastest early in the session, but had to give ground towards the end. Alex Marquez had a strong session of practice too, the Moto3 champion having found some speed at Barcelona and then again at the Aragon test.
Free Practice opened with Marc Marquez, on his first lap out, planting himself in a dyke as he crashed his Honda. Ten minutes in, his teammate Dani Pedrosa had set the quickest time and set about beating it one lap later. Valentino Rossi got within two hundredths of a second of Pedrosa's time almost half an hour in, with Jorge Lorenzo and Bradley Smith not far off.
Marquez went third quickest with five minutes left in the session, followed by the quickest time a lap later only to be deposed by Valentino Rossi. Pedrosa hit traffic on a potentially quickest lap, but once the flag was out, only Rossi and Marquez were on pace for the top spot. Rossi set the quickest time after the flag was out with Marquez locked behind Bradley Smith on track.
The top four places were taken by the factory Hondas and Yamahas ahead of the the satellite Yamahas and Suzukis. Ducati's best time was set by Dovizioso in 9th in what was a very forgettable session for them.
Danny Kent has taken the Moto3 class by the throat during the first session of free practice at Assen, laying down a withering pace from the start. The current championship leader took top spot early in the session, and ended over six tenths ahead of the opposition. Romano Fenati grabbed second spot, the KTM going well right from the start, while Jorge Navarro lead the Estrella Galicia 0,0 duel ending in 3rd, just ahead of Fabio Quartararo. Efren Vazquez took 5th spot, setting the same time as Quartararo.
Assen is a funny old track. And when I say old, I mean old, the event has been on the calendar since 1925, though there was no such thing as world championship, and the race took place between Rolde, Borger and Schoonloo, some ten kilometers east of Assen. From 1926, it moved to a route between the villages of De Haar, Oude Tol, Hooghalen, Laaghalen and Laaghalerveen. The roads, forced into short straights with fast sweeping kinks and bends by the complex drainage patterns of the creeks and ditches which keep the region from reverting back to peat bogs, gave shape to the track which was to follow. They still leave their mark on the circuit today, despite being a closed circuit since 1955, though the track has been much shortened since then.
What remains is a track with nary a straight piece of asphalt on it. The back straight meanders between the Strubben hairpin and the fast right and long left of the Ruskenhoek, living up to its name of Veenslang, or Peat Snake. The short stretches between the fast combinations of corners weave and flow, and the only thing keeping the front straight straight is the pit wall. As a piece of geometric design, it is a disaster. As a race track, it is glorious, proving that the best tracks are not designed on paper, but laid out in a landscape. Mugello, Phillip Island, Assen: all great riders track, each owing a debt of gratitude to the landscape which forms them.
All these fast, flowing bends where riders barely touch the brakes – comparatively, for a MotoGP race that is – reward a bike that can carry corner speed and change direction easily. A bike that rewards a steady hand and a smooth style. In other words, a rider like Jorge Lorenzo on a bike like a Yamaha YZR-M1. Lorenzo has been fearsome around Assen in the past, laying down a pace impossible for mere mortals to follow. Having won the last four races in a row, Lorenzo is in pretty terrifying form as well. "I am in the best shape of my life," Lorenzo told the press conference, joking that he had even beat his personal trainer on a mountain bike ride for the first time. The Yamaha is strong, and Lorenzo is strong. Who can beat him?
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and others previewing the Dutch TT at Assen:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams ahead of this weekend's race in Assen:
Michael van der Mark will now not be racing at his home MotoGP round of Assen. The deal to replace the injured Karel Abraham at the AB MotoRacing team has fallen through, the stumbling block being who would cover the cost of crash parts.
The deal came very close to fruition. Rumors that Van der Mark would take the place of Abraham first started over the weekend at Misano, emerging publicly on Monday afternoon. HRC had put Van der Mark forward to replace the injured Abraham, and the AB MotoRacing team were very open to having the young Dutchman as a substitute. Things soured on Monday, however, as discussions grew heated over who would pay for crash damage to the Open class Honda RC213V-RS if Van der Mark were to drop the bike. AB MotoRacing wanted HRC to pay for damage, Honda believed it was the responsibility of the team, just as it would be if Abraham were racing.
Michael van der Mark looks set to make his MotoGP debut at Assen this weekend. The 22-year-old Dutchman will be swapping his Pata Honda CBR1000RR World Superbike machine for the Open class Honda RC213V-RS of the AB MotoRacing team, where he is set to fill in for the injured Karel Abraham. Abraham badly injured his foot, severly dislocating his toe, in a fall during FP4 in Barcelona.
Rumors that the Dutchman would get the chance to race a MotoGP machine at his home race started circulating in the Dutch media earlier on Monday. Several sources close to the situation confirmed that the deal was very close to being sealed. There are just a few final details to be settled, including matters such as covering the cost of damage in case of a crash.
Four rounds into the World Superbike season and the contours of the 2015 championship are starting to become clear. Some of the things we expected to happen have unfolded much as predicted, but there have also been a fair few surprises. Time to take a quick look at the state of World Superbikes so far.
New technical regulations have been put in place aimed at reducing cost and leveling the playing field somewhat. Their effect so far? Despite the protestations of the Kawasaki and Aprilia riders, all of whom have been complaining of a loss of horsepower, neither top speed nor overall lap times appear to have been affected much. Taking Tom Sykes as perhaps the best example, as he was on the Kawasaki ZX-10R both this year and last, his lap times were half a second slower at Phillip Island, half a second quicker at Assen, the only two tracks at which it is possible to compare. Chaz Davies on the Ducati Panigale was a second quicker at Assen, and eight tenths quicker in race one at Phillip Island, but in race two lapped just as fast in 2015 as he did in 2014. Overall, the Phillip Island track was a little slower in 2015, while conditions at Assen were definitely improved this year over last. The jury is still out on the new rules, but there are definite rumblings audible from the jury room.
Perhaps the biggest effect of the new rules is on the expectations of riders. The Kawasaki is among the most affected of the WSBK bikes by the new rules, with claims that the ZX-10R has between ten and twenty fewer horses than it had in 2014. That has had a bigger impact on Tom Sykes than on his new teammate, Jonathan Rea, Sykes struggling while Rea has come in and cleaned up. Sykes finds himself with a bike that is down on power to what he is used to, a development which is not good for a positive mindset. Rea has come off a bike which he knew to be incapable of winning a championship, and hopped onto one which has been proven capable of doing just that. It's easy to go fast when what you have is better than what you had, and you see opportunity looming.
Press releases from the teams after Sunday's thrilling World Superbike races at Assen: