Assen: magic and myth collide at the ‘Cathedral’
Since the beginnings of the Dutch TT way back when, much has changed – but not the heart and soul of one of the most iconic races on the calendar. Amongst the green fields of the picturesque Drenthe province nestles a true classic, now an 18-apex racetrack made of equal parts courage and precision. It has been a hundred years since motorcycles first raced near the town of Assen, and the track we know today began to appear half a century ago – with the finish line the very same today, unchanged since the 1950s. The only track to have remained on the calendar since 1949, the TT Circuit Assen is drenched in magic and myth – and this is the 70th time the event has counted towards the World Championship; a year to remember.
In 2018, the MotoGP grid arrive in the Netherlands in the shadow of one man: Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team). After two dominant victories in which the ‘Spartan’ was uncatchable and unmatchable, he’s now ahead of teammate Andrea Dovizioso in the Championship for the first time since he joined the Borgo Panigale factory. If he wins at Assen, he will become only the second Ducati rider to win three races in a row, after Casey Stoner. But the Circuit van Drenthe hasn’t always been kind to the number 99 – with Lorenzo having taken only one premier class win at the track, in 2010 – but for every bad memory, such as a broken collarbone sustained at the track in 2013, there’s a counterpoint…such as the Spaniard’s ride through the pain barrier that same weekend, taking a superhuman fifth place.
His teammate Andrea Dovizioso will be wanting to reverse the swing of momentum within the garage, however. The number 04 doesn’t have the most impressive record at the track, but he may have an ace card if it rains, having always been one of the best in difficult conditions. But that’s often been true of the master of Assen, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), who has made the magic happen no less than ten times across all classes. Penciled in as a threat at the Dutch track even before the season begins, the rider from Tavullia will be looking to paint the stands yellow.
In addition, as well as contributing ten wins to the ‘Doctor’’s stunning record, the TT Circuit Assen was also the stage of his most recent victory, taken in 2017. That’s the last time a Yamaha stood on the top step, and the Iwata marque – and Rossi – will be keen to update the season on that stat. With three podiums in a row, the stage is set.
His teammate Maverick Viñales will also, like Dovizioso, want to strike back against the other side of the garage. And Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) will want to take his first podium of the season after a run of bad luck. But Assen hasn’t been the best for either – something not true of reigning Champion and points leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team).
Will Marquez be racing to win? With a considerable lead in the Championship, the number 93 just needs to keep bagging the points. But with Assen ‘Rossi territory’ in a way and already having staged a showdown between the two in 2015, will that be the blueprint? Or will it be 2016, when Marquez rode to a safe second behind a stunning maiden win for Jack Miller?
Alma Pramac Racing rider Miller will be hoping for history to repeat itself. After two tougher rounds coming off the back of eight consecutive top ten finishes, the Queenslander will be pushing hard to get back in the mix. But the race for top Independent Team rider will be hard fought once again – former Assen podium finishers, teammate Danilo Petrucci and LCR Honda Castrol rider Cal Crutchlow, will be tough to beat – as will Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).
Then, finally, there’s that all-important battle for Rookie of the Year. Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) leads as it stands, but Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is close behind – can he take over at the TT Circuit Assen? Especially if fortune favours the Malaysian rainmaster with the weather?
Watch magic and myth collide at the ‘Cathedral’ from Friday 29th June, with race day now Sunday 1st July. Gone are the days of racing on a Saturday and gone are the tree-lined lanes that formed the track – but the TT Circuit Assen remains drenched in history.
1 – Marc Marquez (SPA) HONDA 115 points
2 – Valentino Rossi (ITA) YAMAHA 88
3 – Maverick Viñales (SPA) YAMAHA 77
4 – Johann Zarco (FRA) YAMAHA 73
5 – Danilo Petrucci (ITA) DUCATI 71
By Moto GP