MotoGP Assen Preview 2018
All eyes on Lorenzo at The Cathedral
With the 2018 season a third gone, the presumption that Marc Marquez would ease into his fifth premier class title in six years has become passé. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Jorge Lorenzo has given us convincing wins at Mugello and Montmelo. Whether this is a two-off or the start of a trend could be revealed this weekend.
After a dominating performance at Le Mans, Marquez led the Sioux Nation with 95 points, while Lorenzo was buried in 14th place with 16 points to his name. A relatively simple modification to the profile of his fuel tank transformed him from Clark Kent to Superman and led to two convincing wins on the trot. Although he still trails Marquez by around 50 points, at least people are talking about him again. Too soon, in my opinion, to speak of him as a legit 2018 title contender. Not to mention there are five other fast movers, in addition to Marquez, standing in his way. But with a single rostrum appearance at Assen since 2010, a Lorenzo podium on Sunday could be a portent of more to come.
Recent History at Assen
2015 was the year the Marquez and Valentino Rossi families 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, having a miserable year, introduced a 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 during the last two laps, until they came together entering the last turn of the day, Marquez careening wide, Rossi, in an equal and opposite reaction, happily taking the shortcut through the gravel trap at speed, laughing inside his helmet, to win by 50 yards. Lorenzo finished third, a mile behind the two adversaries.
The 2016 contest, or contests, was a pure outlier, never to be repeated again. The rain which had been around all weekend went biblical during what became Race 1, causing it to be red-flagged after 14 laps, to the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, who had been positioned for his first win in seven years. Long story short − Jack Miller beat Marc Marquez on the second try that day, earning praise for being the first satellite rider in years to do a bunch of different things. And, for the record, Scott Redding finished third, another symptom of the ambient weirdness to be found racing in Holland on Sunday.
With more passing than you’d see in an NFL game, the 2017 Motul Assen TT was one of the more unforgettable races in recent memory. Tech 3 Yamaha rookie sensation Johann Zarco led the first 11 laps from pole. Meanwhile, Rossi and Pramac Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with Marc Marquez on the Repsol Honda. Petrucci, searching for years for his first premier class win, was right there, dogging his homey. But Rossi − fast, patient and strategic − outmaneuvered him to the flag by .06 seconds. Marquez finished third, the blink of an eye ahead of Cal Crutchlow and Dovizioso. Wouldn’t it be something if this turned out to be Rossi’s last career win?
New Track Records
Qatar was a NO. Jerez was a YES. Le Mans was a YES. Mugello was a YES. Cataunya, by virtue of the new surface, was, by definition, a YES. We are hitting .800 in a pitcher’s park. Raking the ball at a cover-of-Sports Illustrated pace.
Assen and Sachsenring will complete the front nine, MotoGP’s Amen Corner. Since returning to Europe, points for selected riders look like this:
Playing with house money, as it were, it is apparent that Marquez has adopted, or at least backed into, a “win or bin” approach for this part of the season. Compare his plan to Rossi’s “NBA Old Man Strategy,” to hang around the backboard, pick up a few put-backs and some offensive rebounds. We mustn’t ignore Danilo Petrucci, happily flying under the radar. Dovizioso and Miller appear, at this point, to be choking out. Then, of course, there’s this Lorenzo guy…
We’ll keep an eye on a second prediction we made concerning the 2018 season, that the eventual title winner would score less than 298 points. Thanks to Jorge Lorenzo, this prediction looks a little better than it did two rounds ago.
Bossa Nova in Brazil from 2021?
Dorna announced this past week a preliminary deal to bring MotoGP back to Brazil, and a new racing venue, starting in 2021. The last time the grid formed up on Brazilian soil was 2004, so the locals are probably pretty excited about the return of grand prix racing to the dance capital of the southern hemisphere.
A word of caution is in order. We’ve been here before, betting on the come in places like the Balatonring in Hungary and the aborted Ebbw Vale project in Wales. The failure to launch in Hungary brought us the Aragon round, for better or worse. (I’m one of those who believe hosting four grands prix in Spain is a little too much.) Racing on the new track in Finland is likely to start next season, although Michelin has yet to develop the titanium-studded slicks the riders will need to navigate the black ice in this Scandinavian jewel of a country.
The gestation of the racing calendar follows a simple logic: Go racing where they sell lots of motorcycles and scooters. Which is why there are races in Malaysia and Thailand and but a single lonely event in the entire United States. Another thing that gets me is how the calendar tilts towards these hot, humid third world locations. I would enjoy attending more races than I do, but would not look forward to spending four days with damp underwear in places like Sepang, Buriram, Rio Hondo, etc. Can a southern Mexican round be far behind? And what about the Central African Republic?
A word to the Finnish Ministry of Tourism: If you are interested in promoting your lovely country and its lustrous racing heritage (?), why not invite a bunch of motojournalists into town for race weekend next year? THAT would be a junket I could get behind. Dry boxers, free food, high-access credentials − I’m there.
Your Weekend Forecast
The weather this weekend should be perfect, plenty of sunshine and air temps in the 70s. Most years, this would be a good opportunity to pick Valentino Rossi for the win, but the 2018 Yamaha is still sucking. As much fun as it would be to see a new face on the top step of the podium, one must figure guys like Marquez, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Dovizioso will be in the mix. Personally, I’m pulling hard for two riders: Dani Pedrosa and Danilo Petrucci. Pedrosa, so he can enjoy another win in Repsol colors; Petrucci, because he is getting achingly close to his first win, remaining humble, and racing as well lately as anyone on the grid.
Hopefully, we will also get some clarification of Pedrosa’s future as well as the number of teams that will be competing next year. One gets the impression there is lots going on behind the scenes, with Yamaha, Aspar, Pedrosa, Franco Morbidelli, and the remnants of the Marc VDS team heavily involved in the discussions. Thus the live streaming of Dani Pedrosa announcing to the world, prior to Catalunya, that he didn’t know what he would be doing next year. I’ll be holding a press conference of my own on Friday morning to announce that I will be spending that afternoon bodysurfing in the Atlantic ocean.
We’ll have results and analysis of Sunday’s racing right here as soon as our crack editorial staff, which loathes working on Sundays, finishes cleaning out the garage and cutting the grass.