Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) are MotoGP's master pyrotechnics practitioners, and yet another chapter was added in front of a packed crowd at Assen on June 27 as their battle for race honours came down to the final chicane.
Rossi was leading before Marquez made his move up the inside, with the pair then clipping before the Italian ran through a patch of gravel en route to his third win of the year, with Marquez forced to settle for second—but still a great result after his recent travails.
The final margin between the pair was 1.242s, which saw Rossi extend his championship lead out to 10pts (163 to 153) over teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who was third at Assen.
"It's always difficult with Marc and you know the battle will be very hard, but I was confident that I was competitive and I wanted to try for victory," said Rossi. "In the last laps I pushed a lot and I arrived at the last chicane when Marc tried to overtake.
"But he arrived a little bit too late; I was already into the chicane and we touched a little bit and I had to cut the corner. Essentially I had no choice and I was lucky because I got on the gravel, but I stayed on the throttle even though I didn't know how deep it was and I thought there was a chance I could lose control.
"I think that in a championship as close as this, it is very important you take the maximum profit when you are competitive and when you like the track, because for sure we will have some more difficult moments."
Marquez was magnanimous in defeat, and says it was a "moral victory" at a circuit where Honda is not usually strong at.
"We rode a last lap to win the race, especially on the last chicane," he said. "I had studied things well and knew where I had to brake in order to be able to overtake Vale, so I did that but it didn’t end like I wanted. We’ll see if we can take another step forward in the coming races."
Lorenzo's third place was typically unfussed, while Andrea Iannone (Ducati) was untroubled in fourth, before a cracker of a race for fifth came out in favour of Pol Espargarò (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) from Cal Crutchlow (CWM LCR Honda), Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda).
Iannone's teammate Andrea Dovizioso was in the top five before a vibration issue forced him to slow, and he finished 12th.
Aussie Jack Miller (CMW LCR Honda) crashed out on the opening lap after he was involved in a melee at the final chicane.
“I got a really good start and had a small touch with Eugene Laverty off the line, but after that I recovered," said Miller. "Coming into the last corner I tried to pass (Alvaro) Bautista but my rear tyre overtook my front tyre and I got a little nudge from someone. It was unfortunate because I felt quite good here all weekend and my pace wasn’t so bad, so to end it like this was a shame.”
“We are working hard every week, and I look forward to getting back to racing at Sachsenring. I’m more disappointed about losing the experience of racing here, we’ve missed out on a lot of laps and we are here to make laps. If we keep working hard I’m sure we can do a great job in Germany next time.”
Open class honours were taken by Loris Baz (Athinà Forward Racing).
Iannone remains third in the standings on 107pts, from Marquez (89), who has overtaken Dovizioso (87).
1. Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha, 40m54.037s
2. Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda, +1.242s
3. Jorge Lorenzo, Movistar Yamaha, +14.576s
DNF. Jack Miller, CWM LCR Honda, +26 laps
Pole position: Rossi, 1:32.627 = 176.5km/h
Fastest lap and new record: Marquez, 1:33.617 = 174.6km/h
Championship top 3 Rossi 163 • Lorenzo 153 • Andrea Iannone 107
The cream rose to the top at Assen, with the top three in the championship—Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport), Tito Rabat (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Sam Lowes (Speed Up Racing) —finishing in that order.
The first attempt at the race was red flagged after an incident that involved Australian Anthony West (QMMF Racing) and also saw Luis Salom (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) crash out and his bike catch fire, leading to oil on the track.
The restart was over 16 laps, and it took a slow-starting Zarco until three laps from the end to pass Rabat and take the lead. He then went onto win his third race of the season by 0.757s.
"Making two starts was not a big problem, because I was able to keep calm before going out again," said Zarco. My first start was not good and I thought I had a second chance to do well, but it didn’t really work like that. We led in the final stretch, but I saw that I had a stronger pace and I thought taking the lead and trying to escape would be the best solution to get victory.
"This is my second consecutive win and it's great. I want to thank the team because I am very confident with the bike and I can ride it very fast."
Lowes was well clear of fourth-placed Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40), with Tom Luthi (Derendinger Racing Interwetten) in fifth.
Meanwhile, after victory at Assen in 2014 this year the Dutch circuit wasn't as kind to West who also crashed out of the restart.
Zarco now leads the championship by 45pts (159 to 114) from Rabat, with Lowes on 96.
1. Johann Zarco, Ajo Motorsport, 26m13.410s
2 Tito Rabat, EG 0,0 Marc VDS, +0.757s
3. Sam Lowes, Speed Up Racing, +2.080s
DNF. Anthony West, QMMF Racing, +5 laps
Pole Position: Zarco, 1:36.346 = 169.7km/h
Fastest lap and new record: Rabat, 1:37.449 = 167.7km/h
Championship top 3 Zarco 159 • Rabat 114 • Lowes 96
Yet another jaw-dropping race from the small brigade, with an incredible seven-way battle for victory going in favour of Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) after the lead changed on almost every corner.
However, probably the most remarkable piece of action in the race came from Finland's Niklas Ajo, who crossed the finish line in 17th position sliding on his knees! Ajo lost control at the final corner in the battle for eighth and managed to hold on until the end while hanging completely off the side of his bike.
Championship leader Danny Kent (Leopard Racing) was probably favoured to win the race after managing to get to the front of a few logjams already this year, but this time he was trumped by Oliveira and also 16-year-old Frenchman Fabio Quartararo (Estrella Galicia 0,0).
The top seven was separated by just 0.540s after 22 laps, with new lap record holder Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) fourth from Romano Fenati (SKY Racing Team VR46), polesitter Enea Bastianini Gresini Racing) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo).
“I'm happy with my performance today, because I did not make too many mistakes and it was a pretty difficult race," said Oliveira. "To be honest, after the warm-up I did not know if I could take the victory, having ridden behind Kent. But in the race I made a good start and I tried to believe in myself, concentrate and go forward.
"In the final braking move I tried to defend my position and I managed to win."
Remy Gardner (CIP Mahindra) finished in 26th position.
“My start was not so bad, but during the sixth lap (Zulfahmi) Khairuddin crashed in front of me and I was forced to go out of the track, losing a lot of time and concentration. After this incident recovering was very difficult because I was a long way behind the riders ahead of me."
1. Miguel Oliveira, Red Bull KTM Ajo, 37m54.427s
2. Fabio Quartararo, Estrella Galicia 0,0, +0.066s
3. Danny Kent, Leopard Racing, +0.117s
28. Remy Gardner, CIP, +1:38.917s
Pole Position: Enea Bastianini, 1:41.283 = 161.4km/h
Fastest lap and new record: Jorge Navarro, 1:42.135 = 160.9km/h
Championship top 3
Kent 165 • Bastianini 109 • Oliveira 102