MotoGP: 2009 Assen Preview

It's anything but lonely at the top


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Netherlands round of the 2009 season. Check back on Monday Sunday for the full report of the Alice TT Assen.

Peruse the internet and you’ll find Assen referred to over and over as “The Cathedral of Motorcycling”, (but good luck trying to find anyone able to explain how it came by that moniker.) TT, as it turns out, stands for Tourist Trophy, the name of the first race held on the circuit back in 1925 and an excellent example of the difficulty of translating Dutch into English. And Alice, of course, is the little girl who fell down the rabbit hole and invented LSD in the beloved children’s tale by Lewis Carroll. Put it all together and you have the Alice TT Assen, Stage 7 of the 2009 MotoGP World Championship series that blasts off this weekend in the Netherlands.

2009 MotoGP top five standings (after six rounds)
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1st Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha 106
2nd Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha 106
3rd Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro 106
4th Andrea Dovizioso Repsol Honda 69
5th Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 67

By now, even your grandmother knows there’s a three way tie for first in the championship standings, with Fiat Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo sharing the top spot with Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner. Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa occupy fourth and fifth places, respectively, followed byTech 3 Yamaha’s Colin Edwards, Marco Melandri on the very non-factory Hayate Racing Kawasaki, and Loris Capirossi rolling his own in the eighth spot on the Rizla Suzuki. Behind Capirex sit a bunch of guys hoping to not lose their rides next season, a topic that deserves a little discussion.

Simoncelli Signs for 2010

Here, Marco Simoncelli accomplishes the difficult task of making Valentino Rossi look uncomfortable.Heartthrob Marco Simoncelli, the reigning MotoGP 250cc champion, announced on Wednesday that he had signed with the San Carlo Honda Gresini team for next season. While this is great news for the charismatic Italian, it places enormous pressure on Alex de Angelis and Toni Elias for the remainder of the season. The two current San Carlo riders are mired in 13th and 14th places, respectively, and at least one of them is clearly history come November. Given the ethnocentricity of MotoGP, my money is on them keeping de Angelis, who is practically Italian, having being born in Rimini, which is like a duchy or suburb of Italy, while poor Elias is Spanish to the core, having grown up just north of Barcelona. San Carlo Honda is an Italian team with an Italian sponsor, and my bet is it will have two Italian riders next season. BTW, someone needs to clue young Marco to the fact that the Weird Al Yankovic look went out in the mid-70’s.

Speculation has it that at least two other riders – American World Superbike racer Ben Spies and 250cc Grand Prix leading Spaniard Alvaro Bautista have been mentioned frequently – will be graduating to MotoGP’s premier class next season. As the current global economic climate argues against additional rides, there figure to be at least three current riders who will lose their spots on the grid AND the babes holding their umbrellas before the races start.

Nicky Hayden made some progress at Catalunya but can he continue it at Assen?Along with either Elias or de Angelis, Tech 3 Yamaha’s James Toseland appears to be toast, and Pramac Ducati’s Niccolo Canepa is skating on thin ice. Earlier in the season, I performed a complex mathematical analysis suggesting that FIVE new riders would join the big dogs next season. As of now, I would say that three is the minimum, and five probably the maximum. Don’t ask me who the other two might be. John Hopkins? Julian Simon? Rookie cup leader Sturla Fagerhaug? Your guess is as good as mine. In fact, your guess is probably way better than mine. Personally, I’m rooting for Danica Patrick, and have applied for the job holding HER umbrella.

Much to my surprise, there was a story planted on Motorcyclenews.com this week asserting that Nicky Hayden doesn’t have to do well at Assen and Laguna Seca to keep his spot on the Ducati Marlboro team. Who, I’m wondering, has been murmuring otherwise of late, such that a story like this became necessary? Nicky Hayden is a great rider who will figure out the Desmosedici, or he won’t, in which case he’ll go back to work for Honda or hook up with Yamaha and contend for championships again in the near future.

There’s no question that the Ducati 800cc bike is an engineering marvel. However, other than Casey Stoner (and perhaps Mika Kallio), no one can ride it. Personally, I don’t think the Fiat Yamaha garage is big enough for both Valentino and Jorge, and expect one of them to depart in the next year or so. And, yes, your grandmother could be competitive on the YZR-M1.

Loris Capriossi will race Suzuki's new engine at Assen.Suzuki’s New Engine is a Lot Like Their Old Engine

Without much fanfare, and despite my pleading to the contrary, Rizla Suzuki riders Chris Vermeulen and Capirossi ran Stage 6 at Catalunya two weeks ago with a new, untested power plant. Who knew? The results were virtually identical to their results all season long – a fifth and an 11th. At Mugello they recorded a sixth and a tenth, at LeMans a sixth and an eighth and at Jerez a sixth and a tenth.

They were very upbeat after their post-Catalunya testing, but they’re ALWAYS jacked up heading into race weekends. I think they need a NEW new engine. I also think they have “Upbeat and Enthusiastic” clauses in their contracts that pay them extra bucks for sounding, you know, upbeat and enthusiastic during press conferences. Wouldn’t it be a gas if Capi were to bust loose with a couple of microphones in his face and say, “Look, I’m in fifth place pushing this piece of ____ tricycle. Put me on a decent ride and I’ll be on the podium every week. I’m 36, for God’s sake – haven’t I earned a respectable set of wheels?”

Bits and Pieces

If Andrea Dovizioso had been able to squeeze a total of 7/10ths of a second off his combined time in the last two races, he would have scored two podiums. I’m going to stick my neck out this week and predict he scores his first podium of the year at Assen … Kallio was able to test some new fittings on his Ducati after the Catalunya race and was turning laps a second and a half faster than he did during the race. Perhaps the young Finn will be taking over the spot as Stoner’s understudy thought to have been reserved for Hayden … The weather forecast for the weekend looks great for Sunday. Unfortunately, this is Assen, the only race of the season that is run on Saturday, and rain is expected on both Friday and Saturday … the over/under on Yuki Takahashi on Saturday is 10 laps completed. Don’t expect to see him back on the Team Scot Honda next season. In fact, if it rains on Saturday he may sit this one out, as his team apparently has only two machines on hand for the race, and he got a booboo on his finger crashing out on Lap 1 at Catalunya.

The TT Assen is unique in that it is traditionally held on Saturday instead of Sunday.

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