The 86th running of the Dutch TT Assen featured so many zany antics that a simple line listing would exceed the space available for this story. Australian Jack Miller’s first premier class win aboard the Marc VDS Honda sits at the top of this list, even though it took him two tries, as the first race was red-flagged after 14 laps. Valentino Rossi recorded his third DNF of the season, his once-high hopes for 2016 in tatters. And Marc Marquez, in deep yogurt early in the first race, leaves Assen with some breathing room between himself and the Yamahas in the 2016 world championship chase.
Saturday’s qualifying sessions were adventures on a track that was wet but drying quickly. Pol Espargaro whipped his Tech3 Yamaha into Q2 with a scintillating last lap, joined by Yonny Hernandez, one of the several Ducatis doing especially well. One rider doing especially not well was Dani Pedrosa, who suffered the ignominy of plodding through Q1, never once threatening to graduate to Q2.
Q2 itself was equally dramatic, as Marquez crashed early, stole some surprised attendant’s scooter to hustle back to the pits, waited for his crew to convert his second bike from dry to wet settings – what was it doing with dry settings anyway? – ultimately putting his RC213V at the top of the second row. The session ended with Andrea Dovizioso, Rossi and Scott Redding daisychaining to the flag for an atypical first row. Jorge Lorenzo looked tentative, having barely avoided Q1, and started the race in 10th place. Four Ducatis in the first four rows would have been five if not for Iannone’s brainfart at Catalunya, which penalized him to the back of the grid.
Recapping – Lorenzo started 10th, Pedrosa 16th and Iannone 21st. Conditions looked ripe for some higher-than-usual finishes on Sunday for several non-Aliens. Such would, indeed, be the case.
Dovizioso Wins Race #1 to No Avail
Turns out the voices in my head last week telling me factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso could win the Dutch TT were right. Sort of. The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during the race, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance. With Dovi leading Danilo Petrucci, Rossi and Redding, three Ducatis in the top four proved beyond any doubt that the improvements in the Desmosedici’s performance on dry tracks has not come at the expense of its historical stability in the wet.
That there were relatively few crashers in the first race – Avintia Ducati plodder Hernandez, who led most of the way in a true shocker, eventually crashed out of the lead and, for good measure, crashed again on his #2 bike. Iannone, who had sliced through the field from 21st to 5th ran out of luck on Lap 14 but was able to rejoin the race in time to qualify for the second race. The rain, buckets of it, cooled both the air and the track, and the paucity of crashers in the first race would be over-corrected in the second.
Race #2 – Weirder than Race #1
The first two rows of the second 12 lap sprint were filled, in order, by Dovizioso, Petrucci, Rossi, Redding, Marquez and Pedrosa, the latter three having been charging toward the lead group in race #1 when the red flags came out. This, then, was the second time in 90 minutes that there would be no Spanish riders on the front row, the last time being Mugello in 2011. Interesting to note that joining Michele Pirro on the back row was Jorge Lorenzo, who had been mired in 20th position when the first race ended. I have sent an official request to the Movistar Yamaha team to cease issuing press releases advising us that Lorenzo has no major concerns about racing in the wet.
Race #2 started much the same as race #1 with Dovizioso and Rossi battling up front. Marquez, nowhere to be seen the first time out, settled into third, being tailed by, um, Jack Miller. The 21 year-old back marker whose 10th place finish in Barcelona marked the high water mark of his MotoGP career to date was somehow sitting in fourth place looking, well, rather comfortable, if totally out of place. With cold air, a cold track and cold tires, the crashing began on Lap 1, with both Pedrosa and Crashlow leaving the asphalt, Pedrosa rejoining the festivities miles out of contention. Rossi went through on Dovizioso and appeared ready to repeat his win of last year.
On Lap 2, Octo Pramac hard luck guy Petrucci, who had ridden the wheels off his Ducati in race #1, leading when it was called during Lap 15, retired with a mechanical issue, the picture of desolation. Shortly thereafter Dovizioso quieted the voices in my head with a high speed off from second place, leaving Rossi alone in front leading Marquez by roughly two seconds with Pol Espargaro seizing third place on the Tech 3 Yamaha. It was on Lap 3 when, shortly after Brit Bradley Smith laid down his own Tech 3 Yamaha that Rossi, appearing to have hit a puddle, lowsided at Turn 10 and, unable to restart his M1, laid his head on the saddle in complete, utter frustration.
Suddenly, it was Marquez leading the Dutch TT, with this Miller guy snapping at his heels like he hadn’t skipped through Moto2 while Marquez was busy winning a couple of premier class championships. On Lap 4, Aleix Espargaro crashed his Suzuki out of the race and, unaccountably, Miller went through on Marquez into the lead. My notes at this juncture read “JM will NEVER finish this race.” Wrong, as wrong as wrong ever gets.
At the End of the Day
History will record that Jack Miller kept his bike upright and roared to his first premier class podium and win in wet conditions in the 250th MotoGP race of the four-stroke era. He became the first rider not named Stoner, Lorenzo, Marquez, Rossi or Pedrosa to win a MotoGP race since Ben Spies pulled off a similar miracle at Assen back in 2011. He became the first satellite rider to stand on the top step of the podium since Toni Elias at Estoril in 2006. For the first time since Misano last year two satellite riders stood on the podium, Redding for the second time in his MotoGP career. Only 13 riders finished the race, with crashers Pedrosa and Smith several laps down but still in the points. Jorge Lorenzo improved greatly on his result from the first race, crossing the line 10th and capturing 6 points, probably shaking like a leaf.
The Big Picture
For Repsol Honda #2 Dani Pedrosa and the Bruise Brothers of the Movistar Yamaha team, the weekend was a debacle. For Ducati Corse, placing four bikes in the top seven, it was a triumph; Gigi Dall’Igna can only hope for a bevy of wet races during the second half of the season. Marquez commented several times after the race that his second place finish today felt like a win, as it powered his lead over Lorenzo from 10 to 24 points and pushed Rossi from 22 points back to a daunting 42. He also refused to respond to a disrespectful crack from Miller during the post-race presser and now is exhibiting the maturity he has needed in the past to go with his ridiculous talents. It says here he will win the 2016 championship.
Turning our gaze to Dresden, Germany and the tiny, cramped, Sachsenring, we are stunned by the events which unfolded today during the first Dutch TT ever run on a Sunday. The crowd of 105,000 surely got its money’s worth – two races for the price of one, and perhaps the only win of Miller’s premier class career, as I expect him to return to Tranche Four in the weeks to come.
Though I will not deny Miller his One Shining Moment, I’m not sold on his talent nor his attitude. Perhaps if he reads enough of this stuff he will take a look in the mirror, realize that he is the source of many of his own problems, and think twice before taunting Marc Marquez in a post-race press conference, should he ever be invited to one again. Trailing the double world champion by 112 points, the only term he should use to address Marquez in 2016 is “sir. ”
|2016 MotoGP Assen Results|
|1||Jack Miller||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||–|
|2||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||+1.991|
|3||Scott Redding||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||+5.906|
|4||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+9.812|
|6||Hector Barbera||Avintia Racing||+18.692|
|7||Eugene Laverty||Aspar Ducati||+22.605|
|8||Stefan Bradl||Aprilia Gresini||+23.603|
|9||Maverick Vinales||Suzuki Ecstar||+26.148|
|10||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+27.604|
|11||Tito Rabat||Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda||+1:21.830|
|12||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+1:54.369|
|13||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+3 Laps|
|–||Alvaro Bautista||Aprilia Gresini||1 Lap|
|–||Michele Pirro||Avintia Ducati||7 Laps|
|–||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||10 Laps|
|–||Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki Ecstar||10 Laps|
|–||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||11 Laps|
|–||Danilo Petrucci||Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati||11 Laps|
|–||Cal Crutchlow||LCR Honda||0 Laps|
|–||Yonny Hernandez||Aspar Ducati||0 Laps|
|2016 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 8 Rounds|