European front continues for FIAT Yamaha Team at Assen
Just days after safely negotiating the waters of a soaking wet Donington Park, the Fiat Yamaha Team continue their adventures this week with a trip across the North Sea to Holland, in preparation for the ninth round of the MotoGP World Championship. The 77th edition of the Dutch TT at Assen sees Valentino Rossi chasing a 26-point gap to Casey Stoner at the top of the standings with ten rounds remaining of what promises to be a tightly fought battle for the most prestigious crown in motorcycle racing.
With two of the last three races having been hit by rain, Rossi's principal hope for this weekend is good weather, having charged to victory in the most recent dry race at his home circuit of Mugello. The Italian is keen to build on recent developments made with his YZR-M1 machine and Michelin's slick tyres at a circuit where he has celebrated victory on five occasions - including three of the last five races there in the premier-class.
Rossi's team-mate Colin Edwards is himself a previous Assen winner. The Texan took three victories there during his days in the World Superbike series, including a double win on his way to the title in a gripping climax to the 2002 season. Last year he came within a few metres of his finest career moment yet, leading the MotoGP race from Nicky Hayden into the final chicane, only to fall and see a first Grand Prix victory slip from his grasp in truly dramatic fashion.
Despite major changes to Assen's unique layout last year, it remains one of the most technically and physically demanding circuits on the calendar for the MotoGP riders. With barely a straight piece of tarmac in sight, handling is a major focal point due to high-speed chicanes and dramatic camber changes - the latter, in some places, resembling the profile of the public roads that the original circuit was based around 76 years ago.
Valentino Rossi - "A legendary place" could not be happier to have only four days' rest between last Sunday's race at Donington Park and Thursday morning's free practice at Assen. After struggling to fourth place with wet tyres on a drying track, the 28-year-old spent several hours in deep discussions with engineers from Yamaha and Michelin and revealed they now have a clear idea of how to improve performance and results this weekend.
"I wasn't happy after the race on Sunday but we had a long meeting afterwards and we know what our problems are - now we need to fix them," said Rossi. "I'm happy to get the chance to ride again so soon and forget about the race at Donington because I was so disappointed to finish fourth at a circuit I love so much and have always done well at in the past.
"Assen is another of my favourite tracks and after riding injured there last year I want to get back to winning ways. It is a shame they had to change the circuit layout last year because they have removed the most exciting part of the track, which I still cannot understand. Anyway, it is like this and Assen is still a legendary place, with a great atmosphere and great fans. Hopefully we can make a good show for them and be competitive like we know we can be once again."
Colin Edwards - "My best and worst memory" Like Rossi, Colin Edwards also feels he has a score to settle this weekend, with the painful memories of last year's race at Assen still fresh in the 33-year-old's mind. After a disappointing run of form that wielded just 19 points from the five previous races, Edwards bounced back in style at Donington Park - setting pole position and leading the race for eleven laps before settling for a return to the podium in second place. The goal for this weekend is the top step.
"It's weird because Assen holds my best MotoGP memory and also my worst!" reflects Edwards. "I know I should have won and I guess I gave Nicky Hayden the gift of a lifetime. I know and love the track, I won there loads of times in World Superbikes and the fans are fantastic - there's always a ton of Texas Tornado t-shirts and flags around the circuit, as there was at Donington, and that always gives you a great boost.
"I'm taking a lot of confidence from the weekend just gone because we worked really hard and found a setting for the dry and for the wet in a really limited amount of time. We think we've fixed the problems we've been having with the bike and from a personal point of view I was delighted to be back on the podium. The key now is to keep it going, make up for that disaster at Assen last year and carry some good form through to my home race at Laguna Seca in a few weeks' time."
Davide Brivio - Team Director Fiat Yamaha Team Director Davide Brivio insists there is still everything to play for in this championship despite there now being a gap which constitutes more points than a race victory between Stoner and Rossi at the top. With eight rounds down there are still ten more to go in the longest ever season in history, giving Rossi and his crew ample opportunity to fight back.
"We go to Assen with strong motivation throughout the whole team," says Brivio. "Valentino had a hard weekend in Donington and so he will be keen to improve things and get back to full performance. We had a very long meeting on Sunday night after the race and discussed a lot of things in order to have a more clear idea of the way in which we need to work this week.
"Colin obviously has a great score to settle with Assen after he so nearly won there last year, and after his podium in Donington and the improvements he made during the weekend, he should be in good shape to try to achieve his goal. We're nearly at the halfway point of the season and of course things haven't gone exactly to plan at times but there's a long way to go, anything can happen and we'll keep fighting."