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The reason this is so late is because it was too frikkin’ long to write.
TT Circuit Assen, The Cathedral of Speed
It’s fitting that the TT Circuit Assen carries it’s revered nickname of the Cathedral of Speed, because the original 28.57km Assen circuit, built in 1925, started & finished at a local church, and the legend goes, according to former race secretary Egbert Braakman, the local council didn’t want people missing out on their Sunday service, as the local roads were all closed when the race was held, so it was moved to Saturday upon request.
Ultimately when the race became a success, the Saturday tradition stuck, and it became unique for the greatest race on the MotoGP calendar to be held on the last Saturday in June until 2015, when it was finally brought into line with every other weekend of the World Championship and the race held on the Sunday.
Of course, the first Sunday race at Assen in 2016 wound up being Jack Miller’s win from 18th, the first time a non-factory bike had won a race in a decade!
Journey of the Jackass 2021, Chapter 9: Fabio kicks everyone’s Assen
The events of 2020 meant that for the first time in the 73-year history of World Championship road racing, the Dutch TT at Assen had been left off the calendar, a streak that had helped build the legendary status of the race, but thankfully the Cathedral of Speed returned for 2021, complete with fans lighting flares in the grandstands, a super way to go into the summer break.
Starting off this week – the Aramco sponsored Team VR46 will indeed be racing Ducatis when they enter the series in 2022, replacing Esponsorama Racing, although it’s still unknown if Valentino Rossi will ride for his own team (If he rides at all), while Flex-Box will sponsor Gresini Racing when they switch to the Bologna Bullets next season.
On the rider front, there was a big change at Yamaha, with Franco Morbidelli’s troublesome left knee playing up during a training incident, requiring surgery on his meniscus and ACL, with a rehab period that will put him out of not only the Dutch TT, but until the British Grand Prix at the end of August at the earliest.
Still, Frankie’s luck might be about to turn big time, based on the events at Yamaha after the race, which you’ll see below.
Frankie’s absence meant the American Garrett Gerloff, who almost made his debut at Valencia last season, was called up to partner Valentino Rossi at Petronas Yamaha, becoming the first American rider in MotoGP since 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden made his one off comeback for Repsol Honda at Australia in 2016, and not even half a year later, we were sadly deprived of the Kentucky Kid after he was hit by a car on a bike ride in Italy.
Of all the tracks to make your debut at, Assen would be right up there for most difficult…. just ask Wayne Gardner.
One final talking point for the weekend – MotoGP Hall of Famer and current KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa might be making a comeback at Misano this season as a wildcard rider for the factory KTM team, and if it does happen, it’ll be weird seeing Dani making a comeback after he retired in 2018, but it’ll be even weirder seeing him on the grid riding something other than a Repsol Honda.
Practice & Qualifying
The biggest moment of Combined Practice, aside from Fabio Quartararo giving Garrett Gerloff a welcome to MotoGP, was easily Marc Marquez somehow surviving the latest attempted murder by the RC213V during the rain affected FP2, and I imagine Marc’s sore shoulder got one hell of a workout after he returned from his visit to the stratosphere.
Combined Practice would prove a big indicator as to which way the race was going to go, because the factory Yamahas of Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Vinales cleaned everyone out in the dry running, with the Espargaro brothers best of the rest from the Suzukis of Joan Mir and Alex Rins, Takaaki Nakagami, Miguel Oliveira, Valentino Rossi got himself directly into Q2, and Ducati’s historical struggles at Assen continued when Jack Miller wound up being the only Duke to go directly into Q2, forcing Johann Zarco into Q1 for the first time all season alongside Pecco Bagnaia, Marc Marquez and Brad Binder, who had finished 4th in Germany barely a week earlier.
Another creature joining the Q1 runners was a Eurasian Oystercatcher that had decided to use the Turn 2 gravel trap as a nest to ley her eggs, and to set up camp and watch the race, and I’m happy to write nobody binned it there and killed them all.
That’s some vintage MotoGP TV direction for you – Come for the bikes, stay for the Attenborough documentary.
