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.
Winning a MotoGP championship – in fact, winning any motorcycle racing championship – is very hard indeed. It takes years of training, and a full season of utmost concentration, and hours, days, weeks, and months of hard work to get everything as perfect as possible. Losing a championship is done in seconds, maybe milliseconds. A single, small mistake, and you can throw away everything you have devoted your life to achieving.
Jorge Lorenzo came into Assen on a roll, off two victories in a row, at Mugello and Barcelona. Assen is a track which suits the Yamaha, and at which Lorenzo is outstanding. He was comfortably fastest in the morning session, ahead of Cal Crutchlow on the other Yamaha, and was just starting to get into the swing of things on a soaking track when he hit a patch of water deeper than he was expecting.
In the blink of an eye, he was tossed from his bike and onto his shoulder, suffering a displaced fracture of his left collarbone which will ensure that he will miss the race on Saturday at Assen. The momentum Lorenzo had been amassing in the previous races just hit a brick wall.
Jorge Lorenzo has fractured his left collarbone during practice at Assen. The factory Yamaha man was thrown from his bike at the Hoge Heide left-right flick, the fastest part of the circuit, and landed right on his shoulder.
He was taken to the medical center, where examination revealed a fractured collarbone. Lorenzo is to fly back to Barcelona tonight, to have surgery on the collarbone. He will not take part in the race in Assen on Saturday.
The injury came at the worst possible time for Lorenzo. Although a fractured collarbone can be fixed quickly with a plate, that still leaves the injury painful and weak. With the Sachsenring in two weeks’ time, followed seven days later by Laguna Seca, Lorenzo faces two tracks consisting mainly of left-hand corners, placing a lot of pressure on the injury.
If Lorenzo is capable of racing at Sachsenring, he will face a very difficult challenge securing strong results. One DNF and the possibility of two further weak results would make it very difficult for Lorenzo to defend his championship. Statements from Yamaha Racing concerning Lorenzo’s injury are after the jump.
Wednesday at Assen is always a rather odd day. At most rounds, Wednesday is a travel day, and the paddock regulars spend the day in airports, planes, and hired cars. But because the race at Assen is on Saturday, the events that normally take place on Thursday such as the pre-event press conference, happen a day earlier.
That leaves everyone with the racing equivalent of jet lag, their bodies and minds 24 hours behind events. Mentally, we are all prepared for a day of torpor and inaction. What we are greeted with is a day of rushing around to talk to riders, team managers, and anyone else foolish enough to cross our paths. Mind battles physical reality, and both come out losers.
Even focusing on the upcoming race is hard. Rolling into the circuit under bright skies and cheery temperatures – not warm, but not freezing either – feels slightly surreal after having studied the weather forecasts for the coming days.
While race day is likely to be dry, Thursday and Friday look like being full wet days. What that means is that practice may not be much of a guide to what actually happens on race day, rendering practice and qualifying relatively meaningless.
Ask anyone what makes a great circuit, and they will tell you that it takes three things: fast corners, great scenery, and lots of elevation changes. So what makes the TT Circuit at Assen so great? It only really has one of the three factors that makes it a great circuit.
If the track has elevation changes, they can be measured in centimeters. The scenery is mostly absent, though that does allow more of a view of the expansive skies the Dutch masters of the 17th Century were so famed for. The only factor which the track still possesses is a collection of really fast corners, testing the mettle of anyone with ambition to take on the circuit.