Seems like months ago when Ducati wildman Andrea Iannone T-boned Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona, handing the Mallorcan his second DNF of the season and costing him the 2016 championship lead. The triple world champion must now commence his attack on Honda wünderkind and series leader Marc Marquez at a venue where his recent fortunes have ranged from bad to worse. Meanwhile, teammate and rival Valentino Rossi and Marquez look to pick things up where they left off last June as we steam into Round 8 of 2016, The Motul TT Assen.

Recent History at Assen

Despite fracturing his collarbone during a wet free practice session, Jorge Lorenzo was able to race, finishing fifth in 2013.

2013 – Lorenzo’s now deep-seated aversion to racing in the rain was born here, as he crashed hard in practice on Thursday and raced on Saturday with a fractured collarbone. His gritty 5th place finish that day prefigured further disaster two weeks later at the Sachsenring, when another abysmal high side destroyed any possibility of a repeat championship in 2013, opening the door for Marquez and the emergence of a new racing legend. Back on that Saturday in 2013 at Assen, it was Rossi taking the checkered flag two seconds in front of rookie Marquez, with Cal Crutchlow, then flogging the Tech 3 Yamaha, taking third place, the third of his four podium appearances that season.

2014 – a flag-to-flag affair, the bane of all moto pilots, resulted in Lorenzo limping home in 13th place, gave young Marquez his eighth win in succession, and left Lorenzo 119 points out of the lead with 10 rounds left. Though he would rally mightily later in the season, actually winning the second half, it must be said that racing in the rain, especially at Assen, has become a thing for Jorge Lorenzo. That year, Andrea Dovizioso cemented his reputation as a “mudder” with a second place finish on the factory Ducati while Dani Pedrosa completed the podium on the #2 Repsol Honda.

Andrea Dovizioso finished second in 2014 in a flag-to-flag race.

Last year featured a memorable late-in-the-day battle between Rossi and Marquez, the two trading paint (rubber, actually) in the penultimate corner, Marquez getting the worst of it, with Rossi caroming through the gravel trap on the way to a 1.2 second victory over the angry Spaniard. Marquez was prevented from accusing Rossi of cutting the corner, having taken a similar path to victory over his rival in 2013 at Laguna Seca. At a considerable distance behind all the excitement, Lorenzo was quietly pedaling his M1 to a constrained third place finish, 14 seconds behind Rossi.

While Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez traded wins at Assen in recent years, last year’s third-place finish was Jorge Lorenzo’s first Dutch TT podium since 2010.

Let’s review. Rossi and Marquez have battled tooth and nail at Assen over the past three years, Rossi holding a 2-1 edge, while Lorenzo has been able to manage a 5th, a 13th and a 3rd. Not exactly the best venue for Jorge to gain ground on his compatriot nor put some distance between himself and his teammate. To make matters worse, the weather forecast calls for cool and damp conditions, a setup likely to give Lorenzo a case of the yips.

The Factory Seats for 2017 are Set

Despite decent results, Aleix Espargaro will lose his Suzuki Ecstar seat at the end of the season. Espargaro is expected to sign with Aprilia for next year.

The most interesting phase of the silly season this year is now over, with Alex Rins having been announced as the second Suzuki rider, joining Iannone, and forcing the Hamamatsu factory team to debut its 2017 program absent any rider continuity from 2016. With Sam Lowes having earned (?) his promotion from Moto2 to the factory Aprilia team, it appears all but certain that he will be joined by Aleix Espargaro, currently minister-without-portfolio after losing his seat to Rins. The announcement of Espargaro is not expected prior to Round 9. Assuming, however, that it comes to pass, the factory lineup for 2017-18 looks like this:

  • Repsol Honda – Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa
  • Movistar Yamaha – Valentino Rossi, Maverick Vinales
  • Factory Ducati – Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso
  • Factory KTM – Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith
  • Suzuki Ecstar – Andrea Iannone, Alex Rins
  • Aprilia Gresini – Sam Lowes, Aleix Espargaro

All of which leaves some rather high profile riders scrambling for satellite seats. Riders such as Cal Crutchlow, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, and Johann Zarco, all with substantial pedigrees and piles of trophies are finding the “silly season” to be somewhere between anxiety hour and hammer time.

Alex Rins currently leads the Moto2 championship standings. He’ll replace Aleix Espargaro at Suzuki next year.