The end of Q1 went off after Marc Marquez crashed out at Turn 9 and was left to start 20th, his worst-ever MotoGP starting position, Brad Binder was dumped to 21st, and it looked like Iker Lecuona was going to surprise everyone and join Bagnaia in Q2 after Jorge Martin ruined his final sector, and Johann Zarco looked like he wasn’t going to get another lap in after rolling out at Turn 1 with 1:40 to go in the session, while he was down in 17th!
As it turned out, Zarco got across the line with seconds to go, and saved his weekend with the fastest lap of the session to make it into Q2, while it shouldn’t be surprising that Gerloff started last, but in a sign of gradual improvement, it was his fastest lap of the weekend, and he was only 2 tenths off Binder.
Ultimately, the second session belonged to the Yamahas, as Quartararo became the first rider to ever set a sub 92-second lap at Assen with a 1.31.992, breaking his own lap record from 2019, but a week after the Mr Hyde side of Vinales had him starting last at the Sachsenring, Dr Jeckyll showed up with 3 minutes to go and pulled off the ultimate turnaround, besting Quartararo with a 1.31.814 to take pole position, and it should be pointed out Quartararo improved on his original 1.31.992 to set a personal best 1.31.885, only 0.071s off his teammate.
The Yamahas were the only riders to breach the 92 second barrier, with Bagnaia coming through Q1 to fill out the front row as Ducati were probably in damage limitation already, Taka started 4th as the lead Honda, Zarco started 5th, Miguel Oliveira was the best positioned KTM as he searched for four consecutive podiums, Alex Rins the best Suzuki in 7th, Jack Miller started 8th, Aleix Espargaro started 9th, Joan Mir 10th, Pol Espargaro 11th, and Valentino Rossi 12th.
An area of discussion after the session came from our titular protagonist, who was angry with the “Bullshit double standards” of riders (Specifically Jorge Martin) who ride irresponsibly as they deliberately look for a tow, given some of them have happily criticised Moto3 riders for doing the same, a comment that also came a few hours after the carnage of Moto3’s FP3 session, in which Pedro Acosta was run over and suffered an upper back injury.
It’s already happened several times this year, but the problem is Race Direction won’t react to the problem until someone gets smacked from behind looking for a tow and ends up lying face down on the track.
Race (26 Laps)
Pretty much all of the grid went for the same Michelin tyre combination of a Medium front & Hard rear, with the only rear tyre exceptions being both Marquez brothers on a Soft rear, given they needed to make up places very quickly from the rear, while Aleix Espargaro and Taka Nakagami went for the Medium front/Medium rear, just to be different.
As the flares went off and the lights went out, Vinales had his nose cut off by Quartararo and had to drop to 4th behind his teammate, Bagnaia and Nakagami joined the Frenchman, Rins and Miller made up 2 places apiece, Oliveira fell to 9th, as Marc Marquez shot up to 13th by the time the riders left the 1st Sector!
Baganaia eventually tried a move on Quartararo at Turn 8 and almost brought them both down, which invited Nakagami to take a look, but Pecco stuck at it and took the early lead after Quartararo went wide at Turn 9!
By the end of the opening lap, Rossi had plummeted 9 places down to 21st, while Marquez had made up 9 places to sit 11th in an Espargaro sandwich, and we shouldn’t be surprised at Marc’s charge, given he won on his Moto2 farewell in 2012 from 33rd on the grid.
On Lap 2, Zarco made a move at Turn 10 on Rins, forcing the Suzuki out wide and dropping Rins down to last, although Race Direction ultimately deemed the incident as nothing untoward from Zarco:
Quartararo’s first move for the lead came on Lap 3 at the Geert Timmer Chicane after he used the Yamaha’s stability to rifle the Ducati through Sector 3, but Baganaia got a much better exit out of the chicane and was able to reclaim the lead down the pit straight with the straight line speed advantage, a process that would continue for a few laps while Pecco was able to stick close enough to Fabio’s rear wheel.
Bagnaia on the Ducati could be best described as the cork in the bottle, because when, not if Fabio passed him, it was absolutely game over for the entire field.
Mir was looking racy once again and passed Miller in a move that forced the Aussie slightly wide, allowing Oliveira into 7th in the process.
