Getting us caught up on the happenings in the MotoGP paddock, the guys discuss two eventful rounds in the MotoGP Championship, and also look back on the season thus far, as the grand prix paddock heads into its summer break.
All in all, we think you will enjoy the show. It is packed with behind-the-scenes info, and insights from teams and riders in the paddock.
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When it comes down to it, it is always individual races which define an era. Silverstone 1979 defined the late 1970s, with Barry Sheene coming up just short of Kenny Roberts, a milestone in the American takeover of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
In 1983, at Anderstorp in Sweden, Freddie Spencer brought the Roberts era to an end, by beating the triple world champion with an outrageously late braking maneuver on the final lap.
In the 1990s, what we might now refer to as the First Golden Age, Hockenheim 1991 typifies the battles between Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey, where quarter was neither asked nor given.
The wild scenes at Eastern Creek and Jerez in 1996 marked the rivalry between Mick Doohan and the man came closest to stopping him, Alex Crivillé.
Valentino Rossi’s arrival in MotoGP may have been spectacular, but his win at Welkom in South Africa in 2004, his first race on the Yamaha since leaving Honda beating arch enemy Max Biaggi, was a watershed in his career. That was the point at which Rossi truly transcended the sport.
When we look back at this period, which will surely be called the Second Golden Age, then Assen 2018, along with the 2015 and 2017 races at Phillip Island, will be the races that fans and pundits point to as the ones which defined the era.
Mass battles between multiple riders, hard and close passing in which contact is frequent and accepted, a healthy mix of riders and bikes, of factory and satellite. Battles which rage almost from start to finish, with frequent lead changes, and an almost uncountable number of passes.
How close is MotoGP right now? At the end of FP3 on Saturday morning, the top five bikes were separated by 0.062 seconds. The top three had just six thousandths of a second between them.
And the difference between Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales, first and second in FP3? Just one thousandth of a second. If they were both lapping at the same time, it would have needed the special finish line camera to separate them.
It was pretty close behind the top five as well. There were sixteen riders within nine tenths of Márquez, gaps between them counted in hundredths of seconds, rather than thousandths of seconds.
Qualifying was much the same: the difference between pole and eleventh place on the grid was just half a second. If you made a mistake in two corners, costing you a tenth or so in each, you would have ended up starting from the third row, rather than the front row.
Another Friday, another save that would have seen any other rider rolling through the gravel. And at Assen, with its collection of terrifyingly fast corners, rolling through the gravel often ends up rolling into the back of an ambulance, and X-rays, cat scans, and metal plates holding your bones together.
But Friday wouldn’t be Friday without Marc Márquez folding the front completely, jabbing his elbow into the tarmac, and hanging on long enough for the front to catch again and stay upright, or what passes for upright if your name is Marc Márquez.
This time it happened at the Ruskenhoek, the very fast left hander after the Veenslang back straight, where the bikes flick right, then long left, and then right again for the short run towards Stekkenwal.
Márquez was traveling at something approaching 200km/h when the front went, but he caught it, stayed on board, and ended up running just off track and clipping the gravel. “I didn’t expect it, and I didn’t want to have a ‘safe’ crash in fourth gear at a very high-speed corner,” Márquez explained.
Holding your line is difficult because of the track changes direction at very high speed, so being precise is of the utmost importance, Márquez said.
“Here at Assen, the speed is so high and to take the correct lines is difficult but we were already in FP2, but in the first run it is always difficult to understand the lines and to be precise. A small mistake is a big mistake here: you cannot adjust with the brakes or the gas and you need to keep the speed during all the lap.”
Another weekend, another racetrack, but exactly the same story. We all gathered once again to hear what Dani Pedrosa had to say about his future, and once again, Pedrosa had nothing to say.
“I know there are a lot of people waiting and wanting to know some information, but unfortunately not yet,” Pedrosa told the pre-event press conference.
