Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class at Assen:
Assen, The Netherlands
Seeing the temperatures drop slightly after overnight rain, the intermediate class had trouble challenging FP2 times early on. A rain flag waved briefly just as Thomas Luthi blitzed the field by three quarters of a second. The rain at the top end of the circuit later disrupted the action, with riders spending significant time in the pits midway through the session.
The final minute of the session saw Johann Zarco take over top spot by a tenth, after taking in the scenery with a quick trip through the gravel early in his first run. Besides posting a very fast lap, he also displayed very consistent race pace, giving the French rider a great deal of confidence heading into the qualifying session.
The cooler overcast conditions have made it a challenge for riders to improve their times in the first half of the third practice session. As race settings were refined, dirt brushed off leathers and qualifying runs attempted, times started to drop, with another Andrea taking top honours, this time the Ducati of Dovizioso.
Halfway through the session, Marc Marquez locked the front massively, prompting his Honda to turn into a rodeo ride that magically stayed upright. Besides another save for the highlights reel, he also finished with a second position in the bag, only two hundreds of a second off the leader and dropping Maverick Viñales into third.
A rookie he may be, but Aron Canet showed once again that a new track is no reason to worry for him, going to the top of the table on his first flying lap, only needing three of those to rival his FP2 performance. It took a mock qualifying run in the final five minutes of the session to beat that time by a full second.
Niccolo Antonelli was there or thereabouts all session, finishing two tenths off the Spaniard. Pecco Bagnaia seemed to have lost his way overnight, spending most of FP3 outside the top twenty but recovered in the final minutes to make the jump to third, followed by fellow Italian Andrea Migno and an increasingly impressive Gabriel Rodrigo in fifth.
The disadvantage of reporting on your home race is that during the media debriefs, the period when riders speak to the press, they turn to you and ask, "So what's the weather going to do?" Living in The Netherlands, Assen is my home race, and so this weekend, it is me they are asking about the weather. There is only one honest answer I can give them. "This is Assen. Anything can happen."
The weather has been a constant topic of discussion. Weather apps and weather websites have been compared, and each of them says something different. Some say it will only rain heavily on Sunday. Others say Sunday will be dry, and the rain will fall on Saturday. Check another site, and it says rain overnight, but only heavy clouds during the day, with the risk of rain at a minimum. Which site to believe? This is Assen. Anything can happen.
There was a sense of nervousness in both FP1 and FP2 for the MotoGP class. Riders pushed late to chase a lap good enough to put them into the top ten, and automatic entry into Q2. Some, like Bradley Smith, got their strategy wrong, went out on a hard rear tire instead of a medium, and ended up languishing down the order. Others, like Dani Pedrosa, were just having a dismal time. "No improvement from FP1 to FP2, no improvement on different tires, and no feeling with the bike."
Takaaki Nakagami took another step towards that illusory first win by starting the session on top, yet finished with a front end crash in the final few minutes of FP2. The Japanese rider had already been dethroned by Thomas Luthi, the Swiss going four tenths faster than this morning’s pace, followed by Sam Lowes in a consistent third.
It was a more optimistic session for the Marc VDS team, at least in terms of pace, with Alex Marquez and Franco Morbidelli placed as high as fourth and fifth, before Marquez took a stroll through the gravel with half his bike under his arm after a rather spectacular crash with fifteen minutes to go.
With a few rays of sunshine making their way through the clouds, Marc Marquez was the first into the 1:33, a second fastest than his morning pace. His old Moto2 nemesis and FP1 leader Andrea Iannone followed him in the classification and finally took charge at the top of the timesheets in the final minutes of the session. Valentino Rossi finished second after a fast last run, dropping Marquez down to third.
Despite using a different chassis, the two Suzukis posted similar times for most of the session, with Maverick Vinales finishing fourth and Aleix Espargaro a few places down in eight. An unhappy Jorge Lorenzo finished the first run in tenth position, gradually climbing up the ranking to a more reassuring fifth.
With the track having warmed up nicely since the morning session, times were tumbling on the course of the allocated forty minutes, as riders made up for lost time in FP1. It was a good afternoon for Valentino Rossi’s apprentices, with Romano Fenati establishing an early lead, later challenged by fellow Academy riders Pecco Bagnaia, Niccolo Antonelli and Nicolo Bulega. In the end, the top position went to rookie Aron Canet, the Spaniard putting in a good run towards the final part of the session.
World champion Johann Zarco picked it up where he left off in Barcelona: at the top of the timesheets. That’s until Takaaki Nakagami sparked one of his occasional surprises and took top spot after spending most of the session at the top end. Lorenzo Baldassarri’s late charge meant that Zarco had to settle for third place, with the Italian sneaking into second.
Following a misty Moto3 session, the conditions improved slightly for the MotoGP class, allowing for more track time for the riders. Andrea Iannone started preparing his charge from the back of the grid with an impressive first place in practice, dominating the session from start to finish.
With Assen’s unpredictable weather in mind, an early shoot-out for Q2 ensued in the last minutes of FP1, with most riders switching to the softer option tyre. Andrea Dovizioso joined his teammate at the top of the standings, with the Yamaha of Pol Espargaro in third followed by Scott Redding in fourth. Another Ducati joined the party with Danilo Petrucci posting an identical time to that of his teammate.