This weekend the thrilling 2009 MotoGP World Championship goes into action at its most historic event, the Dutch TT at Assen. This year the Assen world round celebrates its sixth decade as a Grand Prix event, indeed it is the only race that...
This weekend the thrilling 2009 MotoGP World Championship goes into action at its most historic event, the Dutch TT at Assen. This year the Assen world round celebrates its sixth decade as a Grand Prix event, indeed it is the only race that survives from the World Championship's inaugural year in 1949.
Honda has been winning races at Assen since 1961, when Mike Hailwood and Tom Phillis won the 250 and 125 races, two years after Honda first entered World Championship competition. This year the factory's hopes are in the hands of its fastest riders in the MotoGP and 250 classes -- Repsol Honda RC212V riders Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa and Scot Honda RS250RW rider Hiroshi Aoyama.
Dovizioso and Pedrosa currently hold fourth and fifth places in the MotoGP points standings, behind series leaders Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) and Casey Stoner (Ducati) who are all exactly equal on points after six of 17 races.
Dovizioso has been building speed since the start of the season and is knocking on the door of his first podium with the Repsol Honda squad. The 23-year-old Italian has finished fourth at the last three GPs, on each occasion crossing the line tantalisingly close to a third-place finish. At Le Mans he was half a second behind team-mate Pedrosa and at Mugello and Catalunya he was less than a tenth behind Rossi and Stoner. There is no doubt that Dovi is both capable and deserving of a top three at Assen, especially after he topped the post-Catalan GP tests using a modified RC212V chassis.
Pedrosa has had a tougher time in recent weeks. The 23-year-old Spaniard had put himself in the thick of the title battle with three consecutive podium finishes at the Japanese, Spanish and French GPs, only to suffer ill luck at the Italian and Catalan GPs. He crashed out at Mugello and then fell again during Catalunya qualifying, heroically riding through the pain barrier to finish sixth. Pedrosa has been resting his injuries since then and is hopeful he will be strong enough to compete at the front at Assen, where he finished second last year.
Honda's MotoGP satellite team riders arrive at Assen determined to turn promising progress into better results. Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) has had some good runs lately, reinforcing his place as one of the championship's top privateers. Eighth at the last two races, the Frenchman is determined to get closer to the front, as he did at Jerez where he finished a storming fourth.
San Carlo Honda Gresini riders Alex De Angelis and Toni Elias continue to work hard at extracting the maximum from their RC212V machines but so far have yet to reap the reward their input deserves. Both men know that they are on the verge of scoring results, they just need another step forward to improve rear grip and a little luck. Things seemed to be looking up for Elias at Catalunya, where he rode brilliantly in qualifying to start from the second row, only to slide off in the race.
Italian squad Scot Honda go into their second GP as a two-rider MotoGP team with rookie Yuki Takahashi and newcomer Gabor Talmacsi assigned one RC212V each. Takahashi has had a couple of tough races, falling at Mugello and at Catalunya, where he cracked a finger in his right hand when he fell on the first lap of the race.
Talmacsi had a baptism of fire at Catalunya, throwing a leg over a MotoGP bike for the very first time in the opening practice session. Initially slightly overawed by the 200-plus horsepower machine, the former 125 World Champion was getting up to speed by the end of the weekend and went even faster during the post-race tests. The diminutive Hungarian made crucial machine adjustments during the tests, like moving his seating position forward. Talma loves Assen -- he was winner of the 2005 and 2008 Dutch 125 TTs.
Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) has high hopes of another brilliant 250 race, following his stunning charge to second at Catalunya. The Japanese currently holds a strong second place in the 250 World Championship and believes that Assen's complex layout and the cooler north European weather should suit his Honda RS250RW perfectly. Team-mate Raffaele De Rosa also comes to Assen on top form, the 250 rookie aiming to continue his impressive record of scoring points at every round.
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF-Honda SAG) and Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) both scored top-ten finishes at the last round of the 250 World Championship but both men know they are capable of better than that when the track conditions suit them. And their RS250RW machines should work well at Assen.
