The Circuit van Drenthe, or the TT Circuit, as the glorious ribbon of asphalt to the south of Assen is officially known, always delivers, and Sunday was no exception. We had an outstanding Moto3 race, where the main championship contenders and promising youngsters broke away and fought down to the wire. We had one of the best Moto2 races in a long time, with action all the way to the finish. And we had an eventful, dramatic MotoGP race that saw some incredible battles from front to back of the field. It was a good day.
Adding a little spice to proceedings was the kind weather which is so unique to Assen. The race started dry, but the rain radar showed a very light shower heading for the track and likely to hit at around the two-thirds distance mark. It rained alright, but it was the worst kind of rain: the kind that leaves lots of spots on your visor, but barely touches the track. If you can blot the rain out from your mind, you can keep pushing just as hard, but it takes enormous mental strength and conviction. Worth the effort, though: even in the midst of the drizzle, riders were still posting 1'32s.
"When I saw the rain, I saw it on the screen of the bike. I saw that it was very small. I tried to think that it was not raining," Marco Bezzecchi said after the race. "I was trying to stay focused, but anyway pushing like at the maximum that I could."
Under a cloud
Fellow Italian Ducati rider Fabio Di Giannantonio tried to think back to qualifying in Mugello, which took place in similar conditions. "I went in Mugello mood, let's say! So it's not raining, it's not raining, it's not raining! So I was just going full gas because I saw all the front group that was closing a little bit the throttle, was going a little bit slower and I wanted to push more."
That wasn't easy, though. "It's so hard to understand if it's going to rain more or not," Johann Zarco said. "There are the flags, you don't see too much rain on your visor, but you don't know and finally it was just a cloud."
The rain also created practical problems which made it hard to judge just how bad it was. Pecco Bagnaia found water creeping between his visor and tear-offs, creating vision problems. The fact that he was leading the race, and had no reference ahead by which to judge whether adhesion was lessening made things worse. "My problem was that I saw the rain and I was thinking it was more slippery than what in reality it was," the Ducati Lenovo rider said. "The problem is when it’s raining, also when it’s light rain, always also when you start light rain, and you have the tear-off, the rain comes from the tear-off and your screen into your visor. You start to see not clearly the things. So, I just removed the tear-off and I lost like six tenths, five tenths in this lap."
The spots of water did not turn into proper rain for the rest of the race, remaining what Chris Hillard of Alpinestars so eloquently dubbed "mental rain", rain which exists more in the mind of the rider than on the surface of the asphalt. Thankfully, as it allowed for a ferocious and fascinating finale to the MotoGP race.
Plenty to discuss in these subscriber notes. (With my apologies for their lateness, but as Aleix Espargaro said on Sunday night, "sincerely, I'm very tired. Super super exhausted. I need rest." 11 races in 17 weeks has been pretty punishing, given the level of intensity a GP weekend demands.)
- Quartararo vs Espargaro
- Aleix Espargaro's astonishing race
- Why Fabio Quartararo crashed
- Penalty? What penalty?
- The Super Desmosedici
- Why fans turn up
We start with the defining moment of the race. Pecco Bagnaia had gotten away at the start of the race, getting the holeshot and then taking advantage of Aleix Espargaro and Fabio Quartararo taking the first few corners to dispose of Jorge Martin's challenge – a challenge they opened the way for as Quartararo ran wide on the exit of the first corner. Espargaro and Quartararo were inching closer to Bagnaia as the laps ticked off, and at the start of lap 5, Quartararo saw an opening.
At the Strubben hairpin, he tried to slide his Yamaha M1 up the inside of Espargaro's Aprilia RS-GP. It was a move he had pulled off successfully on the opening lap, albeit briefly, the Spaniard using the speed of the Aprilia to draw level and enter the Ruskenhoek ahead of Quartararo.
This time, however, Quartararo was a little too optimistic: the front washed out from under him, and his bike slammed into the lower fairing of the Aprilia, pushing Espargaro wide and into the gravel. Thankfully, the Strubben hairpin is so slow that Espargaro was able to remain upright, driving his way out of the gravel trap to rejoin in 15th place.
That failed pass would have a profound effect on the course of the race. Aleix Espargaro saw his hopes of a race win evaporate, and believing that all was lost, vowed to try to recoup as many points as possible.
"When Fabio hit me, I saw on my board P14. So in that moment I said, ‘your race is done’. Nothing will change if you score 2-3 points, it doesn't matter," Espargaro told us after a stunning comeback ride which saw him cross the line in fourth eventually. "You need to go for more than 10 points. If you crash, you crash. That's it. And I thought it's not going to be your fault if you crash, because it's going to be Fabio’s fault!"
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