MotoGP: Rossi returns to winning ways in Assen
MotoGP: Rossi returns to winning ways in Assen

What a weekend it turned out to be at the ‘Cathedral of Speed’ where the MotoGP met for the eighth round of the 2017 season at the TT Circuit Assen for the Motul TT Assen.

Rossi returned to his winning ways

Named after the world famous Isle of Man TT, (Tourist Trophy) the top class in motorcycling has raced at the track for 59 years. Over a year after winning his last Grand Prix, nine times world champion, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) returned to winning ways when he collected his 115th GP making it 20 years of victories for the Italian.

It was not an easy weekend for anyone in that class, or any of the others for that matter as weather jeopardised track time. It hit big on day two of the meeting and threatened on race day.

Tricky start to the meeting in Assen

On day one of the meeting in Assen, winner of the 2016 round, Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) had a tricky start as he broke down when leaving pit lane. Moments later, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) was seen pulling to the side of the track with dark smoke pouring from the back of his Desmosedici GP 17; his engine had blown and gone all over his rear tyre. He noticed quickly and pulled off the line but some riders were caught out and the session had to be red-flagged so the track could be checked.

Rookie, Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) had come off at turn 1; he initially couldn’t get up but then was eventually escorted to the side of the track. Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team), teammate to Dovizioso also went down at turn nine before the flag went out.

Marquez goes top in Assen

When the session restarted, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) sprung to the top of the timesheets to be knocked down by rookie, Johann Zarco (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha). Along came Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) soon enough to take over.

As the riders adjusted and reduced the times they had to deal with different tricky situations. Sam Lowes (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who has been surrounded by controversy over his capabilities and MotoGP future was seen flying over the bumps collecting airtime as a result on his bike.

Crutchlow has had contract extended by two years

Folger was impressive, as was Miller, British rider, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) who has had his contract extended by two years, and Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing). That was until the Italian broke down as smoke was coming out of the back of his Ducati. He had done enough to remain the quickest by the end of the opening session with his time of 1:34.680 becoming the one to beat.

Rain began to fall in Assen during Free Practice 2

When Free Practice 2 got underway, Marquez again returned to the top of the timesheets before again, Vinales and Folger worked the lap times down. As Crutchlow was seen running wide, but refraining from crashing, the rain flag (‘diminished adhesion’) was waved which would explain his incident.

Crash for Lowes at turn 10

Lowes crashed out at turn 10 of the track during the second session. He was incredibly angry as the pressure of the gossip and negativity surrounding him was edging him to show his capabilities. He was waving his arms in anger as he walked away from his broken down bike.

Marquez and Vinales continued to chip away at the lap times and eventually the session and the day ended with Vinales remaining the quickest man on track with his lap time of 1:33.130 which beat the Circuit Lap Record set by Marquez in 2016 of 1:33.617 (but not Rossi’s Fastest Ever Lap of 1:32.627 from 2015).

Heavy rain hits the Cathedral of Speed on day two

When the MotoGP class returned to the Cathedral of Speed for the second day of the meeting, it had rained heavily meaning that he riders had to resort to the full wet set-up; which would give them a chance to collect data with the Michelin Power Wets should it rain on race day.

Loris Baz (Real Avintia Racing) was looking incredibly strong in the conditions claiming the top spot before Rossi took over. British rider, Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing) was also looking strong and went quickest despite experiencing a moment during the lap.

Redding fastest during FP3

As Redding reduced his time further, Baz crashed out of the session at turn three of the track. Crutchlow later went down at turn eight. Redding’s pace was enough to leave him top of the session however when he lapped at 1:46.441. But combining the times from the first three Free Practice session it was Vinales who still led the way.

Combined times means Redding did not progress automatically

Folger, Marquez, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, Rossi, Petrucci, Zarco, Alvaro Bautista (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) completed the top 10 that would automatically progress through to Qualifying 2. Redding hadn’t done enough when it came to combined times and had to use Qualifying 1 to progress. Karel Abraham (Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati) and Miller were top two outside of the top 10 and favourites so far.

