Yamaha fights back

Ben Spies celebrates his first win in MotoGP.
Ben Spies celebrates his first win in MotoGP.

In spite of the constant talk of how much Honda is dominating the series in this, the last year of 800 cc MotoGP bikes, Yamaha took the top place at Assen, the seventh of 18 races scheduled for 2011. It was a sweet victory for Yamaha, as their bikes were painted in traditional white and red livery, commemoration the company’s 50th anniversary in GP competition.

Previous Yamaha stars like Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read were on hand to celebrate as Ben Spies, in his second year in the top echelon of racing, took a spectacular flag to flag victory. His team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, defending world champion, out-dragged Spies to the first corner off the start but went wide, letting Spies through — and that was all she wrote, as the Texan disappeared into the distance, never challenged to the flag.

Simoncelli crashes on the first lap, taking out Lorenzo. Both riders remounted and finished the race.

Things were made a bit easier for him when Marco Simoncelli made a big mistake – again – and crashed on the first lap, taking out Lorenzo with him. It was doubly unfortunate, as Lorenzo has been the most vociferous critic of SuperSic’s riding this year, and that certainly continued after the race!

With four crashes in seven races, despite an amazing qualifying record of a fourth, a fifth, three seconds and two firsts in his second season in The Big League, it’s hardly a wonder that everyone is scratching their heads over the big-haired Italian’s race smarts. Still, criticism from Lorenzo in particular is amusing, given his own crash record in his first two seasons.

Rossi finished fourth while developing a new chassis for next season.

Both riders managed to restart and continue to the race finish, with Lorenzo sixth and Simoncelli ninth. That keeps Lorenzo second in the championship chase, although Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner made up some more ground on Lorenzo with his second place at Assen, followed into third by team-mate Andrea Dovizioso.

As one Italian commentator has remarked, if someone could combine Simoncelli and Dovizioso – “one thinks too much, the other one not enough” – they’d probably have two Italians other than Valentino Rossi dominating MotoGP.

Texan Ben Spies took his first MotoGP at Assen, a great way to commemorate Yamaha's 50th season of Grand Prix racing.

After his first MotoGP victory, Spies said, “It was a strange race today as it was one of the most comfortable races we had and it resulted in a win. I saw the Simoncelli crash on the TV screen in the corner of my eye so I knew about it. I had a good feeling in the bike in the first couple of laps and had to push as much as I could to get a gap … I was racing as hard as I could, I have to thank my guys; they gave me a great bike today.”

The next two finishers were Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden on the factory Ducatis, albeit on quite different machines. Rossi was using a new chassis, basically the one being developed for the 2012 season, and after a terrible time in qualifying was delighted to finish where he did.

Off to the next race at Mugello.

“We’re pretty satisfied with this result because compared to practice, we made a big improvement in the race,” said Rossi after the race. “It would have been nice had we found the right direction more quickly, but this is a new bike that we’re still learning to work with, so obviously it takes some experience to get it right.”

Once again Dani Pedrosa was a no-show, still recuperating from his broken collarbone. Veteran Loris Capirossi was another non-starter after a nasty practice crash ruled him out for the weekend’s activities.

Tech 3 team-mates Colin Edwards and Cal Crutchlow both competed despite recently broken collarbones, Edwards coming in seventh and Crutchlow 14th after pitting with front tire issues.

Championship standings after seven of 18 races

1 Casey Stoner, 136 points

2. Jorge Lorenzo, 108

3. Andrea Dovizioso, 99

4. Valentino Rossi, 81

5. Nicky Hayden, 71

6. TIE, Dani Pedrosa/Ben Spies, 61

8. Hiroshi Aoyama, 51

9. Colin Edwards, 46

10. Marco Simoncelli, 39

Next event Mugello, Italy, July 3.

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