MotoGP: 2010 Assen Preview

Lorenzo's in charge as the circus blasts into Holland

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Dutch round of the 2010 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the TT Assen.

The MotoGP premier class enters the heart of its 2010 season without the iconic Valentino Rossi, out indefinitely with a bad wheel of his own. In his absence, Rossi’s teammate and archrival Jorge Lorenzo has taken el toro by the horns and staked his claim to the throne, at least for this year. A number of young, fast, aggressive riders, anxious to depose Lorenzo & Company, appear ready to step up and strut their stuff. With five races in six weeks, it’s a great time for one or more of them to get on a hot streak. Lorenzo’s job in all this is to stay smooth and cool.

Last week’s British GP at Silverstone is Exhibit A. Lorenzo took the lead on Lap 1 and never looked back. By Lap 7 his lead was up to five seconds, and all he had to do for the last two-thirds of the race was keep the shiny side of his bike pointed up. He won by almost seven seconds, and probably could have run it up to ten had he felt the need. Andrea Dovizioso, Ben Spies, Randy de Puniet, Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner spent the afternoon fighting over Lorenzo’s table scraps, with Dovizioso and Spies coming away with the choicest bits.

Ben Spies earned his first MotoGP podium last week. Can he continue that momentum at Assen?

Looking back at last year’s Dutch Grand Prix, referred to as the TT Assen by those in the know, Lorenzo has every reason to remain confident. Although Rossi finished first by over five seconds – a rout in MotoGP-land – Lorenzo had second place all to himself, and outdistanced third place finisher Casey Stoner by some 18 seconds. Both of the factory Honda riders, Dani Pedrosa and then rookie Andrea Dovizioso, crashed out, leaving the Yamahas firmly in charge, taking four of the top six spots. Aside from Stoner’s Ducati, the only other anomaly in the top six was Chris Vermeulen on his Rizla Suzuki in fifth place, and I’m thinking that must be a misprint. (No way Suzuki had a top six finish at Assen last year. They did? Really? And eight top six finishes all year?)

The 2008 race was owned by Casey Stoner, who won by 11 seconds, followed by Pedrosa, Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden on the other Repsol Honda. That year, both Rossi and Lorenzo struggled, with the Spaniard ending up in sixth position and Rossi in eleventh. As far as this year’s tilt is concerned, 2008 is ancient history.

It’s Good to be King

Jorge Lorenzo must feel like he’s in a dream, leading the championship standings by 37 points after five rounds of racing, with no Vale around to screw things up for him. He’s spent his entire (brief) premier class career in Rossi’s shadow, and suddenly the shadow’s been lifted. Lacking the Italian’s easy charm and relative command of English, Lorenzo comes across as stiff, humorless and dull. If he wants to become the next MotoGP icon, he’s going to need some coaching in the fine art of getting interviewed by English-speaking media (Ed: to be fair, Lorenzo might be the most connected with social media of all the riders, being active on Twitter and Facebook) . On the track, though, it’s a different story. He appears to be in complete control. There’s very little wasted motion, and when the set-up’s right on his YZR-M1, it’s over.

Jorge Lorenzo is in full control, leading the championship by 37 points.

At 23 years of age, Lorenzo is also the youngest of the current crop of young guns in the premier class. Dovizioso and Pedrosa, sitting second and third in the standings, are both 24, as is 2007 champion Casey Stoner, while the new kid in town, American Ben Spies, is 25. And while Stoner is having an off year, and Spies may be temporarily overachieving, all five have legitimate aspirations of becoming the next Valentino Rossi.

There is, of course, the possibility that the next Rossi may be, well, Rossi. His camp is making noises like he’s planning to return later this season, but few people expect him to regain his usual form right away. He may mimic Casey Stoner in 2009, when the Australian returned late in the season from a three round sabbatical caused by lactose intolerance and had a couple of inspiring wins. Rossi is expected to return at full strength in 2011, although perhaps not with Fiat Yamaha. He’ll be 32 years old at that point, an age at which most mortals begin slowing down. It’s not so clear when the immortals like Rossi start showing their age. I suspect that when he does, he’ll know it, and he’ll get out of the game. Loris Capirossi he ain’t.

Elsewhere on the Grid

The Interwetten Honda team suffered a blow over the weekend when promising rookie Hiroshi Aoyama broke his tailbone in an ordinary high-side on Saturday. The team announced on Tuesday that Honda test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi will take Aoyama’s place at Assen and Catalunya, and that a long-term replacement is being sought, as Aoyama is expected to be out for a couple of months. (In light of this, Rossi’s string of 230 consecutive championship starts over 15 seasons is remarkable, in a sport where riders are one patch of rough tarmac away from disaster every time out.)

A measure of how far Colin Edwards has fallen from last year is his having found some things to be happy about after finishing in ninth place at Silverstone. He did put a thumping on two rookies and the Pramac “Racing” team, although he trailed eighth-place Dani Pedrosa by roughly 13 seconds, or almost 1,000 yards … jeesh …

Ducati has yet to reach the podium this season, but they've come close, taking fourth in all five races so far, including four by Nicky Hayden.

Marco Simoncelli is quietly winning the Best Rookie Not Named Spies award and is tied with veteran teammate Marco Melandri for ninth place overall … incredible, isn’t it, that there hasn’t yet been a Ducati rider on the podium in 2010. The Honda and Yamaha factory teams, on the other hand, have had at least one rider on every podium this year. The folks in Bologna are probably none too happy at having more in common with Suzuki than the two important Japanese brands.

The rumor mill – the one that has Rossi moving to Ducati next year – also has Fiat abandoning its sponsorship of the factory Yamaha team in favor of Red Bull … take THAT, Monster.

And Now, For Your Weekend Weather Forecast

The weather in Holland is expected to be a carbon copy of England – mostly sunny skies and temps in the 60’s, with the best chance of rain on Friday. The gaggle of crashes last weekend must have had something to do with cold tires. If so, expect more of the same this week. And my forecast for the race itself – Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Stoner, in that order, on the podium.

This year marks the 80th edition of the Dutch TT. It has been part of the Grand Prix World Championship since the very first season in 1949.

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