Damp track for Free Practice 4

During the final Free Practice session (4) the riders were met with a dry track that was damp in parts; the weather remained overcast and windy. Riders had to switch from wet to dry set-up which took a lot of time but midway through, after only Zarco had completed a lap, rain again started to fall meaning time was spent waiting for mechanics to switch back to the wet set-up.

The rain continued, and was heavy by the time they had completed two thirds of the session. Only seven riders had been out by this point, but eventually everyone completed some track time to confirm settings for what would be a wet Qualifying. Zarco was quickest with his time of 1:44.925.

Qualifying 1 gets underway

The 15 minute, wet first Qualifying session got underway. It was mainly Baz, Lowes, Redding and Miller who were able to contend for the top three spots on the timesheets; the top two would progress through to Qualifying 2.

With four minutes remaining, Redding set a personal best time that sent him to the top, Miller slotted into second and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) slotted into third. They continued pushing until the end of the session, where no incidents fortunately occurred, and eventually it was decided that Redding and Lowes would progress.

Lowes and Redding through to Q2

It was still wet in time for the final Qualifying session for the MotoGP class on the day. Bautista initially went top, before Rossi took over. Petrucci again laid down the gauntlet, until Marquez beat his time further causing Petrucci to respond. Redding was able to jump up ot third, but his teammate Petrucci kept pushing and chipping away at his own time.

Dovizioso crashes out as does Redding

Disaster struck for Dovizioso as he crashed at turn eight of the track when the front tucked. He was able to return quickly to the pits to get his spare bike. Meanwhile on track, Marquez made a daring move on Vinales that managed to spoil his Spanish rival’s fast lap time.

Redding unfortunately also crashed at turn 16 with a few minutes remaining. Being so close to the pits he didn’t even look at his bike, instead he ran across the track and back to his garage where he collected his second bike and made his way back out to try and get another flying lap in. Lowes session was cut short when his engine blew; a problem that was not because of him again proving that he deserves to be there.

Rookie, Zarco steals pole position at the end of Qualifying

Marquez improved further and went top, Rossi slotted into second behind him. Petrucci completed another fast lap, but it was spoiled by traffic in the form of Pedrosa and so he temporarily settled for third. With one minute to go, Petrucci went top again, but Marquez crossed moments later and pushed him to second. But then in the closing stages, the rookie, Zarco, completed a lap time of 1:46.161 and claimed his first ever MotoGP pole just eight rounds into his debut season.

Rain hit in time for the warm-up on race day

Come race day, when it came time for the MotoGP class to take to the track for their morning warm-up session before the race, rain hit bad. Only Baz was able to complete a lap as the remainder refrained from going out initially. A last minute scurry saw the 15 of the field head out but Baz remained quickest cos he risked things earlier on in the session.

Race time changed to avoid clash with other event

Usually the race in Assen is run on the Saturday, and because of a clash with the Formula 1 running at a similar time, the schedule was adapted so that the MotoGP could be run earlier to prevent an overlap of the events. It was dry and overcast by the time they lined up on the grid to begin the race. With an air temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, 25 on track and an air speed of 6mph, they lined up with a dry set-up in front of the 105,000 spectators that lined the track.

Zarco leads into turn one

Zarco got a fantastic start and went round the outside of Marquez when the race began and eventually led into the first turn of the 26 lap race. They settled into positions, but then Folger who was ninth ran wide and lost all the positions possible, re-joining at the back of the grid.

His teammate Zarco was at the other end of the field however, leading the way. He even managed to stretch out a lead of over half a second until Marquez began to catch him in second position. Baz and Lowes engaged in battle for 15th, Aleix Espargaro passed Pedrosa to claim 12th, Bautista passed Redding to take fifth and Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) passed Crutchlow to take eighth.

