This article originally appeared on Late-Braking MotoGP.


We had tagged the Catalunya round as Marquez vs. The World, and the world took a pounding. Riders were going down like Kardashians, taking teammates – Bradley Smith – and rivals – Jorge Lorenzo – with them. With Marc Marquez, cruising above the fray, playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers, does it even make sense to hope for an upset at Assen?

Probably not, but the alternative is mowing the grass. I choose to believe that Marquez enjoys a chase more than a parade and will push the envelope sufficiently during the season to exceed the limits of adhesion on occasion, providing periodic rays of hope to MotoGP fans craving aggressive, meaningful overtakes in the turns. He showed us in Texas he can fall off in a race he always wins. Perhaps Germany, where he is undefeated up until now, will see a second string of wins vanish in a gravel trap, rider unhurt. Unfortunately, Sunday at Assen portends more of the usual.

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After the Catalunya race, Marc Marquez and Honda tested a new chassis as well as different aerodynamics.

Notes from Catalunya

Based upon the chatter since The Lap 2 Crash at Montmelo, there are people who actually think Lorenzo (Honda) had intent, when he lost the front in Turn 10, to take out as many threats to Marquez as possible. Preposterous. If we’ve learned one thing about The Spartan during his premier class career, it is that he does not take team orders. Even if Alberto Puig, his hand-me-down Svengali, inherited from Dani Pedrosa, had ordered him to erase top five riders, he would have ignored the order because he is not a team player. Oh, and because he’s almost never in the top five anymore.

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Jorge Lorenzo took out several top contenders at Catalunya but it’s more likely a case of him simply screwing up than a coordinated effort to help Marc Marquez.

What Lorenzo has done to his career since 2016 has him careening toward an early retirement. This bolsters the argument of Christians that pride is the mother of all sins and authors all the other sins herself. Should Honda buy him out at the end of the season, it could prove to be a sufficiently large loss of face that he would pack it in. Can’t ever see him in WSBK, either. Too much pride.

Meanwhile, Bradley Smith must be giving Aprilia a headache. His wildcard at Catalunya resulted in a knee injury to Aleix Espargaro, their only credible rider, as it appears Andrea Iannone is now mailing them in. Finishing last in Q1, Iannone was able to beat only Miguel Oliveria (KTM) and Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) to the flag on Sunday. And Oliveira must be given credit for playing his cards well – scoring four points, trailing the winner by over 44 seconds.

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Bradley Smith took part in the MotoE World Cup test but did not participate in the race simulation due to prior commitments testing for Aprilia.

Interesting that no one got close to Lorenzo’s track record set last year. The track was dirty and slippery. And they need to do something about Turn 10.

Recent History at Assen

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 four laps short of race distance, to the chagrin of Andrea Dovizioso, who had been positioned for his first win in seven years. Long story short – Jack Miller beat 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 rather than Saturday, for the first time ever.

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Jack Miller won a wet and wild 2016 TT Assen race.

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, Valentino Rossi and Pramac Ducati brute Danilo Petrucci were in the heart of the lead group along with 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. Zarco’s tires turned to mud at mid-race and he faded to 14th, the last rider to cross the line, penthouse to outhouse, lesson learned. Save some for later.

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Until he wins again, the 2017 Assen round will be remembered as the last time Valentino Rossi won a MotoGP race.

As I asked in last year’s preview, “Wouldn’t it be something if this (Assen 2017) turned out to be Rossi’s last career win?”

Last year’s remarkable race – two in a row for The Netherlands – was a Marquez masterpiece. There was, at times, a nine-bike lead group – take THAT, Moto3 – and, at the flag, the closest top fifteen of any MotoGP race ever. At various points during the race, Lorenzo (Ducati), Dovizioso (Ducati), Maverick Viñales (Yamaha) and warhorse Rossi (Yamaha) led the field. In the end, though, it was Marquez and the Repsol Honda in charge, winning by over two seconds, followed by the ascendant Alex Rins (Suzuki) and the underachieving Viñales, about whom plenty has been said already.

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Last year’s race was one of the most competitive MotoGP rounds we’ve seen.

Your Weekend Forecast

The long-range forecast for greater Drenthe calls for unseasonably warm conditions and clear skies. Honda weather. I suppose one could say that the Ducatis like it wet and the Yamahas like it cool. Not sure what the Suzukis prefer, and the KTM and Aprilia contingents can be said to not have a preference.

The Yamaha grand prix racing division has produced one win (Viñales at Phillip Island last year) in the last two seasons. One win in 36 rounds. With that in mind, it seems a little silly to say, “the Yamahas like it here at Assen.” But they do, to the extent they like it anywhere in 2019. Dovi and Petrucci should do well here, as the circuit boasts the highest average lap speed of any on the calendar, which seems surprising and may be incorrect. And then there’s Fabio Quartararo, on the salad-days version of the Yamaha M1, still sizzling from his work in Spain, raring to go at The Cathedral, forearms starting to resemble the human form once more.

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Maverick Viñales posted the fastest lap time at the Catalunya test. Yamaha says the test focused on new electronics and a new exhaust to improve acceleration.

Ben Spies and Jack Miller recorded their only career wins here. It’s time for someone to step up. Rins. Dovi. Viñales, or Rossi, one more time. Clanging Gong Crutchlow. The sentimental money is on Takaa Nakagami and his year-old LCR Honda RC213V, the same bike Marquez won the title on last year. Young Takaa could make a bit of a name for himself and become a national hero in Japan, not to mention giving the knife in Yamaha’s belly a little extra twist. What better place to do it? Keep Assen Weird, I say.

We will return with results and analysis on Sunday, late because I’m lying on an Atlantic beach, dodging harpoons from passing fishing boats and sand-based assaults from young granddaughters.

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A familiar face on an unfamiliar bike: Dani Pedrosa testing for KTM in Barcelona.