The Iveco TT Assen, a.k.a. The Dutch Grand Prix, going off this weekend for the 82nd time, is described on the MotoGP website as “the most prestigious event in Dutch motorsports”, drawing “hundreds of thousands of fanatical spectators.” While this may be true, what is beyond dispute is that the last three races have been high speed parades, due to the narrow track and relative scarcity of passing opportunities. All of which suggests that if you want to podium at The Cathedral, you’d better get off to a strong start.
The 2009 tilt saw Casey Stoner, then toiling for Marlboro Ducati, jump out to an early lead that lasted only until Lap 2, when Fiat Yamaha ace Valentino Rossi passed him. Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo went through on Stoner on Lap 5, and that was your podium. At the time, I was comparing Rossi to Tiger Woods, both of whom were kings of their respective universes. (Ironic, isn’t it, that the comparison still applies, as both have returned roughly to earth, although by different routes.) The Repsol Hondas had a dismal day, as both Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso crashed out early. Supporting my thesis, the qualifying order that day was Rossi #1, Lorenzo #3 and Stoner #4.
In 2010, Lorenzo was in charge at Assen, on his way to the world championship; he qualified on the pole and led wire-to-wire. That day, Pedrosa started seventh, but jumped up into second position by Lap 4 and remained there the rest of the day. Stoner, still on the Ducati, started and finished third. (Randy de Puniet had qualified a fluky second on the LCR Honda, but that was the season when he finished worse than he qualified for 17 of the 18 rounds.) The most interesting occurrence was rookie Ben Spies’ surprising fourth-place finish onboard the Tech 3 Yamaha. Further supporting my thesis, I will note that Ben had qualified fourth.
My thesis is starting to look pretty good.
Last year, Spies, on the factory Yamaha, qualified second and avoided the Lap 1 debacle in which polesitter Marco Simoncelli, pushing cold tires well past the limits of adhesion, went down, taking Lorenzo with him. This cleared the way for Spies’ first and only premier class win, as the rest of the field was unavoidably detained while Sic and Lorenzo untangled themselves and rejoined the race. Thus it was that Stoner, on the Repsol Honda, and teammate Dovizioso would join Spies on the podium. Stoner had started third and Dovi fifth; both were promoted once Simoncelli and Lorenzo hit the skids.
Let’s review. If you intend to podium at the Dutch Grand Prix, you had better qualify on rows one or two. Either that, or be Dani Pedrosa.
Speaking of Dani Pedrosa …
Our crack research department can’t decide whether El Ratón Poderoso is having one of his best or worst seasons in 2012. True, he has 101 points after six rounds, second only to the 110 he had at this point in 2008. But he has yet to post a win this year, marking his third slowest career start. (In 2007, his first win finally came in Round 10; in 2009 it was Round 8.) True, he’s been on the podium for five of six races this year, but I would argue that he SHOULD podium practically every round, on the Repsol Honda for the seventh year, and carrying less weight than anyone else on the grid. If they handicapped MotoGP bikes the way they do horse races, Pedrosa would be lugging a 30 pound dumbbell around the track every week.
Whatever – here’s the rub. Pedrosa misses, on average, three races each year due to injury. And although he’s avoided pain and suffering thus far in 2012, he has never done so for an entire premier class season. While the 1000cc bikes have been a major boost for Lorenzo and Cal Crutchlow, Pedrosa was perfectly suited for the 800’s; the additional power hasn’t translated to faster times and, I would argue, increases the likelihood of a major fall and another shattered collarbone. So, Dani hasn’t missed a race, has failed to podium only once, and still trails Lorenzo by 39 points. All of which just gives me a bad feeling going forward.
Paul Bird = Glutton for Punishment
There was the announcement this week, greeted by widespread disbelief, that the Paul Bird Motorsport team would field two Aprilia-powered CRT bikes next year, on a chassis designed and built by, you guessed it, Paul Bird. The team is currently fronted by Brit James Ellison, whom some MotoGP fans will remember from the 2004-06 seasons, during which time he amassed 36 championship points while finishing, respectively, 26th, 23rd and 18th in his final season onboard the Tech 3 Yamaha. His three career wins all came in British Superbikes. Thus far this season in MotoGP he has earned seven (7) points, five of which came at Le Mans in the rain.
Personally, I find it somewhat surprising that Bird would bother fielding a single rider next year, much less two. In a sport populated with large egos, I would guess his is way up there, as he apparently feels he can show Honda, Yamaha, Suter and the rest of ‘em a thing or two about building motorcycles. The man must swing a very heavy bat with sponsors, of whom I’m guessing 98% are British companies anxious to jump on the gravy train of big time international racing. With Ellison and Shane “Shakey” Byrne as presumptive pilots, one wonders what he expects to give his sponsors in return for their hard-earned
dollars pounds. Paul Bird Motorsport may start 2013 with two bikes, but I would be willing to bet they finish the season with, at most, one.
Casey Stoner is making conspiracy theory noises about the new front tire Bridgestone has (unilaterally) introduced for the remainder of the season, saying the RC213V was “completely designed around” the former tire. Waaa waaa waaa … I wonder whether the drop-off in performance since the announcement of his alleged retirement at the end of the season can be traced to the final whisper in his ear each week by Adriana, his brolly girl, wife and mother of his infant daughter. Up until Le Mans, I suspect her last words to him each week were, “Win, baby.” Since France, I suspect she now purrs, “Don’t crash.”
It appears we are to cease referring to the soon-to-be-abandoned “Spies Rule”, and instead debate the new “Marquez Reversal.” Spies and Nicky Hayden, via Twitter, suggested that when the hot young rookie is Spanish, the factory team doors swing wide open, but when he’s an American, they slam shut. They’re just sayin’ …
Your Weekend Forecast
The weather in Assen this weekend is expected to be about average for this time of year (i.e., all nine months from March through November) – cool, cloudy, damp and mildewy. During the winter months, it is cold, cloudy, damp and mildewy. Once the qualifying practice is over, we should have a pretty good idea who will stand on the podium Saturday. That’s my thesis, and I’m sticking to it.
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