Assen, The Netherlands
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:
The umbrellas were out, as were the EBRs, having bowed out of race two to trace the mechanical problem that affected the results of the first race.
World Supersport at Assen was free of rain, even though the edges were still damp from the early morning rain, and the grandstands were packed to the gunwales.
The race was ruled a dry race as the damp track was saved from further onslaught by the clouds missing the region. This didn't stop one rider crashing out on his way to the grid, however, letting his bike wander across the grass on its own.
World Superbike's new early start has created two race climates, and we could be in for both cold and wet tomorrow. And if it rains, who stands to benefit?
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after qualifying at Assen:
The Supersport Qualifying was run under a constant threat of rain.