Assen, The Netherlands
If there was one factor that surprised everyone on the first day of practice at Assen, it was the weather. Everyone had been prepared for rain, and had contingency plans for when the rain would eventually come. But it didn't. It rained all around the circuit, severe weather warnings were issued for several surrounding towns, heavy rain fell in nearby Groningen, and local beaches were evacuated because of thunderstorms, but the TT Circuit at Assen stayed dry all day. The wind blew the morning clouds away, and the sun shone down gloriously on the circuit, catching out the unwary, and giving all three Grand Prix classes, plus the many support series a full day of excellent weather.
The riders made good use of the conditions, and the unexpected track time threw up a couple of serious surprises. In the morning, Pol Espargaro set the fastest time, finishing ahead of his brother Aleix. In the afternoon session, it was Aleix who was quickest, though this time Pol could not match the pace of his elder brother. That he should not be able to is hardly surprising; Aleix Espargaro's FP2 time beat the existing pole record from 2012, held by Casey Stoner. Pol could not improve as much as Aleix did, going just a tenth of a second faster, rather than well over a second. But as a satellite rider, Pol does not have the soft tire which Aleix used to set the fastest lap, Pol was quick to point out.
Stefan Bradl's LCR Honda is sporting a new livery at Assen, after the team secured a major new sponsorship deal. The tie up will see the bike in CWM's colors for three races in 2014, and will continue as a major backer in 2015.
The new sponsorship deal is so significant that it offers LCR Honda new possibilities. Lucio Cecchinello has made no secret of his desire to expand from a single bike to a two-bike team, but so far, the financial backing necessary has been missing. The deal with CWM World has the potential to be the key support which would allow Cecchinello to add a second, Open bike to his satellite Honda RC213V currently being ridden by Bradl.
Cecchinello denied that he was anywhere close to making a decision on expanding the team for 2015. 'We have only just started to talk,' Cecchinello told MotoMatters.com. He acknowledged that an extra bike was now a real possibility, however, if LCR and CWM can reach agreement on the necessary financial backing. He was keen to emphasize that things were still at a very early stage, however.
Tito Rabat has ended at the top of the time sheets following another extremely tight Moto2 practice session at Assen. The Championship leader ended FP2 a mere eight hundredths of a second ahead of impressive rookie Sam Lowes and Suisse rider Dominique Aegerter. The top three were consistently a class above throughout and ended up separated by just over a tenth.
After leading the morning session Jonas Folger had to settle for fourth ahead of Jordi Torres and Johann Zarco. Sandro Cortese posted the seventh quickest lap ahead of Marc VDS rider Mika Kallio, a rejuvenated Ricard Cardus and Pons Kalex rider Luis Salom.
Aleix Espargaro has posted the fastest ever lap time by a motorcycle rider at the Assen circuit and topped MotoGP FP2 under glorious sunny conditions. The Forward Racing rider extracted every inch of performance from his super-soft tyre to set a time of 1:33.653, which was just under a tenth quicker than Casey Stoner's long standing circuit record and put him two tenths clear of Marc Marquez in second place.
Fellow Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa was a further two tenths behind in third followed by Jorge Lorenzo and another beneficiary of super-soft rubber Andrea Iannone. Bradley Smith and Valentino Rossi set identical lap times ahead of morning pace setter Pol Espargaro who made it five Yamaha's in the top eight while Stefan Bradl and Andrea Dovizioso completed the top ten.
The make-up of the top ten could prove crucial if tomorrow's forecast rain appears as the quickest times from this session could end up being used to determine the automatic Q2 participants.
Ever-improving Italian rookie Enea Bastianini has topped the second Moto2 practice session at Assen in breathtaking fashion. The KTM rider continued his impressive recent form to post a scintillating lap time of 1:42.366, which was two tenths quicker than Championship leader Jack Miller and comfortably under the circuit race lap record.
Isaac Vinales set the third quickest time while Efren Vazquez and Romano Fenati were fourth and fifth respectively. Husqvarna rider Niklas Ajo ended the session in sixth place followed by last race's winner Alex Marquez and local wildcard rider Jasper Iwema. John McPhee and Miguel Oliveira rounded out the top ten positions.
