Reset, reload, GO! MotoGP™ returns to the Cathedral
The fastest motorcycle racing Championship on Earth vs one of the world’s greatest racetracks = another chapter in 90 years of history
Wednesday, 23 June 2021
Most fans of MotoGP™ would find it fairly easy to write a love letter to the TT Circuit Assen, and after a year off the calendar the Cathedral is back to gives us more history-making close racing. History is a real buzzword too as it’s the 90th TT this season and the 72nd time the event has counted towards the World Championship. Quite a record, but then it’s quite a track. Fast, flowing and with a final chicane whose reputation precedes it, Assen rarely disappoints… and maybe we’re biased, but neither does MotoGP™.
Heading in, it’s Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) still ahead of the game in the standings, and the Frenchman took a podium with a late charge in Germany. The last time MotoGP™ raced in Drenthe it was a Yamaha on the top step, too and their recent record at the track is a good one. Can Quartararo take back a little momentum? He’s the only rider to score points in every race, but he’ll want to get back on the top step.
Someone also in need of some momentum is the man who took that Yamaha win at Assen in 2019: Quartararo’s teammate Maverick Viñales. After his stunner in Qatar to open the season it’s been up ad down at times, but nowhere more down than his worst MotoGP™ finish ever last time out. Can he start to find a way back to the top? In 2019 he left Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) five seconds in the dust for that victory, and Quartararo was another five seconds back… so there’s a solid CV to fall back on.
Speaking of solid CVs… no one has a better one than Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) at the Cathedral. It may be a difficult season so far for the number 46, but Assen should or could be a venue that helps him take a step forward. With Franco Morbidelli missing the event after injuring his knee in training, there will be plenty of eyes on the other side of the garage too as American Garrett Gerloff comes in on replacement duty. The GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team rider already impressed in the premier class of Grand Prix racing in practice in Valencia last year, and now he’ll make his race debut.
Next – notwithstanding the incredible comeback win for Marc Marquez – KTM are a key recent headline stealer. 2021 started with the Austrian factory struggling to gain traction – figuratively and, at times, literally – but it’s been an incredible turnaround of late. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) is now the first KTM rider to take three podiums in a row, one of which was a win and the most recent of which saw the Portuguese rider able to push Marc Marquez at the Sachsenring. Even with this number 93 on the comeback, that’s something to write home about. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) made it two KTMs in the top four for the first time this year in Germany too, which made the Austrian factory team the top performers as a duo… and that was despite the South African never having ridden the track before in the premier class. How well can they attack Assen?
And now, Marquez. It was an incredible performance from the eight-time World Champion to get back onto the top step 581 days after last doing so, and after not only his injury struggles but also a difficult run of DNFs. One of the all-time greats – the race win and the rider – was history truly in the making. But with 11 in a row at the Sachnsenring now, can he stay with the front group at Assen? It’s certainly a bigger ask, and it was a big ask to manage what he did in Germany. But Marc Marquez is Marc Marquez…
For the other Hondas, however, the tough times continued in Germany, although the losing streak is over after Marc Marquez’ win. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) took tenth and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) 13th, but they’ll want more, as will Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) after he made it through to Q2 for the first time this year and then crashed out.
More is also something Ducati will be looking for. After some impressive speed in qualifying and then in the early stages on race day, somehow it was Francesco Bagnaia (Ducato Lenovo Team) finished the race as the top Borgo Panigale machine – after having been mired down the field early on. Polesitter Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) faded to eighth and Jack Miller was pipped to fifth by Bagnaia, so they’ll definitely be two men looking for a lot more this Sunday. For Miller the venue does hold some incredible memories though, with the Australian having taken his first premier class win at the track in that dramatic and emotional 2016 race. There are some good CVs elsewhere in the Ducati camp too, and both man and machine, for the most part, have been serious threats at the front so far in 2021 – so that seems unlikely to change based on solely the Sachsenring…
Suzuki will also be interesting to watch. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) made some quick progress in Germany after a tough qualifying but then couldn’t move much further forward, and Alex Rins remains on the comeback from injury. Last time MotoGP™ raced at Assen though, Rins was on the podium in second, which could be a good sign for the GSX-RR. Can the reigning team Champions move forward and get back to the front?
Finally, for Aprilia, it must be mixed feelings after the Sachsenring. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) took their best MotoGP™ qualifying and led the way early on Lap 1 after taking the holeshot, and they were right in the battle. But that fifth place or a place in the top five escaped in an incredibly tight fight just off the podium. Can the TT Circuit Assen deliver? Their best to date in MotoGP™ at the track is seventh, and their best ever anywhere is sixth. The field is closer than ever, but the RS-GP is better than ever…
90 years of history seems like a lot to live up to, but with the classics we’ve seen staged at Assen it’s a solid bet that we’ll get another chapter. Who will come out swinging and head into summer break on top of the world? We’ll find out in the Motul TT Assen, with the lights going out for MotoGP™ on Sunday at 14:00 (GMT +2).
MotoGP™ Championship top five:
1 Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 131
2 Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – 109
3 Jack Miller – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 100
4 Francesco Bagnaia – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 99
5 Joan Mir – Team Suzuki Ecstar – Suzuki – 85
*Independent Team rider
Advantage Gardner as Moto2™ heads for Assen
The Australian made a little history in Germany to pull clear. Can anyone strike back at the Cathedral?
Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) may have been beaten to a first win of the year by his rookie teammate Raul Fernandez, but since then the Australian has put the pedal to the metal. Now it’s three victories in a row and he’s the first Australian to do that in the intermediate class, gaining some good ground in the standings. Not only that, but his teammate crashed out in Germany – a first error of what’s nevertheless an incredibly impressive debut year – and it’s now a 36-point cushion for Gardner at the top. So will he play it safe?
Unfortunately for the rest of the field watching the number 87 enjoy a somewhat solo track day at the Sachsenring, his calling card in 2021 is already balancing risk and reward better than the rest – as well as staying just as devastatingly quick. So why would it change now? The pressure of taking a win is off, some pressure is off in the standings and he’s already made a little history. The speed the Australian has often shown before has now been paired with consistency, and it’s proving a problem for the rest of the field.
For Raul Fernandez on the other side of the garage, the pressure is on a little more after his crash – certainly in the standings. But then, as a rookie winning races, his performance remains one of the biggest standouts of the season so far in any class, and the season remains long. Can he fight back at Assen? And will we get a rerun of the incredible speed he and Gardner showed as they disappeared at the front in Germany early on?
Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46), meanwhile, remains on the hunt for more than a podium, but the Italian did do a sterling job at the Sachsenring to go from a difficult Friday to the podium on Sunday. So too did Aron Canet (Aspar Team Moto2), who took his second rostrum of the season in second on a great day for the Boscoscuro chassis, with three in the top nine for the first time. Can that form continue at Assen?
Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) will be looking for a bit more after ending up off the podium, and so too will Sam Lowes (El Marc VDS Racing Team) and his teammate Augusto Fernandez, the most recent winner at Assen in Moto2™. Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) and Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) both crashed late and will want some redemption too, and Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing) had an incident with Augusto Fernandez. To complicate their lives a little more, both Roberts and Dixon have Long Lap penalties for Assen as well… the former for crashing under yellows, the latter for the aforementioned incident. Dixon does, however, have a fair bit of experience at Assen from the BSB paddock.
There are some shoutouts from a little further down the order too: Albert Arenas (Aspar Team Moto2) was top rookie and took his best Moto2™ result yet by far, and injury replacement Alonso Lopez – then at Flexbox HP 40, this weekend back at +Ego Speed Up – equalled his European Moto2™ Championship teammate Fermin Aldeguer’s best stand in ride of P12 from Mugello. Their rivalry won’t continue at Assen as Aldeguer heads back to MotoE™, but Lopez will be gaining more track time on the Triumph back on a Boscocuro chassis.
Gardner heads the field on the way in, and he will most definitely do the same on the way out with 36 points in his pocket. But can he make it four in a row? Can Fernandez strike back? Or can those on the chase close down the Red Bull KTM Ajo duo just before we head into the summer break? Find out in the Motul TT Assen on Sunday at 12:20 (GMT +2).
Moto2™ Championship top five:
1 Remy Gardner – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 164
2 Raul Fernandez – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 128
3 Marco Bezzecchi – Sky Racing Team VR46 – Kalex – 117
4 Sam Lowes – Elf Marc VDS Racing Team – Kalex – 86
5 Fabio Di Giannantonio – Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 – Kalex – 73
Acosta vs Assen: Moto3™ takes on the Cathedral
The Championship leader was back with a bang last time out, but Assen is a different challenge…
After a stunning start to the season for rookie sensation Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo), the Spaniard then spent a few races taking home some good points but not really seeming able to challenge for the win. He brought that run to a convincing end in Germany, however, returning to the top step in style to take the momentum back from closest challenger Sergio Garcia (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team). So can he keep it rolling?
If he can, it’ll likely be through another tactical coup. The final chicane at Assen stages some amazing showdowns throughout the classes, but in Moto3™ it can shuffle the podium in one change of direction. Planning that out can be key… and Acosta said one of the things he’s learned and put into practice in Germany is that last lap battle.
Assen is also a track where many of those on Acosta’s tail have a little more experience – not that it made too much difference at the Sachsenring – but for Garcia he’s only raced there once, so he’ll be pushing to come out swinging and get reacquainted. The more veteran crew of Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3), Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing), teammate John McPhee, Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) and Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), meanwhile, will be gunning to get back nearer the front after some misadventures for most in Germany, and they do know Assen pretty well: McPhee, Migno and Fenati all have podiums at the track, and Antonelli is the only rider in the field to have qualified on pole there.
The likes of Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) and Kaito Toba (CIP Green Power) will arrive high on confidence from the podium too, and Jeremy Alcoba (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) will know he was almost there in Germany before that penalty, despite having never ridden the Sachsenring before, at all. Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) was in the front group again too. Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo), meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back although he remains up there in the standings, and Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) needs a little luck to convert his pace into points.
Four and a half kilometres of a truly classic venue, all leading up to that final chicane. What does Moto3™ have in store before summer break? We’ll find out on Sunday at 11:00 (GMT +2) as the lights go out for the Motul TT Assen.
Moto3™ Championship top five:
1 Pedro Acosta – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 145
2 Sergio Garcia – Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team – GASGAS – 90
3 Jaume Masia – Red Bull KTM Ajo – KTM – 72
4 Niccolo Antonelli – Avtintia Esponsorama Moto3 – KTM – 65
5 Romano Fenati – Sterilgarda Max Racing Team – Husqvarna – 64