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Talking points ahead of the Dutch TT

Thursday, 22 June 2023

The final MotoGP™ weekend before the summer break takes us to Assen, a circuit with history, tradition and a final corner that guarantees late-race fireworks.

Mention MotoGP™, and fans the world over will immediately think of a few select circuits; Mugello in Italy, Jerez in Spain, Phillip Island in our own backyard. But no circuit is more synonymous with elite two-wheel motorsport than Assen in the Netherlands, home to the Dutch TT and round eight of the world championship this weekend (June 23-25).

Assen was one of six venues on the calendar in the very first Grand Prix season in 1949, the circuit then measuring a monstrous 16.356 kilometres. Short of 2020 when the TT was cancelled because of the pandemic, Assen has featured on the calendar every year; 'The Cathedral' (as it's known) now measures 4.54km, and its fast and flowing nature rewards corner speed and bravery in equal measure. And we've lost count of the number of races settled in final-lap, final-corner showdowns at the Geert Timmer Chicane, the right-left flick where Aleix Espargaro pulled off the overtake of the year in 2022, passing Jack Miller and Brad Binder in one move on the last lap for fourth place.

There's plenty of talking points ahead of the final round of the MotoGP™ season before the (northern hemisphere) summer break; here's three to watch this weekend.

Can Ducati defy history again?

Ducati has gone from strength to strength since Pecco Bagnaia won last year's MotoGP™ title. In the 14 races so far this year – seven Grands Prix and seven Sprints (we'll get to those) – the Bologna bullets have won 11, with Bagnaia leading three Ducati stablemates at the top of the riders' standings ahead of Assen.

In the past, Ducati's bikes were more suited to specific tracks – think Austria's Red Bull Ring, with its long straights into 90-degree corners – than being a bike for all seasons and all circuits. Last weekend in Germany at the tight and twisty Sachsenring – where all eight Ducati bikes finished either side of Miller's KTM in sixth – showed how far the marque has come, and how much ground the others have to make up.

Assen has typically been a happy hunting ground for Japanese manufacturers – before Bagnaia's win there last year, the previous 12 races there were won by either Honda or Yamaha – but as this season has shown, Ducati's theory on records is that they're made to be broken…

Happy memories for Miller

It's one of the more shocking wins of modern-day MotoGP™ – Miller, in his second year in the premier class on a second-string Honda and never having finished better than 10th, remarkably won the Dutch TT in 2016 in a crazy wet/dry race that had to be red-flagged and restarted as the standing water was more suitable for boats than bikes.

The-then 21-year-old rode like a man with nothing to lose, memorably passing Marc Marquez ("I mean, if I went past myself I'd be like, 'Oh, that dickhead's going to crash in two minutes'," was his memorable quote afterwards), and showing his prowess as a man to master mixed conditions on the biggest possible stage.

Seven years and two teams later, KTM's Miller (and teammate Binder) have been a consistent thorn in Ducati's side so far in 2023, and the Townsville tearaway has made a solid start to life in orange, taking two Sprint podiums and leading on the opening lap of both the Sprint and Grand Prix proper in Germany last weekend.

Miller's Assen results have been largely modest since that day of days in 2016 – a pair of sixth places is as good as it's been – but if anyone is to snap Ducati's four-race winning run this weekend, the Aussie or his South African teammate (and good mate) are the best bets.

Sprints, and setting up your season

Series leader Bagnaia has been atop the world championship standings after five of the seven Sundays so far this season, but it's what the reigning world champion is doing on Saturdays that is making all the difference.

Bagnaia has scored more points in Sprints (65) than any other rider, while only KTM's Binder, who has scored 44 per cent of his 96 points for the season on Saturdays, tops Bagnaia's 41 per cent of his total (160) scored in the short format.

The importance of Sprints shows the further down the table you scan; fourth-placed Johann Zarco is on track for his best MotoGP season finish in his seven-year career, but has scored only 19 of his 109 points on Saturdays. Likewise, Ducati stablemate Marco Bezzecchi's title aspirations could use a Saturday boost; only 29 of "Bez's" 126-point total have been earned in Sprints.

Wondering where Fabio Quartararo and Yamaha have gone wrong? There's plenty to point to, but there's one point to make – remarkably, 56 of Quartararo's 57 points this season have come on Sundays, the 2021 world champion's ninth place in the Argentina Sprint in round two the sole time he's scored on a Saturday.

Dutch TT fast facts
Circuit name/location: TT Circuit Assen, Netherlands
Length/laps: 4.54km, 26 laps (MotoGP™), 24 laps (Moto2™), 22 laps (Moto3™)
Grands Prix held/debut: 73, 1949
Most successful rider: Valentino Rossi (eight wins)
2022 podium 1st: Pecco Bagnaia (Ducati), 2nd: Marco Bezzecchi (Ducati), 3rd: Maverick Vinales (Aprilia)

The 2023 Dutch Motorcycle Grand Prix will be available to watch live on Foxtel and Kayo. See our What time does the 2023 Dutch MotoGP™ start in Australia article for timings.