Jonas Folger managed to capitalise on the emerging sunshine and warming track conditions to head Moto2 FP1 at Assen. The German youngster set a blistering run of lap times that saw him register a benchmark of 1:38.459, putting him a tenth clear of fellow Kalex rider Mika Kallio. Reigning World Supersport Champion Sam Lowes posted the third fastest time, making the most of his familiarity with the TT circuit. Dominique Aegerter and Championship leader Tito Rabat completed the top five.
Maverick Vinales ended the session with the sixth quickest lap time to his name while Jordi Torres, Simone Corsi, Sandro Cortese and Marcel Schrotter rounded out the top ten. The ultra-competitive nature of the Moto2 class was emphasised by the top eighteen riders lap times being split by only nine tenths of a second.
Pol Espargaro has topped the opening MotoGP free practice session during a cool and cloudy morning at the Dutch TT in Assen. The Tech 3 Yamaha rider finished the session with a time of 1:34.530 which was a tenth ahead of his older brother Aleix and impressively inside the existing circuit race lap record. Jorge Lorenzo set the third fastest time ahead of a ragged Marc Marquez and Englishman Bradley Smith.
Valentino Rossi made it five Yamaha's in the top six finishing ahead of his countryman Andrea Dovizioso and race lap record holder Dani Pedrosa. Alvaro Bautista posted the ninth fastest lap ahead of fellow satellite Honda rider Stefan Bradl. The session was not interrupted by rain, but reports of heavy showers in surrounding areas means that the Assen weather (as usual) will be something to watch out for over the course of the weekend.
May I be permitted a little bias for the MotoGP round held in my adopted country? There are many magical motorcycle races around the world. The Isle of Man TT has speed, danger, and one of the most remarkable backdrops in motorsports. Mugello has an astounding track, a hothouse atmosphere, and breathtaking scenery. Jerez has an intensity among the fans without equal, hosted in a beautiful part of the world when Andalusia is at its best, in the spring.
But I think I would still swap them all for Assen. Once, it was the greatest racetrack in the world. Fast, flowing, with challenges favoring any rider with the perfect combination of bravery and skill. Full of fast kinks, banked turns, and with a camber and crown to the surface that was a throwback to the public roads which once comprised the circuit. Throughout the years, the circuit was pruned back, from 16 kilometers, to just under 8 kilometers, to 6 kilometers. In 2006, the track was neutered altogether, as a combination of financial necessity and encroaching housing development saw the North Loop, the jewel in Assen's crown, surgically removed and replaced with the much smaller, much shorter loop which now quickly folds back on itself and takes the riders back to the old southern section, where the old glory of the track lives on.
Hard braking for De Haarbocht, named for the village now absorbed by Assen's urban sprawl, the everlasting right hander through Madijk and Ossebroeken round to the Strubben hairpin. A hard, short turn onto the Veenslang, the back straight. Straight? Not so much: the literal translation is 'turf snake', and snake it does, down to the blistering right-left-right of the Ruskenhoek chicane. Through the right at Stekkenwal, and another snaking straight down to De Bult – 'the lump' and a very lumpy corner it is indeed. From there it is all rights, building speed through Mandeveen, Duikersloot, and Meeuwenmeer, on to perhaps the most perfect piece of race track in the world. First, there's the Hoge Heide – 'High Heath' – the right-left flick that looks like nothing at all on a track map, but is one of the most intimidating corners on the planet. Making that change of direction at over 270 km/h is not easy, especially as you still have to lift the bike over the crown of the track, avoiding the dip on the far end of the flick. The run through the Ramshoek, a hot-and-fast left, before the Geert Timmer bocht, the chicane named after the legendary racer and circuit commissioner.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone ahead of Saturday's Dutch TT at Assen:
Press releases from the Moto2 and Moto3 teams ahead of this weekend's races at Assen:
With Ben Spies already retired, Colin Edwards about to retire at the end of the 2014 season, Nicky Hayden struggling with a wrist injury and Josh Herrin having a very tough rookie year in Moto2, there is growing concern among US fans about the future of American racing. What is to become of the nation that once dominated world championship racing, with existing stars in decline and no fresh blood ready to replace them?
