Assen: Michelin preview

Hodgson ready for world title It would take a miracle for anyone to beat Neil Hodgson (Ducati Fila-Michelin) to the 2003 World Superbike title. "I'm looking forward to Assen to take that title," admits the Brit, who has 386 points and leads ...

Hodgson ready for world title

It would take a miracle for anyone to beat Neil Hodgson (Ducati Fila-Michelin) to the 2003 World Superbike title. "I'm looking forward to Assen to take that title," admits the Brit, who has 386 points and leads team-mate Ruben Xaus (Ducati Fila-Michelin) b y 140 points. With six races and a maximum of 150 points left, Hodgson is close to clinching a world title that, whatever happens, will go to Michelin. Mathematics dictate that Hodgson and Xaus are the only possible champions now. Third in the championship , James Toseland (HM Plant Ducati) has 227 points and can no longer threaten Hodgson.

If he does become this year's Superbike king, Hodgson's future may lie elsewhere. "Getting into MotoGP is not a lifetime ambition because I've already been there," says Hodgson, who rode a privately entered Yamaha in the 1995/96 World 500ccchampionships. " The biggest difference is that the bikes now look more user friendly to me and you don't see many people highside any more. They have an awesome amount of power but you can actually ride them. It's less corner speed and morepoint-and-squirt because they ha ve so much power."

England's last World Champion, Superbike legend Carl Fogarty, is having a difficult first season as Foggy Petronas team owner. "Things are not going well for us at the moment but I am convinced that we will be able to turn our fortunes around next season," he says. Petronas team manager Nigel Bosworth is optimistic that the final rounds will help the team better prepare for 2004. "We can salvage something from the season," he argues. "The reasons for the mechanical failures have been investigated and addres sed before the final three rounds of our development season."

Since the start of the world Superbike championship in 1988, Michelin riders have won 262 races out of 381 and taken 11 out of 15 world titles. Michelin won 25 races out of 26 in 2002 and 14 out of 18 this year.

Assen and tyres

"It's a very interesting track which I would love if I was a rider," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin motorcycle competition chief. "It's very fast and has great flowing corners. It often rains there but grip levels are very high even when it does rain. Aver age lap speeds are very high at Assen but this doesn't create any special problems for us with tyres."

Circuit Van Drenthe is 2 km away from Assen and 110 km northeast of Amsterdam. Because England is but a short drive away, British fans flock to the circuit each year. The first Dutch TT was held in 1925 and racing has never stopped at the Dutch "cathedral" , except during the two world wars. The current track is mainly used for motorcycle racing, with only a handful of car races organised there each year.

"This track had good grip and good drainage," explains Michelin Superbike Manager Jean Hérissé. "That makes it a great track when it rains because it doesn't "hold" water. Assen is a fast and flowing circuit. That and frequent rain does makes tyre choice d ifficult."

"This is a real rider's track," smiles Hérissé. "The layout requires inch-perfect lines and that's why riders often take longer to adapt to Assen than other tracks."

"Races are often won or lost in the last chicane at Assen. Those willing to be brave on the brakes are hard to beat there but it takes great skill and balance to avoid running off the track and crashing or hitting another rider."

One of Assen's trademarks is the camber. The track used to be a public road and it's still crowned in the middle. Therefore the racing line takes riders through several camber changes as they go from one side of the track to the other. Grip can vary greatl y and excellent control is required to master Assen. However a new circuit is currently being built and the track will loose its world famous camber.

There aren't many other circuits offering the levels of grip that Assen has. Especially in the wet. In the dry, grip can seem limitless at Assen and those riders who prefer to slide the bike can find Assen difficult because of this.

Assen requires a very smooth riding style. The smallest mistake can wreck a whole lap as the rider struggles to make up the time lost on those ultra-quick turns. On a Superbike, it's hard to keep the front wheel on the ground and that only means more probl ems for riders each time they exit a corner and get on the gas.

The last right-left flick before the final chicane is one of the most difficult sections of the track. Riders are going so fast there that they find it very difficult to push the bike into making the change of direction from right to left, especially when it's windy.

Michelin and Assen

Michelin brings a total of 600 tyres (400 rears and 200 fronts), wet and dry, for this race. Sizes are 19/67-420 (16, 5 inch) for rear slicks, rain tyres and intermediates. Front tyre sizes are 12/60-420 (16, 5 inch) tyres. Michelin's on- site personnel includes one team manager and two tyre fitters.

-michelin-

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