Zarco, who should be a mortal lock to join Herve Poncharal’s French Tech 3 outfit, may determine that his interests will be best served by remaining in Moto2, while any of the other three could easily follow Nicky Hayden to World Superbike if they are unable to sign with a competitive satellite team. In my humble opinion, Bradl and Bautista have underachieved for most of their time in the premier class, while Crutchlow has yet to meet a bridge he doesn’t seem anxious to burn. Pretty sure Cal could picture himself on a late model Pramac Ducati far more easily than Gigi Dall’Igna can.

Happenings in the Junior Classes

Sam Lowes, Alex Rins and Johann Zarco are separated by just 10 points in the 2016 Moto2 championship chase.

The Moto2 championship is a bar brawl midway through the season, with Rins leading the way, trailed by Lowes and Zarco, a mere 10 points separating the three. Swiss rider Thomas Luthi trails Zarco by 13 points, barely managing to remain in Tranche 1 in the class. South African Brad Binder is running away with the Moto3 title in his fifth season in the class and appears to be a cinch to move up to Moto2 next season. His nearest competitor, Jorge Navarro, broke his leg in training and does not appear to be a threat this season. The next five riders are all young Italians, mostly protégés of Dr. Rossi, and likely figure to play a role in the Moto2 championship in a few years.

Hayden has established himself, during his “rookie” campaign, as a solid Tranche Two rider in WSBK. He enjoyed a fifth and a sixth at Donington Park in late May. Last weekend at Misano, he crashed out of Race 1 and finished either fifth or sixth in Race 2, being listed in sixth place but with a better time than fifth place finisher Lorenzo Savadori. For Nicky, accustomed to playing for table stakes for years and reduced to playing dollar limit these days, one assumes he still gets juiced on race days. But practice and testing must, at this stage of his career, begin wearing a little thin. Still, nothing but positive comments from the Kentucky Kid, a lesson The Coventry Crasher could devote some time to learning.

Now what, Cal?

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather.com tells us it will definitely rain on Friday, probably rain on Saturday, and possibly rain on Sunday, with temps only reaching into the high 60’s. Another opportunity for Michelin to demonstrate they are investing the time and resources necessary for the sole tire supplier. With Marquez and Rossi having made a partial peace at Catalunya, Assen represents an opportunity to heat the rivalry up once again. Lorenzo will have his work cut out for him, especially in the wet. The voices in my head keep whispering Dovizioso. And for the first time ever, we will have Assen race results later on Sunday, not Saturday. On Saturday, you can catch qualifying, then go out and cut the grass.

Jack Miller and the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS team sported a sexy black and gold livery at the Catalunya test earlier this month.
  • Old MOron

    Good stuff, Brucey. Let’s start with your question about Sam Lowes. Has he earned his factory ride at Aprilia? According to MotoGP.com, he has 9 podia (2 wins) after 2.5 seasons in Moto 2. By comparison, Alex Rins has 14 podia (4 wins) after only 1.5 seasons in Moto 2. Hmmm, what about Zarco? He has 24 podia (11 wins + a championship) in 4.5 seasons of Moto 2. Rins has outscored Lows, but if Lowes were to stay in Moto 2 for another couple of years, he might catch up to Zarco. However Zarco is not getting a factory ride, so maybe Lowes shouldn’t have one, either. Tough call, but I think Zarco should be on a factory Aprilia ride before Lowes. The thing Zarco has going against him is his age. Everybody wants a young superstar.

    • Bruce Allen

      In this sport, ageism starts early. One can be over the hill at 25. Bummer. Thank you for doing the research our crack research department–me–was too lazy to undertake.

    • spiff

      So should Zarco be happy to take Tech3? A paycheck, and a chance at a rainy podium.

      • Old MOron

        Good question, Spiff. This is his fifth year in Moto 2, so I imagine he’ll want to take the next step and ride in Moto GP. I read, somewhere, that he’s very happy to work with Aki Ajo’s team, and Ajo has a KTM connection. I was expecting Zarco to ride for KTM in Moto GP. Shows how much I know.

        All of the Moto GP factory seats are sewn up for the next two years. By then he’ll be 28. Seems that if he wants to ride in the premier class, it’s now or never with Tech3. He rides smoothly, so he should go well on the Tech3 Yam. Might as well make the leap and try to enjoy his time.

  • JMDonald

    The different venues sure are a factor aren’t they. Every rider has strengths and weaknesses. This is what racing is all about. This and umbrella girls.

