Alex Hofmann: Assen Round Up

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Very wet weather was predicted for the Dutch TT in Assen, and the forecasters were absolutely right: it tipped down all weekend, from Thursday to Saturday. Yes, that’s right: race day was Saturday, as has become traditional for this round, a bit like F1 sticks to Thursday practice sessions for the Monaco Grand Prix in Monaco when all others run Friday-Sunday schedules.

But, I’m not complaining about Assen’s schedule as holding the race on Saturday meant I managed to split the weekend between my two jobs, within the same weekend: commentating MotoGP and racing a BMW Z4 in long-distance racing. After the race I drove across to the Nürburgring for the 24 Hour Race on the challenging Nordschleife.

I shuttled back and forth between the two events all weekend, qualifying on Thursday, heading back to Holland for MotoGP’s Friday qualifying and today’s race, then drove the 400 kilometres back to Germany again. In fact, this is being authored from the garage between stints…

However, enough of my exploits, and back to MotoGP: The TT ended in fourth and fifth places for PUMA’s partner team Ducati, with Valentino Rossi leading team-mate Nicky Hayden across the line for Ducati’s second double top five placing this season.

Valentino had what I guess is best described as half a new bike. With the rules changing to 1000cc engines for 2012 - up from 800cc - the team has been really clever by ensuring the mountings for both engines are the same. So Ducati has developed a new chassis for next year, which also accommodates this year’s engine.

It’s no secret that the GP11 chassis had traction issues, so for this race they took the GP12 chassis and mated it to the current engine, calling it the GP11.1. They must have found something because Valentino looked a lot happier, which not only bodes well for the remaining 11 rounds of this year, but especially for 2012.

He was fastest in warm-up and seemed a fair bit happier than with the old chassis, but there still seems to be work ahead because his fourth place, from 11th on the grid, was as much due to a mixture of undisputed talent and a better, but not yet perfect bike as there were numerous crashes ahead of him.

Nicky had a steady race to fifth. Due to MotoGP’s engine rotation regulations he’ll only receive his GP11.1 later, but the race proved he has lost none of his skill, particularly when wet. In fact, it’s fair to say that in the rain Ducati has one of the strongest, if not the strongest, rider pairings around.

It really was a tough race for everyone because it was difficult to get heat into the tyres, particularly as conditions changed all weekend. On Thursday a Moto2 rider suffered an engine failure, dropping oil on a particularly fast part of the track. It caused them to cancel practice, and although they cleaned it up I think some oil stayed on the track, making the wet track even more slippery.

The 28-lap grand prix started spectacularly: Marco Simoncelli took out reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo in Turn 4 on the opening lap. Although both rejoined to finish down the order, the incident let American Ben Spies through to take a lead he held to the flag. The win marked his first MotoGP win, and makes him the first ‘new’ winner since Andrea Dovizioso won a wet 2009 British Grand Prix.

Championship leader Casey Stoner, who won the title for Ducati in 2007, rode a steady race to take second and consolidate his lead at the top of the standings, and the gap between the Honda rider and Yamaha’s Lorenzo is now 28 after seven races.

The good news for Ducati is this weekend we race at Mugello, which is not only on the team’s (and Valentino’s) home turf, but is also the main test track for Ducati. Things can only get even better.

Now it’s back to my BMW and the Nürburgring…