TT CIRCUIT ASSEN, Assen, Netherlands – The Assen circuit is often called “the cathedral of speed”, and if that’s true, Italian motorcycle genius Valentino Rossi must be its high priest.
The 38-year-old Yamaha ace grabbed his 115th Grand Prix victory at the von Drenthe circuit after a terrific battle that came down to a matter of 6/100 of a second victory over his great friend Danilo Petrucci on a satellite Ducati.
Conditions were sketchy, cool with rain always threatening, with light showers actually dampening a few corners late in the race. The changeable conditions definitely put Rossi’s immense experience and love of the Assen circuit to the test. In addition to the remarkable total of 115 wins, Rossi’s win was his 10th at Assen.
Highly emotional after returning to the top of the podium after more than a year without a win (Barcelona in 2016), Rossi said, “Coming back to number one is fantastic, after one year. I race motorcycles for this feeling, for how I feel for five or six hours after the race – especially after a year without victory!”
I’d have to say that in my opinion this was not only the best Moto GP race of the year, it’s honestly the best I can remember in many seasons. The lead was never firm, as right up to the last lap Petrucci looked ready to grab his first Moto GP win, after the two had disposed of Honda’s Marc Marquez and Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, while early leader Johann Zarco faded a bit, then made a bad call and pitted to switch to his rain bike – unlucky for him, the threat of rain remained just that.
Several other riders made the same error, including big-buck Ducati hire Jorge Lorenzo – who managed to beat only one two-year-old Ducati by finishing 15th after qualifying a sad 20th. I’d hate to be the guy who has to justify hiring him to Ducati management; team manager Davide Tardozzi’s face as he watched the monitors was a study in disgust.
Petrucci was both happy and mad after the flag, pleased with his second successive podium, angry that lapped riders (extremely rare in Moto GP, a sign of how sketchy the conditions were) interfered with his chase of Rossi in both of the last two laps.
Third went to Marc Marquez, after a terrific dice with Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and Andrea Dovizioso (factory Ducati). Crutchlow was on fire the last few laps as the showers dampened the circuit, and said he had only himself to blame for not being on the podium, saying he showed his hand to Marquez too early. “I lost the chance of a podium myself. I showed my hand and I shouldn’t have. I always thought I’d be good at poker, but obviously I’d be shit.”
A very close fifth went to Dovizioso – he, Crutchlow, and Marquez were only separated by 1/100th of a second at the line – but the points gave him the lead in the world championship, after series leader Maverick Viñales lost the front of his Yamaha and crashed at the Timi chicane while moving up the ladder and looking like a threat for the front.
The rest of the top 10 was most unusual, following a highly entertaining race. Jack Miller grabbed a great sixth on his Marc VDS Honda (he’s out of contract at the end of the year and is looking for a ride), followed by Karel Abraham on a satellite Ducati, Loris Baz on another aging Ducati, Andrea Iannone on the factory Suzuki, and Aleix Espargaro on his Aprilia.
For the first time this season, Moto 2 looked like Moto 3, with no fewer than six riders banging, smashing, pushing, and whacking each other on the way to the flag. In the end, Franco Morbidelli took his Marc VDS Kalex to the win, a fitting follow-up to his signing a two-year deal to race Moto GP with the team starting next year.
He didnt’ have things easy, however, as he had to catch and pass top rival Tom Luthi on the last lap to grab the win. Japanese Takaagi Nakagami finally returned to form, leading for a while and fighting hard to collect the final podium spot, while Mattia Pasini and Miguel Oliveira rounded out the top five, all of them having led the race at some point. It was by far the best Moto 2 race in the past two seasons.
If Moto 2 looked more like a typical Moto 3 race than usual, the Moto 3 race did its best to outdo the senior class, with 11 riders in the lead draft on the last lap, potentially any of them capable of winning. In the end, Spanish teen Aron Canet (he’s only 16) took the win after starting from sixth spot on the grid, then falling back to nearly 20th after a bad start. Hard-case Romano Fenati was second, with Scotland’s John McPhee coming back from 19th to nearly claim his first win of the year, pushed back to third on the last lap.
Series leader Joan Mir, leading on the final lap, made an unusual error and ended up ninth at the flag, still more than a race win in points ahead of Canet.
World Moto GP Championship Standings after eight of 18 races
1. Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 115
2. Maverick Viñales, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 111 points
3. Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 108
4. Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 104
5. Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 87
6. Johann Zarco, France, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 77
7. Danillo Petrucci, Italy, Pramac Ducati, 62
8. Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team, 60
8. Cal Crutchlow, U.K., LCR Honda, 58
10. Jonas Folger, Germany, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 51
Next race, July 2, Sachsenring, Germany