    • Bruce Allen

      Thanks for reminding me of the brolly girls at Montmelo, who generally kept themselves in the shade on a very hot track while the riders were getting tans and pooling sweat in their leathers. They don’t hire them for their brains.

      • spiff

        The riders???

  • spiff

    About time Bruce, I’ve been waiting .

    Can I get a Go Rossi!!!?

    • Bruce Allen

      I’m happy to take the blame for a lot of things, like my faulty predictions and stubborn tendency to pick on Cal Crashlow. But the MotoGP calendar? Really?

      Go Rossi!

  • spiff

    I share you feeling on Bradl and Bautista. I don’t think they can develop a fast bike, just ride them.

  • Starmag

    This is the race “the Maniac” starts at the back as a penalty for playing bumper cars, (again), at the last race. By all rights, he shouldn’t even be in this race.

    Look out back markers! You may end up in the gravel getting head butted or blamed for “braking early”.

    San Andreas will never admit it’s his fault.

    • spiff

      I kind of want to see him make an epic run to the front.

      • DKing

        We may just get that…so far he has topped FP1 & 2…:)

  • john phyyt

    Brilliant analysis as always. Honda seems to be a little better each weekend. 3 weeks since last race , maybe this and michelins ( wets) may make a difference. Wonder if the Honda electronic techs have been able to give that x factor to the sweet balanced bike. I agree Jorge may not be at his best, about time he preserved himself for Ducati $$ next year. My little computer points to Pedrosa. He will do everything to ensure Honda gets the best results.

  • yabataba

    “Marquez was prevented from accusing Rossi of cutting the corner”….or not…

    “I didn’t think he’d cut the corner. In the end I feel we won the race… I learnt some motocross from Rossi today” – Marquez

  • DKing

    Thank the Lord! I didn’t think this weekend was ever going to get here..lol!

  • Vrooom

    Nice review Bruce, reading your previews is the start of a good race weekend I always look forward to. Wish I’d read it before making my fantasy trades. Hard to imagine anyone but Yamaha and Honda winning the championship next year. Maybe Lorenzo can do it on the Ducati, we’ll see, they are fast in the straights. Nice to get Rins in the mix. Nicky’s been disappointing in WSBK, Van Der Mark is beating him in the championship and he’s definitely “tranche 2” as you say.

    • BDan75

      I wouldn’t say Nicky’s been disappointing. He’s on a new bike, with a new team, in a new championship (VDM already has a year behind him). He’s got two podiums (including a win), and he’s only 15 points behind VDM, despite having two DNFs due to mechanical failure. If anything, their performance is roughly equal. If anything is definitely “tranche 2,” it’s the bike.

  • spiff

    Has anyone noticed the vertical blades on the Ducati’s wings? I think that they are for down force when turning. I think that the Yamaha wings also accomplish this. I’m surprised that Honda isn’t working harder on the wings. They are stuck with this motor, and instead of making a wing they are changing chassis. What if next years motor doesn’t like the an updated chassis? I don’t like the wings, but they are here, why wouldn’t Honda take advantage? Also it seems Marquez would have a nice marketing opportunity…”gives you wings”.

    • spiff

      Bruce’s boy Cal is making good use of those wings. Honda will be browsing his data.

    • spiff

      No more wings in 2017.

  • Old MOron

    Wow, the top 5 guys all have the same race pace. This could be fantastic, provided of course, that we get a dry race on Sunday.

  • Old MOron

    It doesn’t look good for Lorenzo. He’ll be starting from the 4th row, and there’s currently an 89% chance of rain at race time tomorrow. https://www.wunderground.com/q/zmw:00000.6.06280
    At least Bruce’s other favorite rider, ahem, The Coventry Crasher, might have a decent race. Oh, and Redding, too!

    • Bruce Allen

      The voices in my head continue to jock Dovizioso.

      • Old MOron

        Aye, Dovi is in form this weekend. He’s a solid rider and a likable character. He’s just a little bland when it’s time to make jokes.

    • spiff

      I think lorenzo’s a bit more beat up than he is letting on. It looked like bruises on his right shoulder and neck.

    • Bruce Allen

      Another 89% chance shot to hell. As for Dovi, I expect even hilarious guys like you and me would have trouble getting laughs if we were being interviewed in Italian. ;-0

  • spiff

    I don’t root for Marquez because of the end of last year, but it is getting harder to continue.

    First the head shake thing, then grand theft scooter. He’s good, and entertaining.