Assen, The Netherlands
Motorcycle racing is an outdoor sport. The riders are at the mercy of the elements. Not just the riders, but the teams and factories too. A bike that works well in the dry may be terrible in the wet. A bike that is strong in the wet may struggle when conditions were mixed. Finding the right balance when conditions change can throw the best laid plans into disarray.
All of these questions were multiplied by the weather at Assen. With nothing between the circuit and the North Sea but a row of sand dunes, the odd high rise office block, and a hundred kilometers of pancake-flat farmland punctuated by the occasional tree, the wind, sun, and rain blow out just as quickly as they blow in. The weather at Assen is as fickle as a pretty teenager in a crowded disco.
That made it tough for MotoGP at the Dutch circuit. Searching for the right setup was both perilously difficult and ultimately futile, for as soon as you found something in the right ballpark for the conditions, the rain would come or the track would dry out, and you would have to start all over again. Add in tarmac which has fantastic grip in the dry but diminishing grip in the dry, and you had a recipe for, if not chaos, then at least a fairly random mix of riders topping qualifying.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class in Assen:
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class in Assen:
The sun decided to come out and play at the beginning of the fourth practice session, prompting the riders to get a quick taster of the conditions before heading back to the garage to have their bikes prepared for dry conditions.
Only a handful of riders decided to stay out for more than one lap on wet tyres, as the mechanics kept busy with set-up changes, while keeping an eye on the forecast that threatened with another shower.
Just how clever has Honda been with their fairings? At Assen, Cal Crutchlow spent Friday going back and forth between bikes with and without the addition of aerodynamic side pods on the outside of the fairing. That led to some confusion among the media. Had Honda homologated the aerodynamic fairing already? Or was this something new?
I went to see Danny Aldridge to ask what the situation was, and the MotoGP technical director explained the situation. The fairing Crutchlow used at Assen is exactly the same one he has been using all year. But because the side pods are detachable, only connected using rivets, the fairing counts as a single, homologated unit both with and without the side pods.
The rules are somewhat ambiguous, and it is this ambiguity which Honda have exploited with the fairing. The relevant part of the regulations reads as follows:
It is allowed that some parts of a homologated Aero Body component may not be mounted on the motorcycle (eg. hand guards used in wet weather only).
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Assen:
Rain had just stopped by the time the intermediate class started play and it was the usual suspects who put their names at the top of the timesheets on a wet circuit. The field also got its fair share of crashes, including Xavi Vierge, Jorge Navarro, Takaaki Nakagami and Luca Marini.
With the tricky conditions, the gaps at the top were significant. Franco Morbidelli proved his speed around the Dutch circuit both in the dry and the wet, the Italian blasting his way into the 1:52s, the only rider to do that and ending up leading by one tenth of a second.
The rain that graced the beginning of practice for the lightweight class had stopped by the time the MotoGP class took its turn, but the seventeen degrees in the air were not quite enough to dry the surface for anyone to challenge Friday times. With Q2 positions almost guaranteed given the weather, the riders looked to find some speed for qualifying – tipped to be in similar conditions. That saw a handful of wet weather enthusiasts mixing it in with the Q2 qualifiers.