After the slightly arctic ambient on Friday, Saturday started with more pleasant conditions for the spectators and warmer asphalt for the Dunlops. The first 35 minutes of the session were the usual calm before the storm, Kaito Toba and Jakub Kornfeil sharing the spotlight before the final shootout for direct Q2 places. And as usual, that served some surprises – nice ones for Tony Arbolino who took the checkered flag at the front of the field, followed by Toba and Kornfeil, the trio within two tenths of a second.
Assen, The Netherlands
It has been a bad few weeks for Jorge Lorenzo. During the Barcelona race, he lost the front and wiped out three of his rivals (or rather, three of Marc Márquez' rivals), Maverick Viñales, Andrea Dovizioso, and Valentino Rossi. The next day at the test, on an out lap, he launched the bike at Turn 9, suffering a huge crash and causing himself a lot of pain.
Eleven days later, and a relatively normal crash in Assen saw him bang himself up very badly. Lorenzo lost the front going into the fast left at Ruskenhoek during FP1, not an uncommon occurrence. The problem was he was doing over 200 km/h, so when he hit the gravel he started to tumble, not quite ragdolling through the stones, banging his chest and his back as he went.
The consequence of the crash is severe. So severe, it forced Repsol Honda team manager Alberto Puig to have to talk to the media, something Puig tries to avoid as much as possible (and being team manager means he can avoid it an awful lot). "Basically I am here to explain about his condition," Puig said. "Normally I am never here. So I am just here to tell you the situation…and probably you already know. So I will re-confirm."
Explaining the crash
The intermediate class closed up shop for the day with an uneventful practice session where it looked like the FP1 leader had another session in his pocket until the final ten minutes of action flipped the script. All of a sudden, KTM were called at the front of the class for some praise, Brad Binder snatching top position on his final flying lap. Remy Gardner had to settle for second by a tenth of a second, while FP1 fast man Sam Lowes kept close in the top three.
Both the track and the action was getting hotter for the second practice dance of the premier class and it meant going one step harder on tyres, most riders favouring the medium front – hard rear combination for their long runs. The exception, as always, was Marc Marquez. But it wasn’t the Honda man who finished the day as the fastest man in MotoGP, it was the Yamahas of Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo who swapped their FP1 places to have the Spaniard lead the way after the FP2 shootout.
The sun was here to stay by the time the second set of practice sessions came about but there was nothing too impressive about the temperatures yet. Jakub Kornfeil was one of the main players in FP2, the Czech rider taking the lead in the final 15 minutes of the session and then retaking it on the final flying lap from Toni Arbolino, while in the Italian’s slipstream. Kornfeil stole the headlines from Arbolino by nearly a tenth of a second, with Niccolo Antonelli close behind.
As if the cold weather needed any help to complicate FP1 for the intermediate class, Stefano Manzo did his bit and nudged Dimas Ekky Pratama into a significant crash that prompted a red flag as the unlucky Indonesian rider was getting medical attention. There was a hint of sun as the session resumed and the sun shone mostly for Sam Lowes, the Gresini rider picking up the lead for final five minutes.
A cool Assen welcomed the premier class and invited them to put on some soft rubber to get reacquainted with the track and do some housecleaning. Fabio Quartararo did the best job of that and robbed Maverick Viñales at the very last minute, the Spaniard having led for most of the session. The Frenchman had the advantage of a brand new medium rear tyre and he put it to good use to finish yet another session at the top of the timesheets. Viñales settled for second after setting an excellent pace throughout the session, while Danilo Petrucci had a bittersweet morning.
Assen could not quite match the welcome of Montmelo a couple of weeks ago so the lightweight class started the action on a cold track under an overcast sky. Regardless, it was a pretty uneventful morning session where the highlight was Honda Team Asia’s beautiful anniversary livery getting some well deserved air time and rookie Ai Ogura putting his name at the top of the timesheets by the time the checkered flag came out.
Four weeks after press releases full of rolling Tuscan hills, the cliché machine is running out release after release containing the phrase "The Cathedral of Speed". There are of course good reasons to employ a cliché (and press releases usually benefit from trite language, as their objective is to promote the team and its sponsors, rather than the literary skills of press officers), but to call Assen the Cathedral of Speed is to raise the question of whether it still really deserves that moniker.
Much has changed since the first ever Dutch TT in 1925. The first thing that changed was the very next year, in 1926. The first circuit ran over public roads between the villages of Rolde, Borger, and Schoonloo, but the council in Borger refused to pave one of the sand roads on the original course. So in 1926, the race was moved to Assen, run between the villages of De Haar, Hooghalen, and Laaghalerveen to the south of the city of Assen.