The second session of Free Practice for the World Supersport class took place in dry and sunny conditions, the weather very pleasant indeed in the northern Netherlands. Cal Crutchlow was fastest for much of the session, and ended FP2 on top, ahead of Joan Lascorz, clearly on form here in Assen. Slightly better news for the Ten Kate boys, as both Kenan Sofuoglu and Andrew Pitt were closer to the front, Sofuoglu in 3rd, Pitt 7th. Winner at Qatar Eugene Laverty could only manage the 10th fastest time.
Assen, The Netherlands
There's an interesting guest at Assen this weekend: Giampiero Sacchi, VP Racing for the Piaggio Group, here to watch the progress of Max Biaggi and Shinya Nakano aboard Aprilia's latest superbike, the RSV4 Factory. But what is surprising the Italian journalists is that the otherwise talkative Sacchi is so uncharacteristically silent. Sacchi's reticence to talk is generating rumors, also emerging from Motegi that Aprilia is about to make a big announcement in the very near future about their vision on motorcycle racing.
What the rumors are predicting, according to two different stories on GPOne.com, one from the World Superbike round at Assen, the other from the MotoGP round at Motegi, is that Aprilia is on the verge of announcing its complete withdrawal from the 250 class from next season. The rumors have some credibility to them, as Aprilia have made no secret of their disgust at the way the decision to dump the two-stroke 250s in favor of a 600cc four-cylinder four-stroke engine was taken, with no regard for either the interests of or the suggestions made by Aprilia. But the rumors must very much be regarded as just rumors, as one of the key pieces of evidence put forward by Claudio Porozzi of GPOne.com is Sacchi's very refusal to discuss the matter.
Ben Spies is proving to be a very quick learner at Assen, taking provisional pole in the first qualifying session at the Assen round of World Superbikes. Once again it was Max Neukirchner who as fastest for much of the session, though Spies was up to speed much quicker on his second session on the track. Neukirchner eventually ended the session down in 7th spot.
The first session of free practice for the World Supersport class at Assen saw Joan Lascorz top the timesheets. Lascorz took over the top spot from British rider Cal Crutchlow two-thirds of the way through the session. Fellow Yamaha rider Michele Pirro set the 3rd fastest time, just ahead of Parkalgar Honda's Eugene Laverty.
Results of World Supersport FP1:
Assen has not been kind to John Hopkins. The last time Hopper visited the Dutch track, a huge crash saw him smash his leg and ruled him out of racing for two races, and the injury left him struggling for form and riding in pain for virtually the rest of the season. To add insult to injury, the American lost his ride for the 2009 season when Kawasaki pulled the plug on its MotoGP operation.
His fortunes looked to have revived after Hopkins found a new home in World Superbikes with the Stiggy Racing team. His first races on the bike were solid, given that he had spent just a few hours on the bike, and was up against a host of riders who were on their third race of the season.
But his revival has been short-lived. After just four laps of the first session of free practice for the World Superbike round at Assen, Hopkins had a huge crash, injuring himself badly enough to be transported to a local hospital. The doctors there found he had suffered a badly dislocated hip, an injury painful enough to rule him out of racing this weekend. The team has not confirmed that he will not be taking part in Sunday's races, but a team spokesperson told MotoGPMatters.com that Hopkins was in so much pain that he is highly unlikely to be taking part.
The silver lining for Hopkins is that he didn't break any bones in the crash. It is as yet unknown whether he will be fit in time for the next round of World Superbikes at Monza on May 8th.
The first session of free practice has just been run for the World Superbike machines, and Ben Spies set the fastest time at his first attempt. He took all session to get to the top, but an impressive session nonetheless. Noriyuki Haga and Max Neukirchner had swapped the top spot prior to Spies taking charge.
As a rule, the official pre-race media events on both World Superbike and MotoGP tend to be rather bloodless, even dull affairs. A select group of big name riders participate in a local tradition in a picturesque setting, as a tribute to the culture of the country the series is visiting, and to help publicize the race. In Valencia the riders helped cook a giant Paella dish, and in Qatar, they rode camels.
Normally, when visiting Assen, the organizers would try to do something typically Dutch and eminently forgettable, such as visit a wooden shoe factory or a windmill, or go and watch cheese being produced. Fortunately, this year the organizers of the World Superbike round at Assen came up with something a little less obvious, and far more entertaining: They organized a Solex race through the streets of the city of Assen. The Solex - a type of moped with a small petrol engine mounted directly over the front wheel, which it drives using a rubber wheel - has a cult following in Holland, after becoming vehicle of choice for Holland's first '60s youth cult, the Nozems. So the bikes are still hugely popular, and a surprisingly common site on the streets and cycle paths of Dutch cities.
The atmosphere of the Solex race was heightened by dressing the riders - Noriyuki Haga, Ben Spies, Johnny Rea and local Supersport men Barry Veneman and Arie Vos - in 1960s helmets and full-length leather overcoats. And luckily for us, the Dutch motorcycling blog Oliepeil was there to capture the whole occasion on film:
The World Superbike series completes its spring migration this weekend, reaching the most northerly point of the season, after starting at its most southerly point just three races ago. For the teams and riders of the series are gathering at Assen, to do battle on the emasculated version of what was once called the Cathedral of Racing.
Intrigue haunts the World Superbike paddock at the moment, after rumors emerged that British rider Tommy Hill was to be replaced at Althea Honda. There was a quick response from the Althea Honda team, who issued a press release officially denying the story. The press release stated: "With reference to reports on several websites and forums regarding the substitution of our Superbike rider Tommy Hill with Lorenzo Lanzi, the Honda Althea Racing team wishes to deny this news, which is considered to be totally groundless."
A comprehensive denial. So what is fueling the rumor? Part of the problem is the replacement rider being named: Lorenzo Lanzi is an undeniably talented rider, and a winner at Valencia last year. The Italian started the season riding for Stefano Caracchi's KTM Scuderia Corse team in the Italian Superbike championship, but on the eve of the first round of the season, Caracchi and Lanzi have issued a joint statement announcing that Lanzi had been released from his contract to allow him to pursue opportunities in World Superbikes.
That press release is one of the things fueling the speculation, for it is refreshingly honest in why Lanzi is being released:
This is the final, official version of the 2009 MotoGP calendar. After being in doubt for a long time, the Hungarian Grand Prix was eventually canceled over problems with the track. It will now make its debut on the calendar in the spring of 2010.