Repsol Honda Prepare for Dutch TT

Colin MacKellar
by Colin MacKellar
Everyone gets a little nervous when the Assen race appears on the schedule as it is close to mid-season and the riders who're struggling know it's almost the last chance to play catch-up if the season is going to be halfway decent for them. The guys out front know that a slip-up here on the tricky circuit can ruin the second half of the season. The Repsol Honda squad is as nervous as the rest....

Assen according to the Repsol Honda boys

This weekend, the World Championship arrives at one of the most charismatic, technical and demanding tracks of all who hosts a Grand Prix in 2001. The circuit of Assen is the oldest track that is still being used for racing, and although it is still the longest one with more than six kilometres of fast bends, straights and tricky combination curves, Assen was once even longer exceeding 28 kilometres. Once a true street course, the camber of the track is street-style too, with the middle of the track being the highest point, and either side sloping away. The curved shape of the track surface makes it easy for the water to drain away in case of heavy rainfall, but is also a special challenge for riders and technicians to find the right set-up for the bike.

Two factors are paramount in the search of a winning combination: The motorcycle has to be easy to handle and turn, but at the same time it has to be very stable, especially for the fast sections and for the abrupt direction changes that characterise this circuit. Rain can be a deciding factor also, as everybody remembers from last season. It is quite common for rain clouds to come in at this time of the year, and to create very tense situations and games of true Russian Roulette when it comes to the choice of tyres on race day. The right choice can give any rider a crucial advantage in the race, whereas the wrong guess can throw even the fastest rider in practice way back to the end of the field.

Both riders of Team Repsol YPF Honda know this circuit very well. Tohru Ukawa won the Dutch TT last year at the handlebars of his Honda NSR 250. A circuit that holds memories of both glory and a terrible, career-threatening injury in 1997 for Alex Crivillé, the Spanish hero rode a superb race as well. After an interruption and a second start due to the rain, Crivillé battled for victory with Alex Barros and ended up second overall. "It was a very hard-fought and tough race", remembers Alex Crivillé. "Until the very last moment I tried to get away from Barros to make sure of victory, but it wasn't possible and Alex had a big enough advantage from the first leg so I had to settle for second. I have many other good memories of Assen, too, apart from 1997 when I seriously injured myself in a terrible crash. I celebrated my first 500 victory in Assen, and it is one of the circuits where I have my best races altogether. It's very technical and demanding for the rider, and that's where the key to success is. In Assen, it is the rider who makes the difference."

His teammate Tohru Ukawa also believes that "Assen is a difficult circuit, probably the most complicated one of them all this year. I won here last year, and I would certainly like to repeat a podium finish, even though I'm well aware that I will have to ride very fine and precisely with the 500 if I want to be fast".

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Colin MacKellar
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