Heading into the 66th annual Dutch Grand Prix at Assen, Movistar Yamaha poohbah Valentino Rossi held the championship lead, teammate Jorge Lorenzo had the momentum, and defending Repsol Honda world champion Marc Marquez was mired in an existential crisis. Rossi shed his Alan Iverson-like disdain for practice, was quick all weekend, and qualified on pole. Lorenzo, whose recent history at Assen has been horrific, never looked completely comfortable. And Marquez, desperate for a return to his winning form over the past two seasons, arrived on a hybrid 2014/2015 model RC213V, looking for answers. At the end of the day, all three stood on the podium, but only Rossi was happy about it.
The two Yamaha teammates traded their customary places during Friday’s qualifying session, with Rossi, typically starting from the third row, sitting on pole while Lorenzo, usually on or near the pole, started 8th. Aleix Espargaro, on the #1 factory Suzuki, had to go through Q1 before emerging brilliantly in the middle of the first row, while Marquez, seeming far more in control of his machine all weekend, would start third. The factory Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso, experiencing their usual angst when Assen is dry, started from 6th and 10th places, respectively. And Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, who was lightning fast on Thursday, misplaced his mojo and began the race in the 11 hole. A heavy crash during Saturday’s WUP left him wounded and shaken as the lights went out.
One of my standard complaints about MotoGP is that, compared to Moto3 and Moto2, there is relatively little fighting up front. Someone, recently Lorenzo, takes off like a scalded cat leaving the rest of the field struggling to be second-best. Today, Rossi and Marquez, joined briefly by Lorenzo, took off early to wage their own private war. It was, however, anything but dull, a battle for the ages.
Rossi, despite leading for all but four laps, was unable to catch his breath at all, as Marquez, looking like last year’s model, stayed glued to his rear tire all day. Most riders would eventually wilt under this kind of pressure. But Rossi, with 84 premier class wins and 111 career wins under his belt coming into Assen, has been here before. It was around Lap 6 that the econ major in me emerged, the equation looking like this:
P: (#93/#46) > (#46/#93)
For you laymen, this reads “The pressure on Marquez with Rossi dogging him is greater than the pressure on Rossi with Marquez dogging him.” No one leading a MotoGP race in 2015 wants to see Valentino Rossi appear in his rearview mirror. And Rossi knows he will get the maximum out of his bike every time out; if someone is going to pass him, it’s because their ride is superior to his on that day. In which case there is nothing to worry about.
It was clear that Marquez would challenge Rossi at some point, which he did on Lap 20, going through decisively into the lead, to which he appeared to be holding on for dear life as Rossi refused to budge. Sure enough, on Lap 24, Rossi and Marquez exchanged the lead twice, Rossi emerging in front. He widened the gap on Lap 25, the announcers advising us that Marquez appeared to have been “broken.”
Lap 26 found both riders pushing to the limit, with Marquez, sliding all over the place, lizard brain in control, suddenly closing to within a few feet of Rossi entering the last lefthander. As Marquez dove inside, his front tire contacted Rossi’s right boot, the result finding Marquez running way wide into the final turn, and Rossi inadvertently cutting the corner, running straight into, and through, the gravel, somehow keeping his bike upright, emerging 50 yards in front of Marquez, and taking the time to look back at Marquez, as if to say, “THAT’S for lap four at Laguna Seca in 2013, stronzo.”
In a post-race interview, Marquez sounded miffed, as if Rossi had fouled him when they came together in the penultimate turn. Instead of being happy returning to the podium for the first time since Jerez, the young Spaniard was ticked off at not having won. Such is the competitive nature of Marc Marquez. His team was undoubtedly ecstatic at seeing him return to the form he showed in 2014. Unfortunately, it was on a day when Valentino Rossi returned to the form he showed in 2005.
Lest we forget, Lorenzo cruised around all day by himself in third place, for a highly unsatisfying podium finish, having failed to overtake his teammate for the series lead. Iannone, making a case for recognition as the #1 rider on the factory Ducati squad, did much the same in fourth position. The battle for fifth place raged all day, six riders going hammer and tongs, the final order comprised of Pol Espargaro (Tech 3 Yamaha), Cal Crutchlow (CWM LCR Honda), Bradley Smith (Tech 3), Pedrosa, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales (Suzuki Ecstar). The gap between 5th place and 8th was 0.388 seconds; this can be a cruel sport.
Okay. With his ninth career win here, Valentino Rossi becomes the most successful MotoGP rider in history at Assen. Yamaha Racing, for the first time in its history, has now won six consecutive races. Rossi won from pole for the first time since Misano in 2009. Over the last three laps Dovizioso slipped from 8th place to 12th, following his worst QP of the year, starting in 10th.
Rossi has podiumed in 15 of his last 16 races; Iannone has finished in the top six every round this year. The last time Lorenzo led the MotoGP standings was after the first round in Qatar in 2013.
Rossi now leads Lorenzo by 10 points approaching the halfway mark of the season, a year in which many of the races have been won or lost in qualifying. If Rossi continues to qualify as he did today, he is going to be a force for the rest of the season. Iannone remains in third place, with Marquez having leapfrogged a sagging Dovizioso into fourth. Bradley Smith continues as the top satellite rider in 6th place, followed by Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, Vinales and Pedrosa as your top ten riders. Yamaha is cleaning up in the battle for the constructor’s trophy.
For the fans of the remaining American left on the grid, Nicky Hayden finished in 16th place today, and resides in 21st place for the season.
MotoGP descends on northeastern Germany in two weeks for the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland. Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez have won the last five races here, making it one of the most Honda-friendly circuits on the calendar. With the HRC season on life support, the Repsol Honda team could certainly use a win in Round 9. While Dani Pedrosa’s woes continue, Marc Marquez appears to be back. A third consecutive success at The Sachsenring would confirm it.
|2015 MotoGP Assen Top 10 Results|
|1||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||–|
|2||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||+1.242|
|3||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+14.576|
|4||Andrea Iannone||Ducati Corse||+19.109|
|5||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+24.268|
|6||Cal Crutchlow||CWM LCR Honda||+24.373|
|7||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+24.442|
|8||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+24.656|
|9||Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki ECSTAR||+26.725|
|10||Maverick Vinales||Suzuki ECSTAR||+27.238|
|2015 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 8 Rounds|