Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Assen, née The Cathedral

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Assen, née The Cathedral

Assen was despoiled some years ago, just like Catalunya more recently, but then the history of racing is a history of epic race tracks disappearing

Being an old MotoGP journalist is a bit like being a very old man. You keep losing the people you love, or in this case, the circuits you love. This week the paddock goes to Assen, once the most fascinating circuit on the championship calendar because it was entirely unique, offering a special challenge to riders and engineers alike.

The old Assen (shown above in all its glory) had all kinds of tricks hidden in its 3.7 miles of serpentine curves, from devilishly tricky cambers to 160mph direction changes that had to be ridden just so to prevent your machine from convulsing into the mother of all tank-slappers. The brainwork needed to solve these conundrums involved everyone, from riders to engineers to mechanics, tyre technicians and suspension twiddlers. If a rider won at Assen, his crew knew as well as he did that they had done something very special. Not for nothing was the place called The Cathedral.

And then in the autumn of 2005 along came a philistine in a bulldozer. He demolished the cathedral, digging up the northern part of the circuit to make way for a barn-like exhibition centre called TT World. The reason behind this heinous act of mutilation was, of course, money. The people behind Assen had got themselves into a spot of financial bother, so they sold off half the circuit. A bit like your favourite auntie selling a kidney to pay off her mortgage.

I always looked forward to going to Assen and taking a wander out to Madjik, Ossebroeken or any of the other breathtaking kinks too numerous to have names. Or even better to Veenslang, where the 500s flicked from side to side on full gas at 140mph, revs rising, falling and rising again as the bike flip-flopped from one edge of the tyre to the other, handlebars in a high-speed shimmy as the rider held his breath and balanced his body just so. Watching Kevin Schwantz and the rest do that never failed to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention, saluting the bravest of the brave.

The modern Assen has just a few hundred metres remaining of that heroic high-speed asphalt. Meeuwenmeer, Hoge Heide and Ranshoek are proper tests of rider skill and daring, but otherwise the place is a shadow of its former self; it’s now just another race track. 

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Comments

I'll never forget what Colin Edwards said after he rode Assen for the first time after the changes for the hotel.  All he said was "SHIT!"

He was not pleased.  When they changed the track it made PI and Mugello the greatest motorcycle tracks in the world.  3, down to 2.

I also think the old Assen track was  really great from a technical and riders point of view. From a spectator's point of view it just was not. Also the great last technical fast section that all riders like is not the place to be if you visit the race. It is great on tv, though.

I think what a lot of people overlook when favouring the old track over the current one is that the heavy banking in the straights/flowing fast corners would be far too dangerous for the current motogp machines. The risk of spinning up wheels ending up in massive headshakes would destroy spectacular racing in my opinion.  I think Mick Doohan had a point in saying that de massive banking was of another century and became too dangerous at higher speeds.

It is a shame they sold a part of the old track. But the banking... i am not sure.