2001 MotoGP 500 World Championship, round 7
Dutch Grand Prix, Assen - June 28/29/30 2001
HIGH SPEED AT THE CATHEDRAL
The 2001 World Championship nears half-distance this weekend at Assen, a racetrack like no other. Nicknamed the Cathedral of Speed by race fans, Assen is the only street-based GP circuit remaining on the Grand Prix calendar and presents a unique challenge to riders and engineers.
Unlike modern purpose-built GP tracks, which are mostly characterised by short straights and tight turns, Assen is dominated by ultra-quick switchbacks that demand ultimate courage and spot-on tyre and chassis performance. Riders must therefore adapt their riding technique to match the circuit, while chassis and tyre engineers must fine tune machine settings to suit.
Assen's special character will add an extra dimension to the enthralling battle for this year's 500 World Championship, currently dominated by three Italians. All but one of the six races so far have been won by Italians, and the nation's triumvirate of 500 stars currently hold the top three places in the points chase. Valentino Rossi (Nastro Azzurro Honda-Michelin) is out front with four wins, ahead of French GP winner Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team-Michelin) and Loris Capirossi (West Honda Pons-Michelin).
After racing finishes on Saturday, riders and teams head to next Sunday's British GP at Donington Park, midway point of the 2001 World Championship campaign.
THE RIDERS AND ASSEN
The Assen crowd is renowned for getting behind its home riders and local hero Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Proton Team KR-Michelin) can count on massive support as he takes on Italy's speedy trinity of 500 stars: Valentino Rossi, Max Biaggi and Loris Capirossi.
Currently contesting his fifth 500 season, van den Goorbergh aims for his best-ever result on Saturday following promising tests at Assen, which helped him to a season-best performance of ninth at Catalunya two weeks ago. A front row qualifier at Assen '97, when he rode a Honda twin, the Flying Dutchman believes the Proton KR3 will be a useful tool through the unique circuit's high-speed twists. Although the three-cylinder machine gives away around 20 horsepower to the predominant V4s, the bike enjoys a 15kg weight advantage that helps during braking, cornering and acceleration.
"Before the tests I wasn't so sure that the bike would be ideal for Assen but we quickly found a good set-up that made me very happy," says van den Goorbergh. "It's a fast track, you use sixth gear three times, but I think we can fight the V4s for a top result.
"You need a stable bike at Assen, for all the fast direction changes. Without a stable feeling you can't be competitive on lap times. During the tests I went quicker than I've ever been at the track. In fact my lap times have been quicker everywhere this year, usually by a second or a second and a half compared to last year, and a little quicker than I used to be on the MuZ in 1999. But I'm consistently much quicker than I was on the MuZ, because this bike is so much better on throttle response. I can be fast lap after lap, not just for one hot lap."
Despite his extra pace, van den Goorbergh's early season results were disappointing. Eleventh at the season-opening Japanese GP, he was 11th again at the next race in South Africa, even though his race time would have won last year's South African GP!
"The pace has got much faster this year," he adds. "The tyres are definitely better. Michelin have worked hard on the 16.5, to the point where lap records are often set right at the end of races. That didn't used to happen. We've focused on the 16.5 since the start of the season because I think switching back and forth with the 17 can cost valuable practice time. But I have to say that in one way the 16.5 isn't so good for us, because it gives so much grip that it allows the V4 riders to get on the throttle earlier and use their power advantage sooner! The 16.5 also gives the V4s better grip for longer, so they're even harder to beat."
On the other hand, the 16.5 gives van den Goorbergh more sidegrip, a vital factor for the KR3. "My bike is lighter so I can run a higher corner speed than the fours, and that is also my style, so the 16.5 really helps there. I don't use wheelspin out of the turns because the three doesn't have enough power to control the spin. If I get wheelspin I lose time."
MICHELIN TYRES AND ASSEN
Assen is the fastest track on the Grand Prix calendar with a lap record at 177kmh (110mph). Only three other GP circuits have records over the magical imperial `ton' (160kmh/100mph): Phillip Island (172kmh/107mph), Suzuka (166kmh/103mph) and Mugello (166kmh/103mph).
But Assen isn't just a very fast racetrack, it is also, paradoxically, the twistiest in GP racing. Based on public roads (though the venue became a permanent race facility in 1992), the circuit weaves and winds its way across dead-flat Dutch countryside, demanding total commitment and accuracy.