After a few more attempts at taking the lead, only to be foiled by Pecco, Quartararo was into the lead on Lap 6 after the Italian went wide out of Turn 11, allowing the Yamaha through into the fast Turn 12, and just to show that the bottle was now uncorked, Quartararo in clear air was instantly half a second faster than anyone on track, and setting new lap records in the process.
Valentino Rossi’s once promising weekend ended in more disappointment, when became the first retirement of the race following a fall at Turn 7 on Lap 8, and who knows if this was the last time Vale will ride at the Cathedral of Speed.
Quartararo was the only rider able to break the 1m32s lap times, while Nakagami and Vinales were on the rear of Bagnaia, which allowed Quartararo to build up a 2 second lead by the end of Lap 9, and Nakagami passed Bagnaia right as Pecco got his first track limits warning, but in a carbon copy of his earlier defence against Quartararo, the Italian rocketed out of the Timmer Chicane and maintained 2nd place.
Ultimately, Pecco’s heroic defence came to an end when Race Control issued him with a Long Lap Penalty on Lap 14 for continually exceeding track limits, and right as the notice came up on the graphics, Vinales passed Nakagami for 3rd, and Zarco punished Taka by taking 4th, which effectively became 3rd with Pecco’s penalty incoming, and just like that the Taka Maiden Podium promise came to an end.
So after that, the factory Yamaha 1-2 was restored, albeit in reverse grid order, but Vinales did have to race with a track limits warning of his own.
Bagnaia served his penalty on Lap 15, rejoining in 9th place, and barely 30 seconds later, Ducati’s afternoon became that little bit crappier when Miller, who had just inherited 7th, suffered what he described as a “Nothing first gear crash” at Turn 5, but Jack was able to rejoin in last on the track, only to later receive the mechanical black flag after oil pumped into the overflow while the bike was on it’s side, which led it to belching smoke as it burned off said oil, and after a check to see if any fluid was leaking, the Corse decided to retire the bike on Lap 18 given points weren’t a realistic chance.
That’s probably a hammer blow for Jack’s title hopes, given he’s now effectively 2 race wins + another Top 10 finish off Quartararo.
Jorge Martin also retired due to an arm pump issue, right as Mir and Oliveira passed Nakagami, who ran wide at Turn 1, and from once looking like a podium chance, the Japanese rider was going to be lucky to maintain a Top 10 spot.
Now in clear air, polesitter Vinales began showing what he could do, cutting Quartararo’s lead down from 4.2 seconds to 3.3 seconds on Lap 18 alone, while Mir and Zarco swapped the final podium place thanks to a slick move by the Suzuki rider at Turn 5.
Bagnaia had worked his way back up to 6th after his penalty, Marc Marquez now found himself in 7th after passing Aleix and Taka, while Iker Lecuona was on a good 11th place until he fell at the Geert Timmer chicane to end Lap 19, with the KTM still stricken on the track as bikes flew past, but luckily nobody hit it and it was removed by track marshals by the time the leaders came around.
With Vinales not giving up the fight and cutting the lead below 3 seconds with 5 laps to go, Quartararo responded and pretty much maintained the gap at 2.5 seconds for a few more laps, ending any chance Vinales had of threatening a last lap challenge, and I imagine if Top Gun had gotten a bit close for comfort, Fabio would’ve had him covered.
In the meantime, Zarco wasn’t totally beaten by Mir challenging for 3rd, with Oliveira watching on and waiting to pounce in 5th, Bagnaia, Marc and Aleix had a strong fight, but ultimately nobody changed positions, and come the chequered flag on Lap 26, ‘El Diablo’ made it 4 wins from 9 races in 2021 in a Monster Yamaha 1-2!
Apparently Fabio is trying his hand at golf before the paddock goes on a summer holiday, so he celebrated by going for a drive…..
He should probably stick to his day job.
Joan Mir took his third podium of 2021, Zarco was right behind in another consistent performance as the lead Ducati, Oliveira didn’t finish on the podium but a Top 5 will do, Pecco recovered to 6th, Marquez was the performance of the race by going from 20th to 7th, Aleix Espargaro took another Top 10 for Aprilia with 8th, Nakagami was 9th after a good early showing, Pol Espargaro completed the Top 10, while Alex Rins was left to rue the Zarco incident, because he had the pace to match the Top 4 at the end of the race and recovered to 11th!
