Crash.net is reporting that leading Formula 1 designer John Barnard is teaming up with Ricardo plc, "one of the world's leading powertrain, driveline and transmission technology providers", to build a bike to run in MotoGP. Barnard is no newcomer to MotoGP as he was previously involved in the Team KR project with Kenny Roberts in the period that they were trying to build their own V5 engine, which never became truly competitive.
The question on everybody at Assen's lips, whether Valentino Rossi was fit enough for qualifying, has been answered, and the answer is: just. Rossi was only out for 2 sessions, and did 13 laps, but he qualified, with an almost respectable 1:40.298. Respectable for a man who complained that he couldn't brake or get on the gas, that is.
Rossi's time puts him at the back of the grid, nearly 4 seconds behind surprising pole sitter John Hopkins. The Suzukis have been reasonably fast all weekend, but not this fast. Suzuki will be pleased, as Assen is the home grand prix of their sponsor, Rizla, and an excellent place to get the second pole of the season. The pole time was just as the Ohlins engineers predicted, 1:36.411. Shinya Nakano is in second spot, making it a Bridgestone 1-2 in Qualifying. Colin Edwards was also fast, but was baulked by Nicky Hayden during his last fast lap, wrecking his shot at pole. Hayden himself is in fourth, beside team mate Dani Pedrosa, and the second Suzuki of Chris Vermeulen.
The third row has some pretty big surprises: Marco Melandri is in 7th position, not bad considering the terrible crash he suffered last week. But the real surprises are Carlos Checa in 8th, a long way up the grid from where the Dunlop riders usually are; and another Dunlop rider (though this time on Bridgestones) Alex Hofmann in 9th, riding Sete Gibernau's Ducati. Kenny Roberts Jr, who had been at the front during the Free Practice sessions, is way down in 10th.
A disappointing performance from Loris Capirossi in 15th and Casey Stoner in 12th. Capirossi has an excuse, as he is still suffering the after effects of his crash in Barcelona, but Stoner doesn't. Less than 1 second covers the top 9.
10. Roberts Jr
11. de Puniet
Valentino Rossi seems to be suffering from the injuries sustained during his crash in the 1st Free Practice session yesterday. He did not emerge onto the track until 20 minutes into the session, where he rode 3 laps before returning. He came out once more, towards the end of the session very briefly, apparently returning straight back to the pits. Most disturbing of all for the Italian world champion must be his lap times: his fastest lap time was a 1:58.614. That's 21 seconds slower than the fastest lap this session.
That the Yamaha wasn't to blame was shown by Colin Edwards, who set that fastest lap, a 1:37.215, the fastest time set at the new Assen track so far. This is getting very close to the time of 1:36 which the Ohlins engineers predicted the MotoGP bikes should be capable of at Assen. The finish order:
3. De Puniet
No Elias as he returned to Spain yesterday. Less than 1 second covers the first 9, and less than 1.6 seconds covers Edwards to Hofmann.
In a previous item, I discussed the changes that have been made to the track at Assen, especially the changes to the North Loop. Thursday was the first day that the riders got to ride the track in anger, and to learn what the new Circuit Van Drenthe at Assen is really like. Here's a compilation of rider comments on the changed layout at Assen, taken from interviews from MotoGP.com:
- Shinya Nakano: "I like the new track. More technical, and I like it."
- The ever-discrete Casey Stoner: "Disgusting. This track was one of the greatest tracks in the world, but they've completely destroyed it over the last couple of years. I don't even think anyone enjoys racing here any more."
- The similarly discrete Colin Edwards: "It's crap. The track was the best '95, '96, when I first started coming here, and every year they keep screwing it up piece by piece. ... It's still gonna be some good racing, but the temple of the Dutch TT is a little bit diminished with what we have now."
- Valentino Rossi: "For sure, it's not the old Assen, but anyway, it's not so bad."
- Dani Pedrosa: "Assen is now like a go-kart track."
In this afternoon's Free Practice session, Texas Tornado Colin Edwards was fastest, setting a 1:38.144. Carlos Checa was in an outstanding second place, 0.115 behind, ahead of Casey Stoner, Kenny Roberts Jr, Randy de Puniet, John Hopkins, Chris Vermeulen, Makoto Tamada, Shinya Nakano and Nicky Hayden, in tenth spot. Dani Pedrosa is 11th, ahead of Valentino Rossi. Marco Melandri is in 14th, with Loris Capirossi down in 16th, behind temporary team mate Alex Hofmann. Less than 1 second covers the top ten.
Based on data from the World Endurance Championship races run at Assen earlier this year, Ohlins engineers calculated that the MotoGP bikes should be able to lap Assen in 1:36. So there's plenty of room for improvement.
Toni Elias is flying back to Barcelona today, after injuring his shoulder in a fall during the first free practice session. A bone chip was found in his shoulder at the hospital, and he has suffered some ligament damage.
So now we have two teams consisting entirely of injured riders: Fortuna Honda, with Marco Melandri injured but riding, and Elias gone home; and Marlboro Ducati, with Loris Capirossi injured but riding, and Sete Gibernau back in Barcelona, his place taken by Alex Hofmann. With Rossi also injured, but riding, this season is really taking its toll of the MotoGP paddock.
For news of Elias' 2007 crash at Assen, see this story.
Valentino Rossi is back from the hospital, where he was diagnosed with chest contusions, hairline fractures to the right hand and left ankle, and a haematoma (that's a very big and very nasty bruise to you and me) on his elbow. He is scheduled to undergo a CAT scan on his chest, and if no serious problems are found, is expected to return to the track, where he hopes to take part in this afternoon's practice session.
This morning's free practice seems to have caused a veritable tsunami of injuries, once again affecting the championship standings:
Valentino Rossi fell heavily at the fast Ruskenhoek sweeper before the GT chicane and was taken to hospital in Assen after the Free Practice session ended, with a suspected fractured wrist and collarbone;
Toni Elias also fell heavily, bruising his shoulder in the process;
Nicky Hayden fell, but was thankfully uninjured.
If Rossi is injured, it would mean missing at least two rounds, putting paid to his chances of title prolongation, and a continuation of his season long run of bad luck.
Marco Melandri took part in the first free practice session at Assen today, after having received the go ahead to ride from his doctors. The session was longer than usual, due to the major changes at Assen, though rain interrupted at one point, and Melandri set reasonable times. Shinya Nakano was fastest, followed by John Hopkins. FP times to follow later.
Former Dutch GP star Jurgen van den Goorbergh is reporting that Riders For Health (Dutch site, International Site) will be selling off chunks of the old Assen TT circuit during the Assen TT weekend. For just € 25 you can own a piece of the historic track that so many great names have raced on. The track is being sold at the Riders For Health stand, behind the main stand at the circuit itself during the race weekend. All proceeds will go towards supporting Riders For Health's projects in the Gambia.