MotoGP 2014 Assen Preview
Magic Marquez leads pilgrimage to the Cathedral
Repsol Honda God-child Marc Marquez leads his team and the rest of the MotoGP grid to Assen, which has been hosting motorcycle races in one form or another on the last Saturday in June since 1925. During this period, the race has morphed from the Dutch TT to the Dutch Grand Prix, from a road race to a closed-course tilt, and from motorized bicycles to the fastest two-wheeled racing machines on earth. Revered by fans and riders, Assen would be a fitting place for Marquez to set yet another modern day record.
Recall 2002, when the MotoGP God-child was a brash 23-year old Italian named Valentino Rossi. Rossi had entered the premier class in 2000 after having won titles in both the 125cc and 250cc classes. In 2001 he would win the first of five consecutive premier-class world titles, taking 11 of the 16 races that year aboard the 500cc Honda. In 2002, a rule change brought about the beginning of the four-stroke era, to which Rossi adapted almost immediately. In 2002, during his second premier class title year, he won seven races in succession, a mark that has stood ever since.
A mark which is likely to fall this Saturday afternoon to a new Marc.
In the modern era of MotoGP, no premier class rider has ever started stronger than has Marquez in 2014, winning the first seven contests of the season. Though the first five were relatively straightforward, the last two, at Mugello and Catalunya, have been bayonets at close quarters, and the young Catalan has not blinked. Assen, which, from the air, looks like a carelessly crushed little oval, boasts some of the highest average lap speeds on the tour, according to MotoGP. Yamahas have taken three of the last four races here, despite the shortest straight on the tour.
Regardless, you can take all that talk, all those facts and figures, crumple them into a little ball and toss them in the trash. Marc Marquez is probably going to figure a way to win Saturday’s race, establish a new record, and continue his ridiculous assault on 18-for-18.
Recent History at Assen
In 2011, Ben Spies, in his first year aboard the factory Yamaha YZR-M1, was the beneficiary of a first lap crash that took teammate and defending Assen and world champion Jorge Lorenzo out of contention. The charismatic and wildly erratic Marco Simoncelli, riding a factory spec Honda for Fausto Gresini, attempted to go through Lorenzo on cold tires, with negative consequences for both riders. Lorenzo re-entered the race in 15th position and worked his way back to a sixth place finish, while Repsol Honda pilots Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso would join Spies on the podium.
The following year, Stoner, en route to his second world title, outdistanced teammate Dani Pedrosa by five seconds for the win. Running third again that day, this time on a satellite Yamaha, was Dovizioso. And again that year, Lorenzo was cut down by a Gresini Honda on Lap 1, this time by the narcissistic and spatially-clueless Alvaro Bautista. Four other riders crashed out that day, Colin Edwards retired with CRT problems, and Karel Abraham failed to start, having injured himself in practice. The 2012 race was notable for the fact that six (6!) CRT bikes would finish in the points, owing to the demolition derby up front
Last year, on a wet track, overachieving rookie Marquez chased a resurgent Rossi for a good part of the day, The Doctor prevailing for what would be his only win of the year on the factory Yamaha. Soccer hooligan Cal Crutchlow, bitterly piloting the competitive satellite Tech 3 Yamaha, finished third, cementing his credentials to become a Factory Rider for Ducati Corse and, in the process, virtually ruining his career. Defending world champion Lorenzo fractured his collarbone during FP2, flew home for surgery, qualified 12th and managed to finish fifth in one of the grittiest performances many of us have ever seen. Pedrosa would endure his own season-screwing collarbone fracture the following round in Germany, the two injured Aliens leaving the door open for Marquez’ shocking rookie championship.
Marc Marquez winning the title in 2013 was a surprise. In 2014, the surprise will be if he doesn’t win the title. Assen has been the site of a number of unexpected outcomes over the years, so another could be in the cards this week. My only advice to the Spanish youngster for Saturday: steer clear of Gresini riders Alvaro Bautista and Scott Redding.
An Apology to Colin Edwards
Many of you have accused me of treating Colin Edwards rather harshly in recent years, and I have come to agree. His interview elsewhere this week clearly illustrated the fact that he has paid his dues, enjoyed a great deal of success, and is as candid and honest about the sport and his place in it as anyone ever. He and Nicky Hayden seem to be kindred spirits.
Edwards’ best years were behind him when I began following MotoGP seriously in 2008. He is old school Texas through and through, brings a kind of dirt bike mentality to the sport, and likely would have enjoyed more success later in his career but for the advances in the control electronics that now dominate the grid. His performance at Silverstone in 2011, finishing third in the rain a week after breaking his own collarbone at Catalunya, was epic, both in terms of skill and stones. That it would be the last podium of his career is almost poetic.
This publication is full of shootouts, a term that brings to mind lining up a pair of thundering bikes at a streetlight, winding them up and lighting them off. Even at age 40, in that setting, with two identical machines, I would put my money on Edwards against anyone. If he had a couple of beers under his belt, I’d give odds.
Congratulations on a great career, Colin. I hope Michelin pays you wheelbarrows full of money to help them develop the next generation of MotoGP tires.
Ducati is SMOKIN’!
Perhaps you saw the news last week that Ducati is considering leasing the Desmosedici, rather than selling it, to race teams in 2015. The subject is a bit academic, in that no one bought a single copy in 2014. (Unless they’re referring to Pramac Racing, which I think of as a Triple A factory team anyway. And why would they bother announcing a change in their relationship with Pramac to the press when they can just send an email?)
As regards 2015, I have only one question: To whom? Honda will surely beef up their production bike, in order to make amends with the likes of Aspar and Gresini. PBM Racing doesn’t have two nickels to rub together. There doesn’t appear to be a line forming of teams or riders anxious to risk life, limb and career on the Ducati. In fact, most of the current factory and Pramac riders appear willing to trade their current rides for just about anything short of an Evinrude-powered bathtub bolted to a couple of skateboards. Can the 2015 version really be a whole lot different/ better than the 2014? Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Your Weekend Weather Forecast
It’s a shame that the Dutch Grand Prix is always run on the last Saturday in June which, in The Netherlands, is late winter. Again this year, high temps are forecast in the 60’s, with a chance of rain each day. The race goes off at 8:00 am EDT, and we’ll have results and analysis right here on Saturday afternoon.