2012 Assen MotoGP Friday Round Up: Of Tricky Surfaces, Fast Riders, And Career Choices

Assen's surface is pretty good when it's dry, and it's not too bad when it's wet, but this is 2012, and there's a MotoGP race this weekend, so of course, the conditions are as bad as they can possibly be. For Assen, that means a few spots of rain here and there, just enough to create patches damp enough to catch out the unwary, or even the wary, as Casey Stoner found out this morning. Heading down the Veenslang Stoner noticed the first spots of rain on his visor. Through the Ruskenhoek, it turned into drizzle, and he had already backed off into De Bult when he was flung from the bike in what he described as one of the worst crashes of his career. He took a knock to the head, banged his left shoulder and left wrist, and suffered a big and very painful contusion to his right knee, that left him hobbling around like an old man in the afternoon.

The problem is the asphalt. The current surface means it is impossible to see when the track is damp, rather than wet, meaning that it is easy to get caught out, Ben Spies said, an explanation later verified by Wilco Zeelenberg, Jorge Lorenzo's team manager. The track is fine when it's dry, and when it's wet, the water sits pretty evenly, making for a predictable surface. But the first few spots of rain are lethal. If that were to happen in the race, it could make for a very dangerous situation, Spies said.

Rain and dry in the morning was followed by rain and dry in the afternoon, leaving the riders stranded in the pits for much of qualifying. A battered and bruised Casey Stoner found himself down in 9th when he decided that this was "not acceptable" and pushed for two awe-inspiring laps to get first onto the front row, and then to take pole, with only his teammate Dani Pedrosa able to get anywhere near. Though he is clearly fast, Stoner's problem - apart from the physical problems, his knee being the worst injury, especially as the injury will get worse as rests it - is that while the soft tire is working very well, the hard tire is still causing them problems. Stoner told the media that he expected to be able to race the soft tire, but the drop off in performance could leave him struggling in the latter stages of the race.

So while Stoner's pole is deeply impressive, the real star of the weekend is Jorge Lorenzo. Once again, the bike is working well, everything is running smoothly and Lorenzo is riding as well as he has ever done. Talk to Andrea Dovizioso about what Lorenzo is doing and he admits to being impressed with the way Lorenzo finds his speed, braking earlier but rolling into corners faster and carrying more speed with less risk. Starting from the front row, Lorenzo is the man to beat on Sunday.

The two Hondas will be with him: Cal Crutchlow - after blasting Hector Barbera for getting in his way and saying that the Spaniard should not be in MotoGP - predicted that the fight will be between Stoner, Pedrosa and Lorenzo, but Lorenzo is surely the favorite of the three. Ben Spies got unlucky with traffic, running into Aleix Espargaro, but his bike was good enough for the front row, he told reporters. Spies could be right there with the front runners if his luck changes, and frankly, it's about due. He needs some strong results, and with contract negotiations likely to get very serious directly after Laguna Seca, he has four races in which to make his mark. Spies believes he has the talent, and since Estoril, has had the bike on his side too, but small mistakes and bad luck have been getting in his way. If that bad luck continues, his place at the factory Yamaha team could be in jeopardy.

While Stoner's lap was impressive, it is pretty much what we have come to expect from the Australian. Stefan Bradl's 4th place, however, is punching pretty far above his weight. The German has performed above expectations so far in his rookie year, but his fast lap at Assen was a sign that there is much more to come from him. Though Bradl set his qualifying lap following Valentino Rossi, he was fully a second quicker than the Italian. Perhaps he was just watching where Rossi braked, and choosing to brake a little bit later, but whatever he was doing it worked, and the German secured his best ever MotoGP qualifying spot.

In Moto2, Marc Marquez put an end to Pol Espargaro's domination of the weekend so far. Marquez posted a scorching lap in his final session to secure pole and topple Espargaro from the top spot, but Marquez also managed to crash a couple of times. Marquez is wringing the utmost out of the Suter, no longer the weapon of choice in Moto2, that having been displaced by the Kalex chassis. Whether Marquez can hold on for a whole race is open to question, but with Marquez, Espargaro and Iannone on the front row, we are in for another barnstorming Moto2 race. Espargaro has the pace and needs the points, and more importantly, he's on a roll. That's good enough for the gambling types.

