MotoGP: 2009 Assen Results

Rossi overwhelms the field for career win #100

It was a lovely, sunny day Saturday in the northern Netherlands, perfect for a parade. Which is what MotoGP fans got, as the dreaded “P” word (procession) raised its ugly head for the first time this season. After an exhilarating race in Barcelona, decided on the last turn of the last lap, Saturday’s event turned into an exhibition by Fiat Yamaha and an exercise in showboating by Valentino Rossi, one worthy of Terrell Owens or Chad Ocho Cinco and a fifteen yard penalty in the NFL.

This one was over early. Ducati Marlboro’s Casey Stoner took off like a shot and dominated the action for about, oh, a minute and a half. Rossi passed him for good on Lap 2, and Fiat teammate Jorge Lorenzo, once again dozing at the start of the race, regained consciousness in time to overtake him on Lap 5, after the excitable Dani Pedrosa had laid down his Repsol Honda in an unforced error on Lap 4 while running third. Pedrosa’s teammate Andrea Dovizioso, not to be outdone, replicated Pedrosa’s mistake at the same spot on the track on Lap 10, leaving American Colin Edwards on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 and Chris Vermeulen on the Rizla Suzuki in fourth and fifth places. The top five spots in the race remained that way, then, for the final 16 laps of the race. My reaction to this can be summed up in two words: Ho. Hum.

Valentino Rossi earned career Grand Prix victory 100 at the Assen TT.

Valentino Rossi = Tiger Woods?

The last thing the rest of the MotoGP field wants is Valentino Rossi on a hot streak.Much to the dismay of the fans not decked out in lemon yellow and not wearing big 46’s on their backs, Rossi appears to have distanced himself from the rest of the premiere class again this season. It was at about this point last year that we thought we were possibly done with him. Having won in China, France and Italy, he failed to crack the top spot in Catalunya, Britain, the Netherlands and Germany. Then he went out and calmly won five races in a row, starting with Indianapolis and finishing with Japan, on his way to the title. Today’s win gives him the lead in the championship and three wins out of seven rounds, with Laguna Seca on tap next week, where he drove Casey Stoner into the dirt last year. Before you know it, the bookies will be offering odds on Rossi against the field, the way they do with Tiger.

A Disastrous Round for Honda

As a manufacturer, you know you’re in trouble when a Suzuki beats your top finisher to the line. Yamaha, living large these days, placed all four bikes in the top six, joined by Stoner’s Ducati in third and Vermeulen’s Suzuki in fifth. Meanwhile, Randy de Puniet and Toni Elias were the top finishers for Honda in seventh and eighth places. With both Repsol boys crashing out, Takahashi finishing 15th and Talmacsi almost a lap down in 16th, there is little joy in Hondaville tonight.

2009 Assen TT top six
Pos. Rider Team Time
1st Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha 42:14.611
2nd Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha + 5.368
3rd Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro + 23.113
4th Colin Edwards Monster Yamaha Tech 3 + 29.114
5th Chris Vermeulen Rizla Suzuki + 33.605
6th James Toseland Monster Yamaha Tech 3 + 39.347

As usual, the terribly British race announcers were going on and on about how brilliantly guys like Vermeulen and James Toseland performed today, and as usual it was mostly hogwash. Put Pedrosa and Dovizioso back in their usual spots near the top, and insert hard luck Mika Kallio in sixth place, where he stood when he lost it on Lap 26, and the finishing order would have looked much different.

Chris Vermeulen had his best result of the season, finishing fifth.

Granted, all three riders did crash out. But Pedrosa and Dovizioso are unlikely to do so very frequently. Rookie Kallio, who appeared to have injured his left hand, is on a steep learning curve on the Desmosedici. My point here is that guys like Toseland, de Puniet, Elias and Hayden are far from brilliant. They earned more points this week than usual, and Edwards has now put himself solidly in the top six. But brilliant – no.

Speaking of Nicky Hayden and Loris Capirossi…

Frustration is beginning to set in for Nicky Hayden despite a season-best eighth.Although watching the top five finishers at Assen was a snooze, the contest for sixth through 11th places was great, especially for European fans who, unlike most Americans, aren’t as hung up about trivial things like, you know, winning. Watching Nicky Hayden running in that pack, I got the strong feeling that he has simply lost his mojo. At one point late in the race, entering a turn in a crowd, he just completely backed off, losing maybe four spots. Other riders, specifically Reckless Randy de Puniet, stayed put, causing guys like Capirossi and Elias to have to take that embarrassing little detour through the infield. The Ducati has gotten into the Kentucky Kid’s head, and it’s not working out.

Capirossi, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have enough machine under him to make up for any bad luck or a single bad decision. He must run a perfect race to have any hope of a top five finish. At Assen, he got off to a terrible start coming out of the six hole, was forced off the track on lap eight, and was unable to come back on the field, finishing tenth (which would have been 13th on a normal day.) The latest Suzuki power plant reminds me of the lyrics from my favorite song by The Who:

“Meet the new boss.
The same as the old boss.”

Just in Case I Haven’t Offended Everyone Yet

Sure, fans know the podium ceremony at the end of MotoGP races is awkward and embarrassing. Three riders stand there next to their helmets (?), while a couple of random guys loiter at the edges of the stage, and the obligatory scantily-clad, long legged beauties stride across the stage to present each rider with his respective Goldilocks trophy – big, bigger, and biggest. At some of these rituals, the riders are presented with magnums of warm champagne, which they immediately shake up and spray on the aforementioned scantily clad beauties, in an effort to make their t-shirts translucent. All in good fun, if somewhat sexist, clumsy and predictable. (Speaking of which, don’t forget to check out the girls in the gallery!)

There's something symbolic about spraying champagne bottles around scantily-clad women. Not that we're complaining.

The overall effect, though, is magnified when Rossi wins, because the antics take place against the backdrop of the Italian national anthem, which sounds to me like a drinking song.I can hear the fans, wasted on a combination of national pride, ethanol fumes and red wine, singing. I don’t speak a word of Italian, but according to Wikipedia, this was the original final verse of the Italian anthem:

Weave o maidens
flags and cockades
make souls gallant
the invitation of love.

Somehow it seems to fit Rossi’s podium shenanigans pretty well.

2009 MotoGP top five standings (after seven rounds)
Pos. Rider Team Points
1st Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha 131
2nd Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha 126
3rd Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro 122
4th Andrea Dovizioso Repsol Honda 69
5th Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda 67

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