GP rookies Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda) and Bastien Chesaux (Racing Team Germany Honda) will be aiming to keep climbing the learning curve at Assen, once the longest and most complex track on the GP calendar.
Assen used to be called 'The Cathedral' because its sinuous, high-speed layout was the crowning moment of the GP season. But the venue underwent major modifications in 2006, the track shortened from 5.997km (3.726 miles) to 4.555km (2.830 miles). Since then Assen is more like a conventional GP circuit, though the final section of the current track retains some of the old circuit's character with fast, sweeping corners that test rider ability and machine set-up like nothing else.
Assen is the only GP circuit to have remained on the calendar since 1949 but the venue is much, much older than that. Races were first held at Assen in the 1920s, though on a different circuit. The current track has hosted races since the 1950s, though the layout has been much modified and gradually reduced in length since then. Assen is the only MotoGP round that goes under the name of a TT, or Tourist Trophy, a common nomenclature for motorsport events in the early 20th century.
Honda has won 11 of the last 20 premier-class races at Assen, the marque's last MotoGP victory at the track scored by Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda) in 2006, one of the American's two victories on his way to that year's world title.
This year's Dutch TT is the start of MotoGP's busiest period, with four races in five weekends.
HONDA MotoGP RIDER QUOTES
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda) says: "I've been really looking forward to getting back on the bike since we left Catalunya last week. We had a positive test on the Monday after the Barcelona race and that, combined with the constant improvement we've been making race after race, means I'm very confident. So I'm looking forward to getting back in the garage with the team, continuing to work on our machine package and to getting a good result in Assen. I've been really close to the podium in the last three rounds and at the same time closing the time gap to the race winner, so I'm determined to get into the top three as soon as possible -- hopefully this weekend. Assen is not actually one of my favourite tracks though. Since the layout modifications, the fascination of the circuit has been lost a little, but still I have good memories of last year's race where I finished fifth after qualifying 11th. It's a circuit of two sections -- the first part is quite slow while the second part is more technically demanding -- and the weather can also play its part in the Netherlands too. But whatever happens, I'm looking forward to another strong weekend for me and the team."
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) says: "Since the race in Barcelona I've basically been resting, trying to give my hip as much chance to improve as possible. Obviously there hasn't been a lot of time -- just over one week -- but I certainly feel a lot better now than immediately after the last race when I was totally exhausted. I'm feeling positive about the weekend and we'll just have to see how it goes when riding starts on Thursday. My intention would be to ride without receiving any pain-killing injections because gradually they lose their effectiveness and they are not something I want to rely on -- we'll see how the feeling is when I start to ride. Assen is a track with good memories for me because I won my first GP here in 2002 and I've had quite a few podiums here too. The recent changes where they shortened the circuit have removed some of its character but it still requires a lot of commitment to ride it well -- especially through the fast direction changes where you need an agile machine set-up. The atmosphere is always special here because it's such a historic place, so I'm looking forward to getting out on track again."
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda) says: "Assen is another amazing track on the MotoGP calendar. I like it very much although it was modified two years ago, which took away some of its character. I have been very fast at Assen in the past -- even last year I was fast there but in the beginning of the race Rossi hit me and I ran off the track into the gravel. The straights are not very long and the high corners required speed suit my riding style and my bike set-up. Considering the competitiveness of my machine package and my positive results at recent races I think we can again finish in the top ten this weekend."
Alex De Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says: "I love Assen because it's so fast, as is the next track at Laguna Seca, so I'm looking forward to the next two races with optimism. I know the results this season are not as good as the same stage one year ago but the races are much closer and I truly believe that with some small steps forward with the setting of the bike we can make up a lot of positions on the guys in front of us. It is vital that we keep this in mind, stay positive and continue to work hard, because if you drop your guard in this series you can suddenly find yourself behind. I have a great record at Assen in the 250cc class but I crashed out of my first MotoGP race here last year on the opening lap so I want to make up for that with a solid performance this time around."