“I can’t give any different news from what I already in Barcelona. I expect to, but still things are going slow, so we don’t know at this moment exactly. Sooner or later I will have something to say!”
Once bitten, twice shy, the media were a little more prepared this Thursday. Dorna had put Dani Pedrosa into the press conference, a little safer situation than the masses crowded into the HRC hospitality at Barcelona.
We were acting on a little more information as well: journalists have been talking to a range of sources since Barcelona, and so there is a much better sense of where we stand on the Petronas-Yamaha story, as I explained on Tuesday.
There was some hope Pedrosa might announce something, but a realistic expectation he would not. So the disappointment when the Repsol Honda rider told there was still no news on his future was much more limited at Assen than it had been at Montmeló.
Where do we stand? Sepang International Circuit boss Razlan Razali is at Assen this weekend, but unavailable for reporters, as he is in wall-to-wall meetings finalizing various details.
That suggests that the deal is basically done, and he is now going through the laborious business of tying up loose ends. There is a lot of work to be done to get a MotoGP team off the ground from scratch.
The team will consist of Dani Pedrosa and Franco Morbidelli, though Pedrosa has still not put pen to paper on a deal. In theory, Pedrosa could still choose to retire, but he is not talking like a man on the verge of hanging up his helmet.
Pedrosa still has the fire, the only question is sorting out how much he is willing to settle for at the Petronas Yamaha team. The bike will be a full factory Yamaha, possibly an update or two behind the Movistar Yamaha team, but still highly competitive.
The tale of the TT Circuit at Assen is really the tale of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
That is hardly surprising, given that the race has featured on the calendar since Grand Prix racing was born, or rather, since the FIM Motorcycle Grand Prix Road Racing World Championship was established, back in 1949. And like Grand Prix racing, it has roots which go back a long way before that.
The first race took place in 1925, a year after the Dutch government passed a law permitting racing on public roads. It ran over cobbled roads and sand tracks between three villages to the east of Assen: Rolde, Borger, and Schoonlo.
The next year it moved south of Assen, again over public roads, between De Haar, Oude Tol, Hooghalen, Laaghalen, and Laaghalerveen. It stayed there until 1955, when the first sections of what would become the modern circuit were built.
The roads were closed and the circuit was separated from the world, an isolated loop of tarmac, where racing was safer, easier to organize, and, not coincidentally, easier to monetize.
The inaugural Grand Prix season in 1949 took place mainly on circuits set out using public roads, which made for long tracks taken at high speed (Bremgarten in Switzerland and Monza in Italy were the two purpose-built circuits on the calendar, but Bremgarten, in particular, was a spectacularly dangerous circuit which wound through a forest).
Making predictions for races in WorldSBK 2018 can be a fool’s errand. The form book has been thrown out the window on a couple of occasions, and at the Assen TT Circuit that was certainly the case once again.
The opening three rounds of WorldSBK have shown that the new regulations have helped close the field and improve the racing, but also that Kawasaki and Ducati are still the class of the field.
The green and red bikes are unbeaten through six races, but Aragon showed that the balance of power could shift from one circuit to another.
“If it wasn’t for the Dutch TT race, I would have to close my business.” Those were the words of the taxi driver who took me from the Assen train station to the circuit, for a presentation on the plans for major upgrades to their spectator facilities over the next three years and beyond.
It offered an insight into the importance of the MotoGP race at Assen, and by extension, the importance of circuits and MotoGP events around the world.
My taxi driver explained that over the week surrounding the Assen race, he was kept so busy that the money he made during that period was the difference between ending the year with a profit and the ability to invest in the future of the business, or just about breaking even.
Chatting to an official of the provincial government, who had grown up in the city and worked in bars there during his college years, he confirmed that experience.
The bars back then were so busy during the race weekend that it was the difference between survival and failure. The same is true for many businesses and hotels around the region, as anyone who has ever tried to book accommodation in the weeks before the race can attest.