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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.