The Cathedral of Speed gave the 105,000 crazed Dutch fans in attendance a memorable liturgy today – the most closely grouped top 15 in MotoGP history, 16 seconds separating the lot. The action at the front – six different riders led at one point or other – was so intense it reduced the announcers to mere stuttering and grunting during the last three laps, panties in a full twist. At the end, the incomparable Marc Marquez put his stamp on a signature win, one of his best ever.

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Marc Marquez took his victory of the season and now leads the championship by a commanding 41 points.

Practice and Qualifying

Practice sessions leading up to the two 15-minute MotoGP Qualifying Clusters were revealing. The factory Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales appeared to be enjoying themselves, despite a high-speed fail for Rossi during FP4. Andrea Iannone and his Suzuki showed up in the top four a few times. Cal Crutchlow (Honda) and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) were lurking in the neighborhood. Somehow, both Alvaro Bautista and Aleix Espargaro made it straight through to Q2.

But Marc Marquez was ubiquitous. Though he led FP1, it appeared that he sensed something needed fixing. He and his crew fixed whatever it was during FP2, which he mailed in. He then went out and led every session thereafter, including Q2 and the morning warm-up, earning pole in the process. Assen has always appeared to be a fun track for riders, and Marquez appears to enjoy the high-speed turns and right-left-right stuff.

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Despite seeing positive results in the first practice session, Marc Marquez knew there was room for improvement.

The end of Q2 was like watching a video game. Johann Zarco, who had passed out of Q1 along with my boy Alex Rins, set a new MotoGP record, “Least Amount of Time on Pole in a Grand Prix Race” during the final moments, having led the pack for a full .407 seconds before being shredded by Marquez and pretty much everyone else. The standings projected on the screen flashed practically simultaneously at the end, the top 8 riders finishing separated by a three-tenths of a second. Blink of an eye. If you had the sound off it could have been Moto3.

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Valentino Rossi looked strong in practice and qualifying but he knows he needs to be better to catch Marc Marquez.

In the words of Cal Crutchlow years ago, Q2 is “a lottery.” Prior to the race, I had doubts the remarkable qualifying results would have much to do with the race results, other than the likelihood that Marquez and Rossi would once again slug it out at the end. Marquez’ “win or bin” approach to MotoGP’s Amen Corner appeared firmly in place. My anticipation was that he would win or crash trying. Rossi appeared ready, willing and able to pick up the pieces if needed. Rookie Franco Morbidelli broke a bone in his hand on Saturday and was declared out of the race.

A Race for the Ages

I took six pages of notes during this one, trying to keep up with all the action, and failed. I captured most of the headline items, but there was too much going on, such that I, too, was reduced to stuttering and grunting. Let me try to give you the gist:

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The red-hot Jorge Lorenzo got off to a strong start, moving up from the fourth row to take an early lead.
  • Lap 1. Jorge Lorenzo lights his solid rocket booster and catapults from 10th place to 2nd at Turn 1, went through on Marquez later in the lap, and led the race. Marquez survived a heavy hip check early in the day that would have floored most riders. He then went through on Lorenzo on Lap 2 and led the race.
  • Rossi and Lorenzo both went through on Marquez on Lap 4. Lorenzo led a tight top four, trailed closely by Rossi, Marquez and Dovizioso.
  • Lap 5: Lorenzo, being dogged by Rossi, loses the front and gets tagged hard by Rossi. Somehow, neither rider falls. Dovi goes through on Marquez into third place.
  • Lap 7: Marquez and Dovizioso go through on Rossi. Marquez finds himself in the midst of a Ducati double-team, courtesy of Lorenzo and Dovizioso. At this point in the race there was a nine-man lead group.
  • Between Laps 8 and 11 Alex Rins, on the Suzuki, moves up from 5th to 3rd, schooling both Rossi and Dovizioso on the way. Johann Zarco appeared to be gaining on the leaders.
  • Lap 12: The impertinent Rins gives Marquez another bump, dropping the him to 4th. Marquez returned the favor to Rins on Lap 14.

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Alex Rins gave Marc Marquez a run, eventually settling for a career-best second-place finish.
  • By Lap 16, the leaders were Dovizioso, Marquez, Lorenzo and Viñales, with Rossi snapping at his teammate’s heels. Both factory Yamahas, at this point, were flying.
  • On Lap 19, Viñales went through on Dovizioso into the lead. This marked the first time in 2018 that a Yamaha had led a race. Oh, how far the once mighty have fallen.
  • Lap 22 saw Dovizioso and Rossi, running one-two at the time, run each other off the track, each refusing to yield to the other. Simultaneously, Marquez and Viñales were doing the same thing to a lesser degree, staying out of the kitty litter. Later in the lap, Marquez executed a double move, going through on both Dovi and Rossi, into a lead he would not relinquish.
  • The final lap: Alex Rins, running third, decided it would be second or nothing at all, dove inside on Viñales, and beat him to the line. Rossi, too, passed Dovi late, but messed up the last turn – unlike him – and had to settle for 5th, as his homeboy punked him in the last turn.

