100, not out

Netherlands MotoGP, Assen, 27th June 2009
Words by Simon Bradley, pics as credited

Assen is an historical circuit in so many ways. One of the originals, the greats, although it's been cut down rather in recent years it still offers brilliant racing and a fantastic atmosphere. It's not uncommon for the weather to pay a part in proceedings, either, with wild and radical changes frequently taking place in the course of the afternoon. But this year the elements were kind. The sun shone, the wind was calm and the stage was set for a real battle. Going in, the top three in the championship were tied - something that has never happened in the history of MotoGP, or even 500s before. After the robust passes of Catalunya, Jorge Lorenzo had a point to prove and was out for revenge. In a friendly, team-mates sort of way, of course. Casey Stoner, too, has something to prove after a rather hit and miss season so far. While Valentino Rossi needs to maintain the momentum he has achieved to get his championship challenge back on track after some disasters. So everything to work for, then, on a circuit that has traditionally turned up more than a few surprises.

Practice started off raising eyebrows as Randy de Puniet scorched around to take the honours in the first session. Though it was Lorenzo and Rossi who spent the rest of the time swapping honours up at the top. Stoner, again, was having the regular battle with the increasingly belligerent Ducati, fighting it down the straights, into corners, through corners and back out onto the straights again. That bike has a real attitude problem... Nicky Hayden seems to be getting slightly more to grips with it, though, as he managed to get himself somewhere vaguely respectable before qualifying started.

Qualifying. Ah yes. A straight fight between a class of two, to be honest, with the rest simply going for the other place on the front row. The surprise was that, despite Lorenzo and Rossi being apparently a class apart, they were split when the dust settled by Dani Pedrosa. Stoner took the first slot on the second row, next to Colin Edwards and Loris Capirossi. Less than a second split the Suzuki rider from pole sitter Rossi - we were on for a tight race. The next row was headed by Chris Vermeulen with Dovizioso and Toseland next to him, and the top ten was rounded out by de Puniet, who failed to capitalise on his earlier good form.

As we say with monotonous regularity, though, qualifying isn't the race. All it does is decide how hard you have to work the next day. And the next day, which was warm and dry, saw some people work very hard indeed. Dani Pedrosa made full use of his diminutive stature and front row position to nail the holeshot and take a commanding lead straight away. Rossi and Stoner slotted in behind him, while Lorenzo was prsumably tuning his stereo or painting his nails or something as he shot backwards to seventh by turn one in what may well qualify as the worst start of the season. Vermeulen and Edwards both started strongly, looking as though they could challenge for positions further up, and a little behind a race long battle was already starting as Toseland started to make progress, towing some and leaving some. Up at the front, though, before half a lap was complete Stoner had elbowed his way to the front with Rossi in hot pursuit and Pedrosa seemingly unable to respond. Lap two saw Rossi breeze past Stoner to take the lead. The Italian then put his head down and gave us a masterclass in exceptional riding. The great thing about Rossi is that when he tries hard he actually looks as though he's trying hard. And that's entertaining to watch. Unless you're behind him, of course, at which point it is probably quite disheartening because you'll be almost certain that you're going to stay behind him...

Further back, Lorenzo was making up for his appalling start with a staggering display or raw aggression and talent. By the third lap he had clawed, kicked and generally bullied his way up to fourth behind Pedrosa, and on lap four he outbraked his rival and stepped up to take the final podium step. Pedrosa's day continued to go downhill as, on the next lap, he lost the front under slightly strange circumstances. In other words, he didn't appear to do anything wrong, the front just tucked and down he went. At least he didn't hurt himself, but it was interesting to note that a few laps later Dovizioso did exactly the same thing on the same corner - both Repsol Hondas out of contention. Up at the front, Lorenzo closed down and passed Stoner and the ill mannered Ducati, setting off after his team-mate in no uncertain style. The pundits were convinced that we were going to havea repeat performnace of Catalunya, that Rossi and Lorenzo were going to be locked in a do or die battle up to the line. The pundits were wrong. Lorenzo closed to within a second and a half of Rossi before the Italian simply opened the taps again and extended a yawning lead, taking over a quarter of a second from his team mate each lap until he established a comfortable four second cushion. And that's where he stayed until the chequered flag, notching up his hundredth victory in emphatic style. That Lorenzo could have taken a race to him had he started better is beyond question. But Rossi was so much faster at the end of the race that the result could never have been in doubt.

Stoner rode to a lonely third while Colin Edwards, who had made threatening noises earlier in the race was a safe but distant fourth. The real excitement came behind fifth placed Chris Vermeulen, as Toseland, Capirossi, de Puniet, Elias (until he crashed), Kallio (crashed out on the very last corner) and Hayden all vied for sixth place. Positions changed regularly and there was never more than a few fractions of a second between the riders but in the last corner melee it was Toseland who prevailed with de Puniet and Hayden getting the better of Capirossi by a whisker.

So now Rossi is back in the lead as the circus crosses the pond to Laguna Seca. And we know what happened there last year - Lorenzo went into orbit and Stoner's title challenge was broken in the unforgiving and surprisingly deep Californian gravel traps. There are even more points to prove this time...


Assen MotoGP Results

1. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
2. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
3. Casey Stoner (Ducati)
4. Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
5. Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki)
6. James Toseland (Yamaha)
7. Randy de Puniet (Honda)
8. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
9. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki)
10. Andrea de Angelis (Honda)

MotoGP standings (after seven rounds)

1. Valentino Rossi 131
2. Jorgo Lorenzo 126
3. Casey Stoner 122
4. Andrea Dovizioso 69
5. Dani Pedrosa 67
6. Colin Edwards 67
7. Loris Capirossi 56
8. Marco Melandri 55
9. Chris Vermeulen 53
10.Randy de Puniet 51

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