Toni Elias (San Carlo Honda Gresini) says: "Assen has always been my favourite circuit because it is technical, fast and flowing, although it hasn't always been kind to me. I missed the race completely in 2005 because of injury and then the year after that I crashed after just two laps of free practice and broke and dislocated my left shoulder. Then in 2007 I crashed again in free practice and broke my leg! Last year was the first time I had raced on the modified circuit and I finished twelfth, so hopefully that ended the jinx and we can look forward to a much better result this time around. We have been struggling for rear grip this season but we made some progress in the test at Barcelona after the race. It will be very interesting to see how these improvements transfer to Assen because I really feel like we deserve a top result after all the hard work the whole team has put in."
Yuki Takahashi (Scot Honda) says: "I never liked Assen too much when I was a 250 rider. But I didn't used to like Barcelona either on a 250, but I have to say that all tracks are different on a MotoGP bike, and this year I've enjoyed tracks I didn't used to like so much. My finger injury stopped me from taking part in the post-race tests at Catalunya but this is not going to affect my performance. We tried some new solutions during the race weekend, so I could express my opinion to the team, so we know what we want."
Gabor Talmacsi (Scot Honda) says: "Assen is a circuit I like very much. I'm satisfied with my performance at the GP of Catalunya, and with the job done at the test, the following Monday. Everything is new, for me. But if I continue to progress as I did, I'm confident I can do well in MotoGP. When I first tested the RC212V, I immediately realised it was something totally different from what I used to ride. Sometime I practice with a tuned CBR1000RR, but there is no comparison. I have to say that at the very beginning I was a little scared. But it's been exciting from the first moment. Having tasted a MotoGP bike, I'll never be back to 250. It's great!"
HONDA 250 RIDER QUOTES Hiroshi Aoyama (Scot Honda) says: "I like this track, but I have to admit that it is very difficult to find the way to be really quick at Assen. At least it will be cooler than it was at Catalunya where we had some overheating problems, but where we still got a great result, which makes me really confident of having another great race. We have a good potential this weekend. Then, of course, there is the weather, which is always so unpredictable at Assen".
Raffaele De Rosa (Scot Honda) says: "Last season in the 125 race at Assen I finished tenth. That's nothing special as a result, if you only look at the positions at the chequered flag. But in fact it was quite a good race for me because I finished tenth after starting from 32nd on the grid, and I set the second fastest lap. I really enjoyed that race. I think that Assen suits the Honda more than Catalunya, and with cooler weather we should not suffer the overheating issues we had at Montmelo."
Hector Faubel (Valencia CF - Honda SAG) says: "I enjoy Assen a lot. It's a fantastic track that works well for me, and I have some great memories from there, including two podiums in 125s. Last year in 250s I could only manage 11th but hopefully this time will be better, because I think the Honda should work very well there."
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT-SAG) says: "I am really looking forward to Assen because I am getting stronger and stronger after my recent injuries. I've not had great results there in the past, it is a tricky circuit, but this year I am confident I can be near the front. We have had a good rest since Mugello. During the one-week break the team visited a theme park where we had a go on a ride that accelerates to 135km/h in 3.5 seconds. My bike gets to 100 k/h in 3 seconds so the feeling of that ride was incredible!"
Shoya Tomizawa (Team CIP Honda) says: "Assen is another new racetrack for me, the tracks are always new for me this year! It's very interesting and difficult, I think, though the only thing I know about it is playing the race on my PlayStation! I think the track should suit my Honda because there aren't so many long straights and the Honda handles very well. Also, I think our engine makes good power for that kind of track."
Bastien Chesaux (Racing Team Germany Honda) says: "I'm very happy to race at Assen again. I raced there three years ago, as part of the German Championship. The track surface is crowned in the middle and all the corners are different, so it's very complex. There's no ideal line when you ride at Assen, you just have to go with your own feeling to know where you must brake and accelerate! I'm very excited to ride there again and I hope to progress quick as possible. I'm now getting more confident with the team and the bike gets faster at every race. Step by step!"