Of course, having finally returned to the podium for the first time since Qatar, Yamaha and Top Gun celebrated in the best way possible…
By announcing he was splitting with the factory team a year early, with the most likely destination being the new Aprilia factory team.
A Maverick in more than just name.
So Quartararo goes into the summer break on a lazy 156 points, a 34 point lead over Johann Zarco, with Pecco Bagnaia now 3rd on 109 points, Joan Mir goes into 4th on 101, and Jack Miller is the final rider to crack the ton thus far, sitting on an even 100.
Who knows what’ll happen when they come back in a month, but for now, it’s on to Moto2.
Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster
Last weekend at the Sachsenring Remy Gardner pushed his Moto2 title lead out to 36 points thanks to his third consecutive win + the crash to teammate Raul Fernandez, and a win at the Cathedral of Speed would make Gardner the first Australian to win four consecutive races since Mick Doohan in 1998.
However, the rookie Fernandez, who could very well be paired with Remy again on a Tech3 KTM in 2022 instead of sticking to Moto2, responded in fine style and took pole position with a time of 1.36.356, missing out on breaking Johann Zarco’s 2015 lap record (1.36.346) by 0.010s, as it proved to be the same familiar story of the Red Bull KTM Ajo Kalex bikes looking a class above the rest, with Gardner right alongside his teammate on the front row.
Remy actually briefly held pole with his best time of the session, before Fernandez fired in the lap of the weekend with just over a minute to go to take pole by a healthy 0.186s.
Sam Lowes started 3rd after teammate Augusto Fernandez had his final lap deleted that would’ve had the Spaniard on the front row, instead he would start in 8th, Aron Canet was the best non-Kalex in 4th on the Aspar Boscoscuro, and some noteworthy starting positions included Lorenzo Dalla Porta in 9th after his many struggles in Moto2, Fabio Di Giannantonio was only 15th, Marco Bezzecchi is 3rd in the World Championship, but had to start 17th after having his final laps deleted for track limits, which resulted in him being outqualified by teammate Celestino Vietti, while Joe Roberts, who was due to serve a long lap penalty, and Xavi Vierge, didn’t even get out of Q1!
One other note: Flexbox HP40 Pons rider Hector Garzo, who missed Germany due to injury, withdrew from the weekend after testing positive to the Coronavirus.
Race (24 Laps)
At the start, Canet got the best of the jumps and wound up splitting the KTM bikes after going slightly deep and forcing Raul Fernandez wide, allowing Gardner into 2nd place, while there were two major incidents on the opening lap, the first being when Dalla Porta highsided out of the exit of Turn 5, but escaped unharmed:
The other was when ‘Tiger’ Tony Arbolino went in to Turn 7 way too hot, and had to let go of the bike in the gravel trap and watch as it barrel rolled into and off the barriers.
Finishing off the tumultuous lap, Lowes forced his way into 2nd ahead of Gardner, then he picked off Canet at the Timmer Chicance to take the lead over the line!
It didn’t last long, because Canet and Gardner got him back, while Ai Ogura picked off both unrelated Fernandez riders with a superb move at Turn 5 to move up to 4th, before Raul made another mistake after going wide at Turn 7, dropping the polesitter down to 9th!
Gardner went into the lead halfway into Lap 2, Lowes followed him into 2nd, while local hero Bo Bendnsyder was given a Double Long Lap penalty for jumping the start, ruining his afternoon, and Joe Roberts didn’t even get to serve his penalty from Germany, falling at Turn 9 on Lap 3, although he did rejoin out of the points and eventually retired on Lap 8.
Augusto Fernandez cost himself a front row start, but he was making up for it on track by forcing his way into 3rd over Canet and Ogura, and Raul Fernandez began his counterattack, picking off Vierge and Di Giannantonio, Schrotter to go into 6th.
Lowes was looking at attacking Gardner after posting a new race lap record, and the British veteran made a lunge at Gardner at the Timmer Chicane on Lap 5, but he went in a bit deep, Gardner tried hitting him back with a criss cross onto the straight, but it almost ended with them forcing each other off the track, and the end result was Augusto Fernandez TOOK THE LEAD!