Group of four break away at the front

As a group of four broke away at the front made up of Zarco, Marquez, Rossi and Petrucci, Crutchlow lost another position as Vinales passed him to take ninth; his championship lead was more than likely at the forefront of his mind. Dovizioso and Bautisa were battling for sixth that Dovizioso, understandably on the newer machinery, won, then Iannone went on to pass Bautista after setting the fastest lap of the race so far on lap four.

The battle for 15th continued as Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team), who started from down on 21st on the grid, brought himself into the mix amongst Baz and Lowes. Redding returned to his form from the days before and set what would be the fastest lap of the race on lap six with a time of 1:34.617.

Overtakes throughout the field

Back at the front Rossi was right on the tail of Marquez. There was movement continuing to take place throughout the field as on the seventh lap, Vinales passed Bautista to take eighth before passing Iannone to take seventh, Folger recovered up to 20th passing Hector Barbera (Reale Avintia Ducati), and then Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) who returned from injury, and then Miller gained 11th from Aleix Espargaro before losing two positions to him and Pedrosa.

Lowes crashes out

Baz continued to come under pressure from Lowes until unfortunately for the Brit, he came off on the ninth lap. Vinales continued to progress as he caught up to Dovizioso who had caught Redding ahead of him. Aleix Espargaro also passed Iannone to take 10th and then to add to the drama Folger had experienced, the rookie came off on the 10th lap at turn 1.

Dovizioso was then hit by misfortune as he was initially passed by Vinales who continued on in pursuit of Redding. On the same lap, the Italian lost another position this time to Bautista, but a couple of laps later he was able to reclaim the position before Bautista lost another position to Crutchlow who forced him down to eighth.

The battle for the lead continues

Back at the front Zarco had managed to pull away slightly as Marquez was having to defend his position. On the 11th lap however, Rossi overtook Marquez to claim second as he out-braked the 2016 MotoGP champion heading into turn one. Vinales passed Redding on the same lap to take fifth.

The following lap saw Rossi take the lead for the first time during the race. He passed Zarco, who had opted for the soft compound Michelin Power Slick on both the front and the rear (the front tyre was a symmetric design whereas the rear was asymmetric). At turn four of the 12th lap, Zarco tried to retaliate when Rossi ran slightly wide.

Zarco and Rossi collide

Zarco was on the inside and came into contact with the rear of the Italian; he rubbed him so hard that he scuffed the colouring off the lettering on his leathers. Zarco ended up running wide after the contact and that in turn allowed Marquez to get through. Zarco then tried to force himself up the inside of Petrucci who had passed him in an attempt to retain third.

Vinales crashes out and says goodbye to championship lead

Seeing his championship lead slip away from ahead of him, Vinales crashed out at turn 17 of the 13th lap. He had a big off when the front tucked and he ended up in the gravel. It was race over, all he could do was sit and watch as his rivals collected points and took his cushion away. Vinales was just missed by Dovizioso who managed to avoid him when he crashed out,.

On the following lap, British rider, Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) also crashed out of the race; at turn seven on lap 14. Fortunately he did not do any further damage to his already damaged little finger on his hand that needed a skin graft.

Redding loses positions on track

Aleix Espargaro passed Redding to take eighth on the 15th lap. Things deteriorated further for the Brit as he soon lost ninth to Pedrosa and 10th to Miller. He gained a position however as Bautista crashed ahead of him when the front tucked; fortunately the Spaniard was OK.

At the front, Petrucci was all over the back of Marquez as he could see ahead of him that Rossi was getting away at the front. On the 16th lap, Petrucci passed Marquez and immediately pulled away.

White flag waved so riders could change bikes

The weather began to change however that would spice things up even further. The white flag was waved which started a whole spate of activity on the track; the flag meant riders could return to the pits to change to a bike with a wet set-up if they pleased. Dovizioso was first to attack, overtaking Zarco to take fourth. Miller then passed Aleix Espargaro to place seventh. Petrucci had caught Rossi and was all over the back of him.

