It was a race defined by numbers. The 85th running of the Dutch TT at Assen, the only race held on a Saturday. It was Yamaha’s 5th straight victory, the first time ever for that manufacturer. But most importantly, it was Valentino Rossi’s 72nd MotoGP victory, his 111th at the Grand Prix level and the 3rd of his 2015 racing season.
In an uncharacteristic beginning, Rossi won pole position, and tore off from the green lights without opposition. The 36 year old veteran is known to struggle at race starts, and many expected Marc Marquez, newly returned to competitive form aboard a 2014 Honda chassis from last year, to sail past him on the first lap. But it wasn’t to be, and Rossi dominated the next 22 laps.
Marquez spent the entire race in Rossi’s shadow, never more than 2 seconds adrift in 2nd place, often as close as 0.2 seconds behind. Jorge Lorenzo made a valiant attempt to win his fifth race of the year by carving up the field from his starting position in 8th to third, but after lap 9 it was clear that he was not in the same league as the other two.
“I didn’t have the pace of Valentino and Marc.” the two time MotoGP world champion said after the race. “I struggled a lot.” Lorenzo would finish in third.
At the front, with only 5 laps to go Marc Marquez made a clean pass and took the lead, at last showing the kind of form that the Spaniard is famous for. However, Rossi was not beaten and the the two beat down the track for the remaining 4 laps wheel to wheel, until at last Rossi retook he lead with 2 laps to go. On the last corner of the last lap, Marquez made a daring all-or-nothing attempt on the inside but could not get beside Rossi, who maintained his inside line and the two touched.
“With him is always difficult on the last lap.” said Rossi of the incident. “I was already into the corner and had to cut.” he added.
Marquez wobbled, but kept on the track, while Rossi went straight over the approaching apex, through the sand and rejoined the track to win, popping a wheelie as he crossed the line.
“In the final corner was tight. Too tight. We will see what happens now.” was Marquez’ comment after the race, suggesting that he felt that Rossi’s move was illegal and could overturn his victory. In the post race interview, he added. “What I feel is that I won the race.”
But the titanic battle of the race was in the slot between 4th and 8th, where a melée of riders including at various time Dani Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow, the two Ducatis of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso and brother Pol and Aleix Espargaro diced it up through the entire race, trading passes corner after corner, lap after lap. The battles were so intense that the official MotoGP television commentators abandoned trying to verbalize the race order.
When they crossed the line, Andrea Iannone managed to eek out a few second lead in 4th, Pol Espargaro 5th on the Tech 3 Yamaha with Cal Crutchlow rounding out the top 6. The factory Suzukis of Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales drifted back to 9th and 10th places, showing a weakness for tire wear over the long 26 lap race.
Valentino Rossi leads the world championship by 9 points over teammate Jorge Lorenzo going into the 10th round at the German Sachsenring in two weeks time.