If there was one factor that surprised everyone on the first day of practice at Assen, it was the weather. Everyone had been prepared for rain, and had contingency plans for when the rain would eventually come. But it didn’t.
It rained all around the circuit, severe weather warnings were issued for several surrounding towns, heavy rain fell in nearby Groningen, and local beaches were evacuated because of thunderstorms, but the TT Circuit at Assen stayed dry all day.
The wind blew the morning clouds away, and the sun shone down gloriously on the circuit, catching out the unwary, and giving all three Grand Prix classes, plus the many support series a full day of excellent weather.
The riders made good use of the conditions, and the unexpected track time threw up a couple of serious surprises. In the morning, Pol Espargaro set the fastest time, finishing ahead of his brother Aleix. In the afternoon session, it was Aleix who was quickest, though this time Pol could not match the pace of his elder brother.
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.
The Ducati 1199 Panigale is perhaps the pinnacle of technology for sport bikes from Bologna, Italy. With 195 horses of fury, and a positively anorexic dry weight of 367 lbs, the spec-sheet racing for the Panigale is intriguing, if getting around a race track the absolutely fastest way possible is your primary goal.
But what if you enjoy the finer things in your Ducati life as well? In that case, the brains at Moto Puro might have just the thing for your Desmo addiction: the Ducati Elite II.
To build the Elite II, the Dutch builders of Moto Puro took a Ducati 1199 Panigale S, and stripped the machine down to its Superquadro engine and electrical components. From there, those crazy Dutchmen built a café racer style motorcycle, complete with tubeless wire-laced wheels on single-sided swingarm.
Today is Valentines Day, and if you haven’t found that special someone to love and pamper tonight, don’t worry A&R has a date all lined-up for you. A sexy redhead, the Ducati Multistrada 1200 Toubkal by Holland’s Affetto Ducati is perhaps one of the cleanest MTS1200 build we have seen in a long while.
Tastefully done with metallic red, black, and silver paint, the Toubkal looks like something that could have come from Borgo Panigale, had the Italians dared to build a bike with such flash.
Equipped to go where the sidewalk ends (Toubkal is the highest mountain peak in the Atlas Mountains of Southwest Morocco), the Ducati Multistrada 1200 Toubkal features tubeless spoked wheels, proper panniers, and heavy duty crash protection.
Affetto Ducati gets bonus points for the subtle meshing over the vents, stunning paint job, and carbon fiber windscreen, which add a bit of “show” to the Multi’s already stout “go” — we might be rethinking our V-Day plans after seeing this, how about you?
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.