Even with the race going off on Sunday again for the second time, sixty-some years of racing on Saturday at the Cathedral have produced a number of curious finishes. Nicky Hayden had his first and only non-U.S. win here in 2006. Ben Spies won here in 2011 in what many of us mistakenly thought was the beginning of a great career. And Jack Miller’s win last year defines “unlikely.”

Aside from the usual suspects, there are several riders looking forward to the weekend. Andrea Dovizioso, having won two in a row, had a second here in 2014 but has had nothing but misery since. Aleix Espargaro has done well here on both the Forward Yamaha and the factory Suzuki; he would love nothing more than to flog an Aprilia to its first MotoGP podium. But Sunday’s tilt figures to involve the factory Yamaha and Honda riders, all of whom are in the title chase. It will be interesting to see if Dovi can keep the magic alive in The Low Countries. Cal Crutchlow is armed with a shiny new two-year deal at LCR. And, at Assen, anything can happen. Ask Jack Miller.

Anything can happen. Anything.

Recent History at Assen

2014 was the Year of Marquez, and he made it 8-for-8 with a surprisingly easy win in one of those wacky flag-to-flag races everyone loves, complete with a Pony Express switcheroo in the middle. Marc Marquez was joined on the podium by Dovizioso on the Ducati and Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, who narrowly edged out Aleix Espargaro, the top Yamaha finisher that day, who had crushed Q2, taken pole, and missed out on a podium – a Forward Racing Yamaha podium – at the flag by a mere 8+ seconds. But 13 points is 13 points.

Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez clashed several times in 2015, including at Assen.

2015 was the year Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi stopped exchanging Christmas cards, and it started at Assen. The last MotoGP Dutch TT to be run on a Saturday, Assen was the place Marquez chose to introduce his hybrid 2015/2014 bike with the previous year’s chassis, and it was like throwing a switch. The two went at it hot and heavy on the last two laps, until they came together entering the last turn of the day, Marquez caroming wide, Rossi, in an equal and opposite reaction, getting nudged into and through the briarpatch at speed to win by 50 yards. What a race.

Seriously, ANYTHING.

Last year was proof that even a blind squirrel can find an acorn every once in a while. This was a two-race day, not to be confused with a two-day race. The rain which had been around all weekend went all Bubba Gump during what became Race 1, causing it to be red-flagged four laps short of race distance, to the chagrin of Dovizioso, who had been leading at the time. Long story short – Jack Miller beat Marc Marquez on the second try that day, earning plaudits for being the first satellite rider in years to do a bunch of different things. My prediction at the time that he wouldn’t see another podium for the rest of the year, except from a distance, proved correct. For the record, Scott Redding finished third that day, another symptom of the ambient weirdness of racing in Holland on Sunday.

Good Times, Bad Times

After Round 6:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Rossi, Dovizioso
Tranche 2: Zarco, Crutchlow, Lorenzo, Folger, Pedrosa, Petrucci
Tranche 3: Miller, Redding, Baz, A Espargaro, Iannone, Bautista
Tranche 4: P Espargaro, Barbera, Abraham, Rabat
Tranche 5: Lowes, Smith↓, (Rins)

After Round 7:

Tranche 1 Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
Tranche 2 Zarco, Lorenzo, Folger, Bautista↑, Pedrosa
Tranche 3 Petrucci↓, Crutchlow↓, Redding, Barbera↑, Iannone
Tranche 4 Miller↓, Baz↓, A Espargaro, Abraham, Rabat
Tranche 5 P Espargaro↓, Smith, Lowes, (Rins)

Rossi’s last win was over a year ago, at Catalunya 2016. Normally, this would be enough to drop a rider a level. I had Pedrosa in #1 and Rossi in #2 until I thought about a 5-lap match race, just the two of them, on their own bikes, at an agreed-upon track. Upon whom would you put your money?

After standing on the podium in the first three rounds, Valentino Rossi has only one top-five finish in the last four rounds.

One of the cool things about Assen, for the purposes of this discussion, is that a rider from Tranche 2 or 3 can easily win here. The cold and the damp haven’t always been kind to the Aliens, and the narrow kinks and curves here and at The Sachsenring next week often play havoc with the leaderboard. Recall Casey Stoner’s acerbic remark, late in his career, that he could never get out of 5th gear in Germany. But Assen is a high-speed track, especially compared to The Sachsenring. The main thing they have in common is the weather. And to think Dorna is preparing to take the series to Finland; the riders there may need studded tires.

All the riders, especially the contenders, need to be a little circumspect entering this next two weeks. Recall Lorenzo and Pedrosa in 2013, with a total of three broken collarbones in two weeks.

Silly Season Underway

Tito Rabat has only two top-10 finishes in a season and a half in the premier class.

The names sifting to the top of the “Most Likely to Be Re-Accommodated” list in 2018 include Tito Rabat, reportedly at risk of being banished to WSBK after failing to set the world on fire in MotoGP (Paging Stefan Bradl…). This could also apply to Redding, Sam Lowes and, as rumored, Miller, for whom the honeymoon with Honda appears to be over or at least tattered. LCR wants a factory deal for Crutchlow and a #2 rider, possibly Taka Nakagami, currently laboring in seventh position in Moto2 but possessing outstanding lineage.