After qualifying, all eyes turned to the Ducati garage, where Valentino Rossi made some pointed statements to Italian TV about the lack of development in his eyes which is going into the Desmosedici. The Honda has a new chassis to try to combat the chatter they are suffering with, Rossi pointed out. Ducati has a new engine coming - a relatively modest upgrade to smooth power delivery - but beyond that, nothing much. The understeer, which has plagued the bike since the beginning of this year, is still there, and set up changes alone will not fix it. Rossi told the press he had identified the understeer problem to Ducati Corse boss and chief designer Filippo Preziosi after the IRTA test at Jerez, and they had reached the end of the road setup-wise at Estoril. This was all they could do by modifying geometry and weight distribution, and a more radical change was needed. "We need a clear and better plan to fix this," Rossi said, but would not elaborate on what he meant when asked about it. Ducati needs to listen to its riders, Rossi had told Italian journalists earlier.

The honeymoon is very much over between Rossi and Ducati. When asked, Rossi still says that his aim is to stay at Ducati and make the bike competitive, but there are ever fewer people who believe him. MotoGP's silly season is currently on hold, waiting for Valentino Rossi to decide on his future. Nicky Hayden has been told that Ducati is waiting for the Audi deal to be finalized by the EU before they can offer him a contract, and the situation at Yamaha and Honda is similarly on hold. The factory Yamaha team looks like one of two possible destinations for Rossi, the other being inside the satellite Gresini Honda team. Rossi would have to swallow a healthy serving of humble pie to return to the factory Yamaha team - Jorge Lorenzo was already joking about not requiring a wall in the Yamaha garage if Rossi does become his teammate - and even so, Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis is believed not to be too thrilled at the prospect of having Rossi back. His saving grace would be his ability to bring a sponsor to a cash-strapped factory, and his public statement of his willingness to take a pay cut almost certainly went down well.

If Rossi goes to the factory Yamaha team - and it's a big if - then Ben Spies will probably be dropped back into Tech 3 with factory support, financed by Yamaha USA. That pushes Cal Crutchlow into the arms of Ducati - I had a long discussion with Cal Crutchlow today, after off-the-cuff comments I had made at the introductory evening held for the Pole Position travel company. Crutchlow emphasized to me that his goal was to have a shot at the world championship, and that to do that, he knew he had to have a factory bike. His first preference was to join the factory Yamaha team, but if Spies' spot were to be taken by Valentino Rossi, then there would be no room for Crutchlow, and so he would take his chances at Ducati. Yes, that would mean a significant pay rise, he acknowledged - my comments were about the size of Crutchlow's offer - but, Crutchlow emphasized, that was just a nice bonus, and had nothing to do with his decision. A championship, he repeated, is what he wanted, and he believed that he needed a factory bike to achieve that. If it had been solely about money, he would have signed a very long time ago.

The next four races - including Saturday's race at Assen - will be crucial, in many respects. If Stoner is banged up too much, then it will be hard for him at Assen and at the Sachsenring, two very physical tracks. Ben Spies needs results to retain his position, and the modified engine which Ducati are testing at Mugello after the race and then taking to Laguna Seca looks like being the last chance that the Italian factory has of retaining Valentino Rossi's services, despite the Italian's protestations that it is not so. It is going to be a hectic and exhausting month, but the shape of both the 2012 and 2013 MotoGP seasons will be much clearer after that.

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"But the first few spots of rain are lethal."

isn't that standard for any asphalt surface? i mean i always tell newbie motorcyclists to wait for the rain to start proper before riding. oils rising to top and such.

>>Though Bradl set his qualifying lap following Valentino Rossi, he was fully a second quicker than the Italian.

1 sec faster a lap is 'catching', not 'following'! ;) Barbara follows faster riders to get a tow, I think Rossi was more like a carrot to Bradl giving him a target to pull him forward.


If Yamaha consider who's done what lately why would Rossi get the factory seat over Cal? Sure Rossi brings sponsors but at this point is it known that on equal machinery that Cal isn't the faster rider? Rossi shouldn't get his seat based on past glory.

Since when have Cal and Rossi been on equal machinery to enable you to make this sweeping statement?

Maybe you missed the word "is" in that sentence and the question mark at the end indicating that it was a question not a statement. Comprehension goes a long way.

"at this point is it known that on equal machinery that Cal isn't the faster rider?" Maybe if English isn't their first language. Before someone accuses someone else of making "such a sweeping statement" they should understand the sentence instead of reading what they want to.