You gotta hand it to Carmelo Ezpeleta, the Chief Cheddar at Dorna. He set about making the grid more competitive five years ago and has succeeded wildly.

Moto2 and Moto3

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Jorge Martin won his fourth race of the season and now leads the championship by two points over Marco Bezzecchi.

Jorge Martin prevailed in another Moto3 classic over Aron Canet and Enea Bastianini, the season championship leader changing yet again. Very tight at the top; 24 points separate the top five riders.

The Moto2 tilt was won by the serene Peco Bagnaia, who stiff-armed Fabio Quartararo and Alex Marquez for a win which was easier than the timesheet would lead one to believe. Dude is the second coming of Jorge Lorenzo. He looks like Lorenzo. He sounds like Lorenzo. He rides like Lorenzo – Mr. Smooth. And he wins like Lorenzo. Looking forward to seeing him on a Desmosedici next year.

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Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia also scored win #4 in the Moto2 class. He now leads Miguel Oliveira by 16 points.

The Big Picture

Marquez has now stretched his 2018 lead to 41 points, a comfortable margin heading to a track in Germany where he has never lost. Rossi and Viñales occupy spots two and three; expect the wall down the middle of the garage any day. Johann Zarco in fourth leads Andrea Iannone in ninth by eight points. Jack Miller and Rins are battling for the last spot in the top ten.

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Maverick Viñales earned his second podium of the season and now sits just six points behind Valentino Rossi for second overall.

Membership in “The Anyone but Marquez” club jumped on Sunday afternoon, along with the growing sense that he is toying with the field. A win at The Sachsenring in two weeks would give him five wins in nine outings, a brutal pace no one can keep up with. Jorge Lorenzo gave us some early thrills today, but ultimately reverted to his previously disappointing ways. It was good to see the factory Yamahas in the fight, but my sense is that Assen is one of the few tracks where they can compete effectively. And, to those of you who have been arguing that Alex Rins is a mutt, I will continue to jock him, as well as his future teammate Joan Mir. Those two are going to be ballers in the next few years.

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Alex Rins continues to show flashes of potential. He has two podiums this season but twice as many DNFs.

Tranching After Eight Rounds

Tranche 1: Marquez
Tranche 2: Rossi, Viñales, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone
Tranche 3: Miller, P Espargaro, Bautista, Petrucci, Rabat, Pedrosa
Tranche 4: Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami
Tranche 5: Redding, Smith, Abraham, Luthi, Simeon

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Marc Marquez is on a whole other level right now.
2018 MotoGP Assen Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda 41:13.863
2 Alex Rins Suzuki Ecstar +2.269
3 Maverick Viñales Movistar Yamaha +2.308
4 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse +2.422
5 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha +2.963
6 Cal Crutchlow LCR Honda Castrol +3.876
7 Jorge Lorenzo Ducati Corse +4.462
8 Johann Zarco Monster Yamaha Tech 3 +7.001
9 Alvaro Bautista Angel Nieto Ducati +7.541
10 Jack Miller Alma Pramac Ducati +13.056
11 Andrea Iannone Suzuki Ecstar +14.255
12 Pol Espargaro Red Bull KTM +15.876
13 Aleix Espargaro Aprilia Gresini +15.986
14 Scott Redding Aprilia Gresini +16.019
15 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda +16.043
16 Tito Rabat Reale Avintia Ducati +16.416
17 Bradley Smith Red Bull KTM +29.073
18 Hafizh Syahrin Monster Yamaha Tech3 +33.824
19 Takaaki Nakagami LCR Honda Idemitsu +34.037
20 Thomas Luthi Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda +47.853
Not Classified
DNF Danilo Petrucci Alma Pramac Ducati 9 Laps
DNF Xavier Simeon Reale Avintia Ducati 9 Laps
DNF Karel Abraham Angel Nieto Ducati 15 Laps
2018 MotoGP Top 10 Standings After 8 Rounds
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda 140
2 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha 99
3 Maverick Viñales Movistar Yamaha 93
4 Johann Zarco Monster Yamaha Tech 3 81
5 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse 79
6 Cal Crutchlow LCR Honda Castrol 79
7 Jorge Lorenzo Ducati Corse 75
8 Danilo Petrucci Alma Pramac Ducati 71
9 Andrea Iannone Suzuki Ecstar 71
10 Jack Miller Alma Pramac Ducati 55