If Marc VDS is to continue as a going concern in 2018 it will likely be with Franco Morbidelli and perhaps Alex Marquez coming up from Moto2 to replace a disenchanted Miller and a non-competitive Rabat. Miller is alleged to have been rebuffed by Ducati for asking for too much money but that could be re-visited. And no word yet on who might take over for Lowes, who is simply not getting it done.

Franco Morbidelli currently leads the Moto2 championship by seven points and is a strong favorite to move up to MotoGp next season.

Personally, I would like to see Jack Miller on a Ducati GP17 next year. Could be just what they both need. And is it too hard to imagine Andrea Iannone, once again working himself out of a good job. teaming up with Morbidelli on the satellite Honda in 2018?

Given the family history of the Marquez brothers, I would expect Alex to stay in Moto2 another year, with the aim being to title there before being called up to the bigs. Perhaps in time to coincide with  Pedrosa’s retirement from the Repsol team. That would be something to talk about.

Just imagine the brothers Marquez forming a one-two punch with Honda.

Your Weekend Forecast

Surprise, surprise. The long-range forecast for greater Drenthe this weekend calls for cool, damp conditions, with the best chance of rain on Saturday. Temps in the 60s and 70s (F). High risk out laps on cold tires and wet asphalt. Not having a clue who might win this week (although this is exactly the kind of setup Rossi loves) we can only hope for a complete scramble, flag-to-flag, expectations turned upside-down, rain tires, and underdogs showing up on the podium. In short, business as usual at Assen.

We will (do our best to) have results and analysis here Sunday afternoon.

Maverick Viñales leads the championship going into Assen but the suddenly hot Andrea Dovizioso is right behind him.
  • Old MOron

    Awright, Bruce! “…those wacky flag-to-flag races everyone loves,” ha ha, do I sense some MOronic sarcasm? Actually, I like these races. They involve equal amounts of daring and strategy, plus a bit a wildcard factor. Really good stuff. And if as you predict, they have to use studded tires in Finland, so much the better.

    Your Silly Season primer is prime. Could the Maniac Joe really find himself partnering Morbidelli at Marc VDS? If the Honda remains the recalcitrant ride it’s reputed to be, I hope not. I don’t think anyone will be too happy to ride the “shit bike” the Miller has now.

    • spiff

      Maniac Joe on the Aprilia.

      • Sam Lowes to BSB.

        • spiff

          Sadly, your probably correct. I wonder if these guys try too hard to keep up on a bike that isn’t capable. Miller comes to mind. They hurt themselves physically, mentally, and bend a lot of expensive bikes. Damaged goods all around. My advice to a young newbie would be “you are only racing one guy. Your teammate”. Only after they finish five in a row would they get a new challenge.

          • spiff

            I’m mixing up Rins, and his crashes, and Lowes. That said, Lowes is in need of some good results, and I stand by my statement.

      • spiff

        Joe says no to the Aprilia option.

  • JMDGT

    These previews have it all. The histrionics add a lot to the conversation. All I can think is that the winner will be able to say kiss my Assen. Here’s to a dry track everyone healthy and every machine working at its optimum. Including the tires.

  • Ian Parkes

    Some top notch speculation there – re VDS, and the Marquez bros in the same team! What a prospect. It would surely be great to see lower tranche riders podium again this weekend, just to keep it lively, but as rain is less likely to stir things up I reckon the Yamahas will be back on song.

  • spiff

    Rossi still in the top group. You going soft Bruce? Either way he is going to win Sunday, so it’ll be cool. Vinales 2nd, Marquez 3rd, Dovi 4th, Zarco 5th. Wait a minute, as I gaze into my crystal ball Zarco is every where. This will be the finishing order, except Zarco may butt in higher in the order.

    I would still tune in to see how it happens, but there it is.

    • Yes, as I wasn’t up for all the schvitzing if I dropped Rossi down to where he belongs. 😹

      • spiff

        Oh, that hurts.

  • spiff

    Go Rossi!!! End transmission.

  • Vrooom

    I’m having a hard time finding any fault with your tranches, not usually an area I come up short. Maybe Crutchlow dropping a level, but he’s been on the cusp. If it’s wet, Lorenzo won’t be playing, whether he would have anyway is another question. Dovi, Rossi, and some also rans like Crutchlow and even Aleix E might have a good race in wet cold conditions. .

    • Vrooom

      I’m actually not too clear on how Vinales performs in the rain, might have left him out.

  • Starmag

    Alex is no Marc.

    • Lots of people who watched them growing up would argue with you, I think. Of course, those same people said Rins was the fastest of the three. Doesn’t appear to be the case.

      • Starmag

        As Rins proves, it takes more than speed to be champ.

  • spiff

    Rossi said he felt like Cole Trickle when Lowes blew up in front of him. Lol

  • spiff

    Tranche 1.

  • spiff

    Yeah Bruce!