In an ideal world, which we don’t live in, Gardner probably would’ve stuck to his recent strategies and just let Lowes and Augusto Fernandez play the pacemaker roles while he saved his tyres, but he never had that choice on Sunday with Raul now behind him.
Raul Fernandez was back up into 4th over Canet at Turn 1 to begin Lap 7, and he now had to reel in a second to catch Gardner, Lowes passed Fernandez for the lead at the chicane to end the lap, as Gardner set a fastest lap in clean air, and Augusto Fernandez went wide at Turn 5 on Lap 8 and allowed Gardner into 2nd place, while Raul was about to make it a four way fight between both the Elf Marc VDS and Red Bull KTM Ajo riders.
Raul was now hypothetically aflame, setting a new fastest lap 1.36.8 on Lap 10, becoming the first rider to crack a sub 97-second lap during the race, as the Top 4 had put a 3 second gap back to Di Giannantonio in 5th.
Gardner went in wide at Turn 3 on Lap 12, handing 2nd place back to Augusto, who passed Lowes for the lead on Lap 14, and Raul passed Remy at the same corner for 3rd.
Further back, Marco Bezzecchi was doing another superb salvage effort, coming from 16th to 6th after seeing the carnage on Lap 1, but that poor Saturday was costing him big time, especially with Raul looking on track to grab a podium as a worst case scenario.
Now in full flight, Raul attacked Lowes into Turn 1 on Lap 16 to set up what was now a Fernandez 1-2, while Gardner at this point looked like he just didn’t have the pace to match the Top 3, slipping half a second behind, but he was comfortably faster than Bezzecchi, who had a much easier life in 5th after Diggia went down at Turn 9 that same lap.
Augusto and Raul broke clear from Lowes and Gardner, but there seemed to be only one conclusion as to which Fernandez would prevail, because Raul took the lead at his favourite striking spot of Turn 1, having taken 3rd, 2nd and the race lead at the corner!
Just to hammer home his advantage, Raul set 4 consecutive laps in the 1m36s, capped off by a new lap record 1.36.690 on Lap 21, his lead was out to 1.5 seconds, and it was all over bar the shouting!
Meanwhile, after briefly leading earlier on, Canet crashed out from 8th on Lap 20, Gardner had caught a second wind late in the race, joining Raul as the only riders in the 1m36s as he latched on to the back of the Elf Marc VDS riders, as Lowes passed Augusto for 2nd once again, but the Brit’s podium hopes were ended when Augusto lined him up at Turn 1 to start Lap 22, and Sam lost 2 places in 1 when he went to have a look behind to check where Gardner was, but he never saw the Aussie, because he’d gone straight up his inside into Turn 2 to take 3rd place!
Then, after probing the Spaniard’s rear for another lap, Gardner carried a heap of momentum through Sector 3, and struck at the Timmer Chicane to end the penultimate lap, Augusto had no chance to fight back, and it was a KTM Ajo 1-2 for the first time since lights out!
However, nobody had an answer to Raul Fernandez, who had been the fastest rider all weekend, and overcame the early fall down to 9th to come back and score a very convincing win!
Gardner made it the fourth 1-2 finish for Red Bull KTM Ajo in the last 5 races, bringing the final margin down to a second on the line, and just behind Remy, Augusto Fernandez finally strung a full race together to take his first podium since Misano 2019, a well-earned result after his performance on Sunday!
Lowes was only just off the rostrum in 4th, Bezzecchi managed to recover a 5th place, Ai Ogura 6th, Jorge Navarro was 7th, Xavi Vierge went from 24th to 8th in the most forgotten performance of the race, Marcel Schrotter finished 9th, and Celestino Vietti in the sister Sky VR46 bike completed the Top 10, his first Top 10 finish since the second race at Doha at the start of April!
So Gardner had his winning streak ended by a fantastic performance from Raul Fernandez, although the blow was softened by conceding only 5 points to his title, giving the Aussie a 31 point lead heading into the summer break.
On that note, MotoGP and Moto2 will be back on August 8 for the Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, the first part of another Austrian double header!