May I be permitted a little bias for the MotoGP round held in my adopted country? There are many magical motorcycle races around the world.
The Isle of Man TT has speed, danger, and one of the most remarkable backdrops in motorsports. Mugello has an astounding track, a hothouse atmosphere, and breathtaking scenery. Jerez has an intensity among the fans without equal, hosted in a beautiful part of the world when Andalusia is at its best, in the spring.
But I think I would still swap them all for Assen. Once, it was the greatest racetrack in the world. Fast, flowing, with challenges favoring any rider with the perfect combination of bravery and skill.
Full of fast kinks, banked turns, and with a camber and crown to the surface that was a throwback to the public roads which once comprised the circuit. Throughout the years, the circuit was pruned back, from 16 kilometers, to just under 8 kilometers, to 6 kilometers.
In 2006, the track was neutered altogether, as a combination of financial necessity and encroaching housing development saw the North Loop, the jewel in Assen’s crown, surgically removed and replaced with the much smaller, much shorter loop which now quickly folds back on itself and takes the riders back to the old southern section, where the old glory of the track lives on.
Hard braking for De Haarbocht, named for the village now absorbed by Assen’s urban sprawl, the everlasting right hander through Madijk and Ossebroeken round to the Strubben hairpin. A hard, short turn onto the Veenslang, the back straight.
Straight? Not so much: the literal translation is ‘turf snake’, and snake it does, down to the blistering right-left-right of the Ruskenhoek chicane. Through the right at Stekkenwal, and another snaking straight down to De Bult – ‘the lump’ and a very lumpy corner it is indeed.
From there it is all lefts, building speed through Mandeveen, Duikersloot, and Meeuwenmeer, on to perhaps the most perfect piece of race track in the world.
First, there’s the Hoge Heide – ‘High Heath’ – the right-left flick that looks like nothing at all on a track map, but is one of the most intimidating corners on the planet. Making that change of direction at over 270 km/h is not easy, especially as you still have to lift the bike over the crown of the track, avoiding the dip on the far end of the flick. The run through the Ramshoek, a hot-and-fast left, before the Geert Timmer bocht, the chicane named after the legendary circuit announcer.
The GT, as it is known locally, is steeped in history. Here, Carl Fogarty edged Frankie Chili out of the way in World Superbikes, causing Chili to storm into the podium press conference in his dressing gown to accuse Fogarty of cheating.
Colin Edwards lost his best shot at a MotoGP win there, cutting inside and getting on the gas on the astroturf, only to wind up on the ground and handing Nicky Hayden a crucial win. Stefan Bradl nearly succeeded in turning his Moto2 championship season from triumph to despair, suffering his first crash after a series of wins.
In Moto3 – or even better, the Red Bull Rookies Cup – eight or more riders enter this corner at the same time on the last lap, the victor anyone’s guess until they cross the line. In Moto2, and even MotoGP, the GT is still the ideal place for passing, with multiple lines possible and bravery and late braking always an option.
Apart from the circuit, there are the fans. There is a wild, uninhibited feel at Assen, reminiscent of Le Mans. At both circuits, you suspect you may not live to see the end of the race. The difference is, at Le Mans, you fear you will end up flayed and scalped, a human sacrifice to the gods of racing.
At Assen, you know you will die with a smile on your face, the campsite excesses of alcohol, petrol, and ill-advised nighttime stunts taking the inevitable toll. Both Assen and Le Mans share a common madness, but at Assen, the madness is one of joy.
Cal Crutchlow has not taken the customary route into MotoGP. No racing 125′s in the Spanish Championship, before the inevitable climb up through the Grand Prix support classes to MotoGP. Instead, he took a very sideways path, through BSB, World Supersport, and World Superbike, before encountering a very tough first year in MotoGP.
That circuitous path has stood him in good stead, however. Crutchlow is now on the brink of breaking into the elite circle of riders who have won a MotoGP race in the dry, and his services are in demand. It is surely just a matter of time.
I sat down with Crutchlow at Assen, with the intention of trying to extract the secret of his riding from him. I had a whole line of questions lined up on the technicalities of braking, the mechanics of cornering and how to race a MotoGP bike, but I got distracted by a long and philosophical chat before my recorder was turned on.
By the time we started the interview proper, it went off in a different, but just as fascinating direction. Cal Crutchlow talks about his love for the sport of motorcycle racing, how he got started, how he arrived in MotoGP, and why it is so important to be a factory rider. And why it is so very, very difficult to win a race in MotoGP.
This was a day when legends were born. After race after race of watching clinical perfection, savored mainly by the Grand Prix connoisseur, the 83rd Dutch TT at Assen was a shot of raw, unfiltered passion, emotion, will, strength and determination. It was a day which will live in the memories of everyone there for many years to come, for more reasons than there is space to mention.
It is partially a tale of how a great circuit helps produce great racing, but it is mostly about the way that logic does not always triumph in sport. And that the will to win can drive elite athletes to go beyond themselves, and explore limits they didn’t know they had.
Speaking with MotoGP.com, Ducati’s MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti has revealed that the Italian factory is considering making a production racer version of the Ducati Desmosedici GP13 that will be made available to privateer MotoGP teams.
Conceived along the same vein as Honda’s RC213V-based production racer, the Ducati race bike would be available only to privateer teams in MotoGP, and would fall under MotoGP’s new rules, which make distinctions between factory and privateer bikes.
“Since the new rules came out for next year, where it is actually possible for a full MotoGP bike to run in what would have been the CRT class – using the single ECU and single software – we are considering to make available the 2013 bike with this package,” said Ciabatti while talking to MotoGP.com
What an intriguing weekend the 83rd running of the Dutch TT at Assen has turned out to be. (Well, I say weekend, it’s still Friday, but in any racing paddock, the weekend starts once bikes roll out for the first practice, and ends when the final press conference of the day is completed.) The story lines are plentiful, made possible by mixed conditions, low grip and a barrel load of ambition.
First, there’s the MotoGP polesitter. Cal Crutchlow took his first ever pole in the class on Friday, with a perfectly-timed lap to blast ahead of Marc Marquez and earn himself a Tissot watch. He left it to the very last lap, but cut it very fine indeed.
He crossed the finish line with just three seconds left on the session clock, giving him a final attempt at pole. He had worked out he would make it across the line for one last shot by looking at the sector times displayed on the digital dashboard, but when he exited the GT chicane, and saw the starter already out with the checkered flag, he had gotten a little nervous.
Jorge Lorenzo is to return to Assen. The Yamaha press office issued yet another press release today, announcing that the reigning world champion will fly from Barcelona to Groningen airport, just a few kilometers from Assen, at 3pm, and then return to the Assen circuit.
The press release states solely that he wishes to ‘spend the remainder of the Grand Prix weekend with his team,’ but there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that he intends to try to race on Saturday. Before he can do that, he will have to undergo a medical examination to see if his collarbone is strong enough. We will know tomorrow morning.