TT Assen: Michelin preview

ASSEN: WHERE HISTORY MEETS 21st CENTURY MotoGP Dutch track has hosted GPs since 1949 and saw Michelin's second premier class win in 1975. The Dutch TT is the most historic event on the MotoGP calendar. Assen is the only venue to have survived...


MotoGP Dutch track has hosted GPs since 1949 and saw Michelin's second premier class win in 1975. The Dutch TT is the most historic event on the MotoGP calendar. Assen is the only venue to have survived from GP racing's inaugural 1949 season, it is the only current GP track that had its origins as a street circuit and it is the only GP event tagged a TT, rather than a GP. (TT stands for Tourist Trophy, a popular designation for motorsport events in the early 20th century.)

The Dutch TT is also a historic event for Michelin. Thirty years ago at Assen, on June 28 1975, Suzuki rider Barry Sheene scored Michelin's second premier-class success, which he followed the next year with Michelin's first premier-class World Championship. Since then Michelin has come to dominate the Dutch TT, winning all but two of the last 21 premier-class races at the track.

Last year Valentino Rossi (Gauloises Yamaha Team YZR-M1-Michelin) won the fastest-ever Dutch TT, at an average speed of 179kmh/111mph, and the reigning world champ aims for another win this June to continue his stunning start to the 2005 season. This year's Dutch TT isn't only historic for the above reasons and because it's the 75 th edition of the famous event (the first Dutch TT was held in the 1920s) but also because this will be the last MotoGP race on the current full circuit. From next year racing will take place over a shortened 4.720km/2.93 mile layout, with a significant portion of the northern loop developed into a visitor centre, amusement park, hotel and car parking area.


MotoGP's longest-serving rider Alex Barros (Honda Camel Pons RC211V-Michelin) is looking forward to reacquainting himself with MotoGP's oldest circuit. The Brazilian, who has raced at world level since 1986, won the 2000 Dutch TT and has come close to winning at Assen on several other occasions. In 1994 he was a close second to Mick Doohan (Honda NSR500- Michelin) and again in 2002, behind Valentino Rossi, always on Michelin tyres. Like many riders, Barros loves Assen's unique layout, which requires a more classic riding style, rather than the flick-it-in, fire-it-out technique employed on most modern racetracks.

"I've been fast there on all kinds of machines -- on 80s, on 250s, on 500s and in MotoGP," says Barros. "It is a very special racetrack, unique really. I don't think they should change the layout. Assen is the world's last old-style track, so I think they should preserve it, like it's a museum! "It's very technical and also quite narrow, so you need to be incredibly precise with your lines, especially since even the straights have corners in them!

"There is no such thing as a real straight at Assen, so you can never relax for a second. And many of the corners are banked, so sometimes you have positive camber, sometimes negative camber, so you have to be careful.

"You need to think carefully about your choice of tyres, but tyre choice isn't as critical as it is at, say, Sepang or Catalunya, where the tyres get used much more. If you choose well at Assen you'll easily have enough rubber to get you to the end of the race, even though you get a lot of wheelspin out of some of the corners because of the negative camber. "Front tyre choice is also very important because you never really brake in a straight line at Assen, you're always braking as you lean into turns, which is pretty hard on the front, plus you need excellent feedback from for this kind of braking. Last winter I worked very hard to develop front tyres with Michelin; I tested maybe 40 different fronts to find what I liked because I had some problems last season.

"The biggest improvement this year has been rear-tyre endurance. Last season Michelin made a big step forward with the ‘big tyre' but I think this year's advance is even greater. You get more grip but most important of all you get more longevity."


Michelin's amazing record of success at MotoGP's fastest racetrack suggests that the company's engineers know exactly what's required at Assen. Unbeaten there since 1992, Michelin also enjoy Assen because it's unique challenge and often produces sensational racing.

"Assen is one of my favourite circuits for watching bike racing," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycle competitions. "It's very fast and impressive, so maybe it's a shame that they are shortening the track at the end of this year. "From a tyre point of view Assen isn't particularly challenging. The biggest factor is probably the weather -- at Assen you never know if the weather's going to stay the same long enough for you to work out your race-tyre choice. And even if it doesn't rain, you have to be ready for any kind of temperature. When we go to Mugello or Catalunya in June we know we can expect a ground temperature of around 40 degrees, but it can be pretty cold at Assen if the sun's not out.

"When conditions are good and stable it is quite interesting, largely because it's a peculiar track, so different from all the other circuits we go to. But it's such a flowing circuit, with twists and sweepers rather than turns and corners, that riders don't spend much time on any one part of the tyres, which is why it isn't very demanding on tyres, as far as wear is concerned. It's the fastest circuit we go to all year but we run don't run particularly hard tyres at Assen. "The grip level is quite good in both dry and wet conditions. In fact Assen's wet-weather grip is very good compared to other tracks, largely because the surface is crowned like a public road, so it drains very well."


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Series MotoGP
Drivers Valentino Rossi , Alex Barros