"It's a very challenging circuit for the riders," says Michelin Grand Prix manager Jacques Morelli who has presided over Michelin victories in the past nine 500 GPs at Assen. "Of all the tracks we go to, it's the one where the racing line is most crucial. The circuit is very fast and very twisty but it is also crowned in the middle, like a public road, to aid water drainage. That means riders go through several camber changes as they sweep through each turn braking on the outside, crossing the road to the apex, and then drifting to the outside again as they accelerate. That's why they need to be inch-perfect with their line, because the camber can really work against them if they don't get it right. If they get their line wrong, their lap time will really suffer, more so than at other tracks."
Jacques Morelli believes that Michelin's 16.5in rear slick, which has assumed dominance of 500 GP racing over the past 18 months, will help riders crack the Assen lap record, the longest standing in GP racing. The 16.5 features a radical profile that puts more rubber on the ground at extreme angles of lean for extra grip, cooler running and thus longer life.
"The 16.5 has very good sidegrip and offers very good feedback, which helps riders to be even more accurate with their lines," he adds. "That's one reason why we should finally see the lap record go this year. The record would certainly have been broken before now but rain is always a problem at Assen. If it doesn't rain in the race, like it did last year, it usually rains at some point during practice, which costs valuable set-up time, which obviously affects race lap times."
Assen is a superbly grippy racetrack, with one of the best surfaces in GP racing, offering excellent traction without being too aggressive on tyres. That grip, combined with positive camber and high speeds, exerts serious forces on both front and rear tyres. "That's why we run strong construction tyres at this track," Jacques Morelli continues. "But riders also need soft rubber to help them maintain their line, and we can run fairly soft compounds because the surface isn't so aggressive. A strong construction with soft rubber is the ideal combination."
This year Assen features increased run-off at Meeuwenmeer, the fast right towards the end of the lap. The improvement is part of on-going changes that include plans for a whole new circuit, which will almost certainly take away the venue's unique characteristics. <pre> ASSEN DATA
Lap record Kevin Schwantz (Lucky Strike Suzuki), 2m 02.443s (1991),177.849kmh/110.510mph
Pole position 2000 Loris Capirossi (Emerson Honda Pons-Michelin) 2m 02.058s
Recent winners of the Dutch GP 2000 Alex Barros (Emerson Honda Pons-Michelin), 42m 46.142s (two-part wet/dry race) 1999 Tadayuki Okada (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 41m 12.732s 1998 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 41m 17.788s 1997 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 43m 37.954s 1996 Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda-Michelin), 41m 29.912s
PROVISIONAL STANDINGS 2001
Rider Nat Points JPN SFA JER FRA ITA CAT 1 ROSSI VALENTINO ITA 116 25 25 25 16 25 2 BIAGGI MAX ITA 90 16 8 5 25 16 20 3 CAPIROSSI LORIS ITA 81 8 20 8 9 20 16 4 ABE NORICK JPN 74 13 11 20 13 7 10 5 NAKANO SHINYA JPN 63 11 13 13 5 8 13 6 CRIVILLE ALEX SPA 62 7 10 16 11 13 5 7 BARROS ALEX BRA 60 10 7 10 8 25 8 UKAWA TOHRU JPN 45 16 11 9 9 9 GIBERNAU SETE SPA 40 6 6 7 10 11 10 ROBERTS KENNY USA 37 9 9 9 10 11 CHECA CARLOS SPA 36 6 2 20 8 12 GOORBERGH J VD NED 30 5 5 3 6 4 7 13 McCOY GARRY AUS 27 20 7 14 AOKI HARUCHIKA JPN 20 4 4 11 1 15 HAGA NORIYUKI JPN 16 4 6 6 16 CARDOSO JOSE LUIS SPA 13 3 3 5 2 17 WALKER CHRIS GBR 8 1 4 3 18 JACQUE OLIVIER FRA 4 4 19 HASLAM LEON GBR 3 3 20 WILLIS MARK AUS 3 3 21 WEST ANTHONY AUS 3 2 1 22 VENEMAN BARRY NED 2 2 23 JANSSEN JARNO NED 1 1
RYO AKIRA JPN 0 STIGEFELT JOHAN SWE 0 VINCENT JASON GBR 0