Lorenzo lacks confidence in the wet understandably

Lorenzo has always knocked the confidence of Lorenzo in particular; understandably though, as riding in the wet is hard, how they do it at speed is unbelievable! He began to lose positions, losing two immediately to Baz and Abraham. Zarco felt it was best to change bikes and lost a lot of time making the switch, Lorenzo soon followed in suit.

The battle for the lead continued

On the 21st lap, Rossi and Petrucci were caught by Dovizioso who continued to push despite the shower. The Italian then passed Petrucci to claim second at the final chicane. On the next lap however, Petrucci claimed the position back, but he lost it again as a group of four had formed quickly at the front.

After passing Petrucci, Dovizioso was all over the back of Rossi. Distracted, Petrucci was able to go underneath to reclaim second, and then went and took a look up the inside of Rossi. Rossi had better momentum however and was able to defend his position.

Behind him Dovizioso ended up running wide allowing Marquez to get through to take third but Petrucci and Rossi pulled away. Dovizioso remained on Marquez’s tail, and managed to pass him again on the 22nd lap to take third in the third sector of the track. After losing the lead to Petrucci, Rossi ran up the inside of Petrucci at the final chicane to reclaim his lead.

Things go from bad to worse for rookie, Zarco

Despite choosing to pit, Zarco was able to recover up to 13th on the track. This is when he received the news that he was to receive a ride-through penalty for exceeding the speed limit in the pit lane which he had to complete within a few laps, only three remained.

Battle for third becomes more intense

Back at the front as they powered down the start-finish straight to begin the 24th lap, it was like a drag race between Rossi and Petrucci. Behind them, Crutchlow had caught Dovizioso and Marquez and soon passed Dovizioso and had turned his attention to Marquez on the factory Honda. By the final chicane, Crutchlow was in third after passing Marquez.

Petrucci and Rins almost collide on track

The leaders began to come across traffic as they met backmarkers such as the likes of Rins and Barbera. On the last lap, Rins was forced wide by Petrucci who was not happy to have the Spaniard in his way as he tried to stick with Rossi. Rins wasn’t happy with the warning; it appeared that no blue flag to identify oncoming traffic, may not have been signalled.

Marquez makes late move on Crutchlow

The battle for third heated up as they headed around the Cathedral of Speed for the final time. There was no telling who would claim the final podium spot as they kept so close knit through the twists and turns. Marquez passed Crutchlow in the final sector at Assen, leaving no time for the Brit to retaliate.

Rossi returns to winning ways

The nine times world champion won the Motul TT Assen, his victory becoming his 115th GP win of his career, 385 days after his last making it 20 years of winning at the top level. The relief on his face as he returned to the pits, slowly, as he lapped up all the celebrations with the many fans that surrounded the track as yellow smoke passed over the skies.

Petrucci finished the race just 0.063 seconds behind his fellow Italian, the two celebrated in parc ferme however Petrucci thought things may have been different had the incident not occurred with Rins. Marquez crossed the line in third, just 0,032 seconds ahead of Crutchlow who was 0.84 seconds ahead of Dovizioso in fifth,

Great result from Miller and Abraham

Miller was sixth, it was a great result from the Australian, and Czech rider, Abraham who crossed the line in seventh. Baz was eighth ahead of Iannone and Aleix Espargaro who completed the top 10. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was 11th ahead of Rabat, Pedrosa, Zarco and Lorenzo who collected the last championship point in 15th. Barbera was just outside the points in 16th ahead of last across the line, Rins. Redding unfortunately crashed out on the penultimate lap of the race.

Championship incredibly close

The results have brought the championship even closer together. Dovizioso has gone top as he was just seven points behind former leader, Vinales previously, and the 11 points collected in Assen now leave him four points clear. Vinales remains on 111 points in second, as Rossi is still third but now just seven points shy of leader Dovizioso.

Marquez is just four points behind Rossi on 104 and then there is a 17 point gap between him and his teammate, Pedrosa in fifth. Zarco is the highest placed rookie in sixth ahead of second place man in Assen, Petrucci now seventh. Lorenzo, Crutchlow and rookie, Folger complete the top 10.