....get me wrong, I'm a Rossi fan since I followed him on 1255's, BUT.....if Yamaha has a choice between Rossi and Cal, they need to sign Cal! He's been fast on a sat bike....what could he do on a factory bike? Plus he's on his way up......I love Rossi, but he's in the twilight of his career. And I'd LOVE to see Stoner win the race, but I'd bet $$$ on Jorge!

Don't know, if I had my choice of Rossi or Cal at the moment. I'd choose Rossi. He's still plenty fast. I really like Cal but don't think he's in the same class....YET as Rossi,Lorenzo. It would seal up the Championship next year for Yamaha and their only worry would be how well Marquez adapts to the Honda. I've said it before and I'll say it at least one more time. Get rid of Persiozi is the only way Ducati are going foward. He as produced one decent bike-2006. Other than that it has been EPIC FAIL for ALL his designs. There is no way Rossi will resign with Ducati. It's clear they are stubborn by keeping a designer that has more ego than Rossi and Stoner but has proved nothing. Until that happens, Ducati will be in the same sh!t hole they have been in since 2006.

The sooner they even the playing field and either have production racebikes across the board, or CRTs, or whatever they end up on, the better the racing will be.

This current scenario of only 4 bikes/riders being potential world champions or even race winners is ridiculous.

Hearing Crutchlow say its not about the money underscores what these guys (except Stoner) really want. Give everyone "equal" equipment and let the chips fall.

Us race fans will be the beneficiaries as the racing will be brilliant!

This is MotoGP, not some run of the mill series. For that we have national series and WSBK. Great racing no doubt but not GP racing. I want to see the best bikes with the best riders. Why would VR,CS!JL,DP want to compete in a series like that???????

This is MotoGP, not some run of the mill series. For that we have national series and WSBK. Great racing no doubt but not GP racing. I want to see the best bikes with the best riders. Why would VR,CS!JL,DP want to compete in a series like that???????

I totally agree, MotoGP should be about the best of everything possible, but when there are only 4 bikes running that can win a race/championship there's something seriously messed up. I'd rather see a field of production racebikes than the current scenario of 4 factory bikes and a bunch of filler.

Even if Dorna limits the series to production racebikes/CRTs, the factories will still have an advantage, but at least the playing field will be a heck of a lot more even, and they'll still be more exotic than WSBK. But to truly get to that level of exotica they need to drop the engine limits and the fuel restrictions. Minimum number of bikes made (like the engine availability rule in Moto3) and room for customization/tuning by the teams. And for that development to happen the rules need to be left alone for at least 5 years or so.

...Valentino Rossi made some pointed statements to Italian TV about the lack of development...

So I guess since Stoner left they just decided to 'stop developing the bike'. Blah blah blah. What a tiresome ass.

To again repeat what I know will be a popular suggestion here: Ducati needs to MOVE ON. That means not offer Rossi a new contract. Go for Crutchlow as their lead rider. They can keep Hayden if they want, but for me four years of mediocrity is enough there as well. Crutchlow and Ianonne in 2013 would be an interesting pairing for Ducati. The only caveat in my mind is that then like every other team money may be a problem -- it is not clear how excited potential sponsors would be about those guys. But what is clear is that no one in Ducati management should be excited about Rossi anymore.

Seems reasonable as Ianonne needs the bike to be almost perfect so he can stay with the lead guys in Moto2 so the Ducati hould suit him just fine. Him and Cal at Ducati for 2013, Cal champion and Ianonne 2nd because the two guys on it right now just don't know how to ride.

Its really embarrassing for Ducati really. They treated Stoner like shit and now have both Rossi and Hayden requesting the same things. In their mind it's the ridders, yea. They need to wake up!! Their bike is shit, their designer is about as us full as tits on a boar. Doesn't seem anything Rossi or Hayden request is coming. Only what FP feels is the way. Get rid of him and you get rid of Ducatis problems.

Hayden is the reason a ducati is even coming close to the other factory bikes, because even though Rossi is above him by 2 points, it's largely due to the miracle 2nd-place w/ 20pts he got in the rain at Le Mans when only 12 riders even finished with a time. If not for those 20pts, he'd be even below Hector Barbera and be the 2nd lowest non-CRT bike on the grid behind Karel Abraham.

if Stoner was the only rider who could win on a Ducati, and ROSSI (yes, 7 time champion Rossi) is typically running towards the back, it's completely unfair to call Hayden's riding "mediocre" and assume that Crutchlow or Ianonne would make everyone else look incompetent and put the current Ducati anywhere *close* to the front.