Dry races at Assen are some of the best races we have the privilege to watch, but they are too far in between due to local weather. Wishing for a stronger American performance, morning warm-up gave us hope as Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden were...
Dry races at Assen are some of the best races we have the privilege to watch, but they are too far in between due to local weather. Wishing for a stronger American performance, morning warm-up gave us hope as Colin Edwards and Nicky Hayden were both within a second of Rossi's fastest warm-up time of 2:00.003. However, both riders would still need to overcome their weak qualifying, as they would be starting from fifth and sixth row respectively.
As the first lap of the race got underway, it was Carlos Checa that led into the first corner; quickly thereafter however, Sete Gibernau took over the lead, followed by Rossi, Checa, Alex Barros and Max Biaggi.
After having a terrible time in qualifying, Edwards went to work on Shinya Nakano. The American out-braked the Japanese going into turn one on lap two. But Edwards was not the only American fighting his way to the front. Hayden took two spots to put himself in 14th place. Barros is under a lot of pressure from HRC and he knows he needs to show he can still fight for the lead. And fighting he did, as he out-braked Checa going into the last chicane, delegating the Spaniard to fourth.
With three laps on the books, Barros went in search of his next victim, Valentino Rossi. But a bit further back, Italians Marco Melandri and Biaggi were locked in a fight for fifth, as they exchanged fifth place several times; Biaggi eventually keeping his fifth spot. To make things even more interesting, Ruben Xaus, the leading Ducati, began to apply pressure on Melandri.
Up in the front, the pace was so high that lap records were not going to hold on for long. Rossi took the honors of the first record-breaking lap, a time of 2:00.255; but many more were on their way.
The American attack continued, as Edwards got past John Hopkins for 9th, behind Loris Capirossi, and Hayden got past Nakano for 11th.
15 laps to go and the lap record was broken for the second time. This time Barros took the honors with a time of 2:00.178, on his way to catching Rossi. As it is the norm in MotoGP, groups began to form. Sete, Rossi and Barros led the first group. Checa followed in a lonely fourth place and Biaggi, Melandri and Xaus continued their scrap for fifth place in the third group.
As mentioned, lap records were going to fall, but how low nobody knew. Biaggi volunteered to give us a glimpse into what could be by becoming the first man to ever lap the circuit under the two minute mark, his time 1:59.983
Hayden continued on this war path for race position and Edwards was his victim as he got past for 9th place. Next on Hayden's sight was Capirossi. The lap record was broken once again, this time by Rossi, 26 hundredths of a second faster than Biaggi.
Assen is a rider's circuit, but even here, you could see the power advantage of the Honda and the agility of the Yamaha. Barros knew this and with 10 laps to go, he went past Rossi on the front straight as if he was standing still. Checa who had been holding onto fourth place, lost it, as Melandri and Biaggi got past the Spaniard. Going into the last chicane, Rossi demonstrated the agility of the Yamaha by out-braking the last of the late-breakers, Barros. Barros quickly counter attacked on the front straight re-passing Rossi for second place.
Sadly for Barros, his stay didn't last long as the Brazilian high-sided himself out of the race going into turn one. As Barros came to a halt, his pain could be felt through the television; he was devastated as he laid face down in disbelief. Barros's crash meant Melandri was no longer in fourth, but now third. This set the Italian on fire as he began his charge for the two leaders.
Did I mention the lap record would crumble? For the third time in the race, Rossi broke the lap record again. On lap 11 of the race, Rossi lapped the Assen circuit with a time of 1:59.870. But this did not stop Melandri's charge, as he cut a full second off the leading pack. Soon after however, Melandri lost all his hard work as the Italian ran off going into the last chicane. While he maintained his third position in the race, his charge for the leader was not to be.
Melandri's problems did not end after he recovered from his off-road excursion. His mistake allowed Biaggi to catch up to him, and in the process he brought along fifth place Checa, Xaus, Hayden, Edwards and Capirossi.
By lap 13 of 19, the front two spots were already decided. Gibernau and Rossi would take the top two spots, but their order was still to be decided. Lap 13 would see Hayden take over fifth from Checa, making Hayden's efforts simply astonishing, since he started from 16th place on the grid. Checa's luck continued to decline, as he lost 6th spot to Xaus, and 7th to Edwards. Edwards could not be satisfied with 7th, and his victim was Xaus for 6th.
With only three laps to go, Gibernau took his turn at breaking the lap record by setting a time of 1:59.782
On the penultimate lap, the battle for third heated up, with Melandri and Biaggi scrapping it out, which in turn allowed Hayden to close in within sight of the two. Up front, Rossi broke the lap record (do I sound like a recorder?) once more. This time Rossi broke it by 1.5 seconds (1:59.472). But Gibernau was not standing around, as the Catalan set a time of 1:59.473, one thousandths of a second slower than Rossi.
Rossi is not a 5-time world champion for nothing. His experienced and talent showed today. With half a lap to go, Rossi made daring move, going on the inside of Gibernau into a left-hander. Rossi's move pushed him wide, and allowed Sete to retake the inside line; but the next corner was a right-hand turn, which placed Rossi in perfect position to defend the inside. Gibernau did not give up, and the Catalan tried to close the door on Rossi, only to have his front fender make contact with Rossi's rear tire which would seal Gibernau's place in the race.
Third place went to Marco Melandri, followed by Biaggi, Hayden, Edwards, Xaus and Capirossi. Melandri's achievement cannot be overstated, as the Italian had arm-pump surgery last Monday, less than a week ago.
Rossi's win not only gave Yamaha their first at the circuit since 1986, but also elevated the reigning world champion to championship leader, a spot Gibernau held for the first five races.
After the race, and during the trophy presentation and post-race press conference, Gibernau looked beat, both physically and psychologically. The MotoGP championship moves to Brazil in a week. Rossi's record there is nothing less than excellent, as he's won there every time he's been there on a 500cc or MotoGP bike.
MotoGP race results:
1. Valentino Rossi, Yamaha, 19 Laps, 38:11.831
2. Sete Gibernau, Honda, -0.456 Seconds
3. Marco Melandri, Yamaha, -9.909 Seconds
4. Max Biaggi, Honda, -10.183 Seconds
5. Nicky Hayden, Honda, -10.300 Seconds
6. Colin Edwards, Honda, -10.801 Seconds
7. Ruben Xaus, Ducati, -13.705 Seconds
8. Loris Capirossi, Ducati, -14.091 Seconds
9. Carlos Checa, Yamaha, -15.159 Seconds
10. Neil Hodgson, Ducati, -34.066 Seconds
11. Norick Abe, Yamaha, -34.414 Seconds
12. Makoto Tamada, Honda, -39.186 Seconds
13. Alex Hofmann, Kawasaki, -41.506 Seconds
14. John Hopkins, Suzuki, -54.569 Seconds
15. Jeremy Mcwilliams, Aprilia, -64.761 Seconds
16. Kenny Roberts, Suzuki, -82.266 Seconds
17. Chris Burns, Harris Wcm, -120.469 Seconds
18. Troy Bayliss, Ducati, -2 Laps, Dnf, Mechanical
19. Alex Barros, Honda, -9 Laps, Dnf, Crash
20. Shane Byrne, Aprilia, -11 Laps, Dnf, Mechanical
21. Shinya Nakano, Kawasaki, -12 Laps, Dnf, Mechanical
22. Nobuatsu Aoki, Proton, -12 Laps, Dnf, Mechanical
23. Kurtis Roberts, Proton, -14 Laps, Dnf, Mechanical
24. Michel Fabrizio, Harris Wcm, -15 Laps, Dnf, Crash