Valentino Rossi says it will be intense, and he's not joking. Round eight of the 2015 MotoGP world title will be held at historic Assen on—as history dictates—Saturday, with the Italian leading the championship by just 1pt over Movistar Yamaha teammate and man of the moment, Jorge Lorenzo.
The last four rounds have belonged to a resurgent Lorenzo, who in a 'normal' season would probably be leading the championship by a hefty margin after such a dominant block. However, Rossi has been equal to the task by finishing on the podium in all seven rounds, and the woes of reigning world champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) have also helped the Yamaha duo strengthen their spots at the top of the standings. After seven rounds, Marquez has banked only half of the points of Rossi (69 to 138): no-one saw that coming at the start of the year.
Rossi says he is ready to go on the circuit where he has won eight times during his colossal career—six in the premier MotoGP ranks.
"Assen will be another very intense weekend and to keep first place I have to finish in front of Jorge," said Rossi, who will fly straight to the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK straight after the Assen hostilities." It won't be easy because Jorge is in a great shape, but so am I."
Rossi has shown he has the speed all season, but knows he has to qualify higher up the grid—he was on the third row at Catalunya—to really push Lorenzo.
“Yeah, Jorge is better than me in qualifying; he’s always a little bit faster," said Rossi. "It’s difficult because there are a lot of bikes that are very fast and Suzuki and Ducati have the extra soft tyre to help. The Hondas are also very fast, but Jorge has the same tyre and bike as me, so we need to improve.
"Starting from the third row is tough; in Barcelona I had a good pace and we didn’t lose much time to get to second, but already Jorge was far. Every weekend and track has a different story so we have to understand the potential of the bike and the tyres and make the maximum from Friday.”
Rossi has revealed he'll also be evaluating a new frame at Assen, while Lorenzo is simply in a great place after leading the last 103 laps of MotoGP action.
“I have had some very good periods in my career, but probably we didn’t have this bike," said Lorenzo. "Especially in the race our bike is very constant and we can keep a high pace, this is why we’ve dominated on Sunday till now. For now, I’m in good shape, for the first time I beat my trainer on the mountain bike so I’m really proud of that! But we still have to work hard and find a good setup.”
Meanwhile, Marquez faces make or break time in Holland, and is hoping he can replicate his success from last year when he won at Assen. He will be trying out the 2014 frame on his RC213V in an effort to improve his fortunes. He said: "Of course after the last two races we need a good result. Assen is a track I like, last year was good but it was also a mixed weather race. Two years ago Vale and Jorge were very strong. We’ll have to see how this weekend goes."
Marquez won last year's race from Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), who will both also be pushing hard for victory on Saturday—"Dovi" keen to redeem himself after a crash at Catalunya and Pedrosa to prove he still belongs in the upper echelon of MotoGP pilots.
With 11 races still to go, Andrea Iannone (Ducati) is third in the standings on 94pts from Dovizioso (83), Marquez (69), Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 68), Cal Crutchlow (CWM LCR Honda, 47) and the title's leading rookie, Maverick Vinales (Suzuki Ecstar, 46). Aussie Jack Miller (CWM LCR Honda) has banked 11pts and sits in 18th position—but is third overall in the Open class behind Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing Ducati) and Loris Baz (Forward Yamaha).
Assen is the only venue to have held a round of the Motorcycle World Championship every year since 1949, and the current 4.555km iteration has a mixture of high- and low-speed corners, making it a favourite amongst riders. Ben Spies’ win at the Dutch TT in 2011 was the last MotoGP race won by a rider other than Casey Stoner, Rossi, Pedrosa, Marquez or Lorenzo.
It's the only circuit to have produced a tie in the premier class—1975 when Barry Sheene and Giacomo Agostini couldn't be separated—and in 2014 Aussie Anthony West won the Moto2 race as Assen, at the same place where he won his first GP in 2003.
Unless the conditions deteriorate, which is always a possibility at Assen, West (QMMF Racing) is unlikely to circulate at the pointy end in this year's Moto2 race, with Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport), Tom Luthi (Derendinger Racing Interwetten), Sam Lowes (Speed Up Racing), Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) and world champion Tito Rabat (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) taking the major spoils so far this year.
In Moto3, Briton Danny Kent (Leopard Racing) continues to strengthen his lead in the standings at every round with a mix of race smarts and raw speed. He is currently 51pts ahead of fellow Honda rider Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing), while Aussie rookie Remy Gardner (CIP Mahindra) continues to chase an elusive world championship point. Remy may be buoyed by his dad Wayne, who came out of retirement for the World GP Bike Legends meeting at Jerez last weekend and won a race.
The three world championship races at Assen will be held over the following distances and times:
• MotoGP: 26 laps, 118.1km, starting at 2:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST)
• Moto2: 24 laps, 109km, starting a 12:20pm local time (8:20pm AEST)
• Moto3: 22 laps, 99.9km, starting at 11:00am local time (7:00pm AEST)
Image courtesy www.motogp.com