Perhaps the brightest point in the firmament for American racing is PJ Jacobsen, currently racing in the World Supersport championship for the Kawasaki Intermoto Ponyexpress team. The native of Montgomery, New York has been quietly building a reputation as a fast and promising young racer, stringing together a series of top ten results in the competitive WSS series in his debut year, and coming very close to scoring his first podium. Jacobsen's World Supersport debut comes after an impressive first year racing in the British BSB championship with Tyco Suzuki, which earned him a move to the world stage.
We caught up with Jacobsen a few weeks ago at Assen, ahead of the third round of the World Supersport championship. There, we spoke to him about the state of American racing, the difficulties faced by American riders trying to break into a world championship, and the path he took to the world stage. Jacobsen covers BSB, living in Northern Ireland and how his background in dirt track helped in road racing. PJ tells us about how BSB is a viable route into a world championship, and just what it takes to make the move. It was a fascinating perspective from an extremely talented young racer.
MotoMatters.com: First, a little background on you. You started your career racing with Barry Gilsenan in the AMA with Celtic Racing?
PJ Jacobsen: I've been racing for [Barry Gilsenan] since I was twelve, he was the first person that got me on a bike.
MM: He got you onto a bike, he got you racing, what was your path to World Supersport?
PJ: I was racing 125s in the USGPRU series in the US. He got me involved in that, and I won a title with him in the States. Then I came to Europe to race in the Spanish championship, and was in the MotoGP Academy. Then I went back to the US and rode for them in the AMA on a Suzuki 600. I rode for them for three years in the States. I rode in the Daytona Sportbike class, that's when everything was kinda turning around there.
Interview: Voltcom Suzuki's Paul Denning On The Cost Of New Rules, Expanding Audiences, And The End Of The One Bike Rule
At the Assen round of World Superbikes two weeks' ago, MotoMatters.com caught up with Voltcom Crescent Suzuki boss Paul Denning, to get his vision on how the new technical regulations proposed for World Superbike from 2015 onwards would affect Suzuki's WSBK effort. Denning gave us a fascinating alternative view of the regulations, emphasizing that revenue generation was at least as important as cost cutting, and warning against false economies which could end up destroying the close racing World Superbikes has traditionall enjoyed. Denning also covered just where he saw the biggest costs in World Superbike racing, and how the new TV schedule has impacted the series, and could spell the end of the one-bike rule in WSBK.
MotoMatters.com: Has everyone reached agreement on a set of rules for next year?
Paul Denning: No, but there have been constructive meetings between Dorna, the FIM and the manufacturers and teams identifying in really quite great detail manufacturer opinion on various aspects of the technical rules. Regulations have been drafted in an attempt to control cost, which is always welcome, but whilst it's not necessarily the case for all teams, for our team, there won't really be any significant saving. And in fact, as is always the case in motorsport, when you have a big change in regulations, all you do is add costs. Even if the total component cost of the machine is less, for us to develop a competitive bike within that regulation is going to cost an awful lot more money than it would to keep it the same.
The other danger is that the closer you try to go to standard, the more the performance differentials are highlighted between the different design concepts of bike. And when you have a bike like the Suzuki which is €10,000 and a bike like the Ducati which is €33,000, with wildly different cost and quality of internal components, the more you become limited with what you can do with a more affordable motorcycle, the bigger the potential is for a lack of equalization in the performance of the race bike. At the moment, as we saw last year, we've already seen this year and are likely to see over the course of the rest of the season, on any given day, I couldn't tell you which of six or even eight riders is going to win a race. That's really a very important thing for defining the series, the sporting aspect, and there's a danger that that could be compromised by the regulations as well. The effort is to try to reduce costs but retain that competitive spirit. But it's going to be a tough thing to do with such huge disparities between the standard bikes.
Everyone knew the rain was coming eventually, but the volume of water that turned up to watch the afternoon's race was more than expected.
Press releases from the organizer and the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the semi-dry and soaking wet races at Assen: