MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the seventh round of the 2013 season at the TT Circuit Assen in the Netherlands. Check back on Saturday for the full report of the Iveco TT Assen.
The Cathedral at Assen. The Sachsenring in Germany. Laguna Seca, on the scenic Monterey Peninsula. MotoGP’s Amen Corner, with apologies to Augusta National. Three rounds in four weeks, two of which favor Honda. What happens over the next month will determine whether Dani Pedrosa earns his first premier class world championship in 2013. Or not.
Our crack research staff has examined goings-on at the three locales over the past four years, in an effort to detect trends not visible to the naked eye. The conclusions are, in a word, mixed. Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo’s expectations will be highest at Assen and lowest in California. Pedrosa’s expectations will be highest in Germany and lowest in Holland. Marc Marquez has won three in a row in the lower classes at both Assen and Sachsenring, but has never set foot on the track at Laguna Seca. If Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso is going to podium this year, it needs to be at Amen Corner. Same for Valentino Rossi and Cal Crutchlow.
Look for Pedrosa and Marquez to dominate the timesheets in practice. The stop-and-go nature of Assen tends to favor the Hondas, although Pedrosa has never won here in the premier class. Lorenzo got knocked out of the competition early last year in a race he looked capable of winning. And Marquez loves this place. Crutchlow had a decent fifth place finish here last year and looks to improve upon that. Dovizioso has podiumed here the last two years.
It promises to be an interesting weekend in the Low Countries. Another Must Win round for Team Yamaha. Listen carefully and you can hear the pressure building on Lorenzo.
Bums with Seats, Seats with Bums
Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow is so in the wind. Rumored to be entertaining offers from Ducati and Honda already. Not sure where he would fit with Honda, as LCR must feel pretty good about Bradl, and Bautista under contract with Fausto Gresini through 2014. Ducati makes the most sense, in our view. Nicky Hayden might enjoy a change, going to World Superbikes to promote the brand in the US and compete for titles. Crutchlow is a better size to handle the Ducati and can ride dirty. He and Dovizioso seem to bring out the best in each other.
Unless Rossi suddenly, shockingly retires to go race cars, and Crutchlow joins Lorenzo. Which would be the bomb. Rossi claims to have solved his braking problems, and wants us to believe he will compete for the win this weekend. Nothing I would rather see, but I’ll wait for the podium ceremony.
Scott Redding in the wind, either by way of his current Marc VDS Moto2 team going up in class, or through an offer from a current CRT team. There may even be a prototype, or a Yamaha-powered CRT available. In any case, Redding is a cinch to move up to the big bikes in 2014. Can’t imagine the folks at Monster Tech 3 aren’t thinking over their signing of Bradley Smith last year.
Aprilia is widely expected to increase its MotoGP presence in 2014. The overall number floating around for next year’s grid is 26, an increase of two over this year. Suzuki’s re-entry in the 2015 season would bring the grid to 28. With Yamaha engines and complete Honda bikes on the market next year, the price of poker looks to go up, as does the overall quality of competition. The top speeds may come down, while the bottom speeds come up.
This will work as long as the world economy continues to show signs of life, and sponsors are ready to get onboard for millions of euros. The new rules, the killing off of the claiming rules, leaving the class with the name only, seem to be working, and may produce tighter grids over time. It does appear that some of the teams have developed credible chasses, which, combined with the Yamaha prototype power plant, could actually compete for Top Five status. Wildcards will abound, and the look could be that of Moto2 on steroids.
MotoGP in Indianapolis and the U.S.
As to the impending loss of the Indianapolis round in favor of Argentina, while there are still, for now, four Spanish rounds, this seems like a poor way to build the brand in the United States. Go to Argentina, sure, but answer this one question – what the heck’s so great about Laguna Seca? The Corkscrew and decades of tradition. Period. No underclass bikes. Less attendance than Indianapolis, in a remote part of the world. Dorna might want to toy with the idea of making an effort to promote the sport in the United States – starting, for example, by not making it virtually impossible for web-based American and Canadian internet journalists to get race credentials and access to teams. Just sayin’.
Indianapolis can hold 250,000 people. At half capacity, the numbers would dwarf Laguna Seca. Indy has a bit of racing tradition of its own. It’s easier to get to, and the bike-friendly Mug ‘n’ Bun drive-in on W. 10th St. has spectacular burgers, onion rings and milkshakes. Where, we wonder, do you plan to eat in Buenos Aires?
This year Indianapolis will feature all three MotoGP classes, the cruisers, and electric bikes that hit 180, with the usual exhibition riding, revelry, and magic that Motorcycles on Meridian brings to downtown Indy and Middle America on Friday and Saturday nights. There’s new management at the IMS that needs more big events at the track. Losing MotoGP is not something they’re anxious to do.
The best way to grow the sport in the United States, of course, would be to open the gates on Saturdays in 2014 at all three venues. Let everyone in for free. With bikes on track all day, the noise and hoopla, there would be an immediate and permanent increase in the paying fan base at all three American races.
Vendors would love it. One year of Free Saturdays would grow the sport in the United States permanently. It could very well be that both the U.S. and Spain end up with three races, as Aragon was a last-second, one-time replacement for the Hungary fiasco in 2011 and is now an accidental fixture on the calendar. Jerez, Catalunya and Valenciana. Austin, Monterey and Indianapolis. Argentina. India. Singapore.
C’mon, MotoGP. Man up. Go to 20 rounds and get rid of the “summer vacation” which stretches this year from July 21 to August 18, when darkness descends upon the sport in the public consciousness. (If this were the NFL, it would be like having all 32 teams take off three weeks in November so the guys can go off fishing.)
Run the sport at the height of summer when competition from other sports is at a minimum. Increase the number of back-to-backs at nearby locales, so fans can take off one week of work and chase two rounds of racing. Give US fans a taste on Saturday, and they’ll come back in droves on Sunday. Build it, and they will come.