2012 Assen MotoGP Thursday Round Up: It's Not As Close As It Looks

The times were close after the first day of practice, closer than they have been for a very long time. Just 0.471 seconds separates the top 11 MotoGP prototypes (Karel Abraham is barely fit enough to ride, after breaking fingers in his left hand, and is way off the pace), with Ben Spies leading Cal Crutchlow by just 0.006, just a tenth separating Nicky Hayden in 3rd from Dani Pedrosa in 6th, and less than a tenth between Andrea Dovizioso in 7th and Stefan Bradl in 11th. It has all the makings of a great race, right?

Not according to Cal Crutchlow. "Lorenzo will run away with it," the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man opined. Everyone except for Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa had set their fastest time on the soft tire, Crutchlow explained. Lorenzo's best time, a 1'35.057, was set in the middle of a run with a used hard tire, his race rhythm in the 1'35.0 while everyone else was running 1'35.3. Lorenzo was looking very smooth on the bike, team manager Wilco Zeelenberg saying he was pretty pleased with the bike and the way the first day had gone.

Lorenzo himself did not get much time to talk about how the day went, spending his time with the press fielding questions about the split with his manager Marcos Hirsch, the man who started out as his personal trainer before taking over from Dani Amatriain as his business manager. The split was amicable, he was at pains to point out, and was because Lorenzo felt it was time to take the next step in his career, working on sponsors both on track and off track. His new manager, Albert Valera, would be at the track more often and would work more on sponsorship, the main priority now that Lorenzo's contract extension with Yamaha had been tied up. Rumors had appeared in the Spanish media that the split had come about because Hirsch had not discussed the final offer from HRC with Lorenzo, but the Majorcan was adamant that there was no truth in this rumor. Lorenzo had known all of the details of all of the deals, and made a fully-informed choice to stay with Yamaha.

While the Yamaha men were happy - Ben Spies affirmed that though being top was nice, what was more important was that he was happy with the bike - the mood at Honda and Ducati was different. Upbeat but concerned perhaps best summarizes the situation at Ducati. The four tenths that separated him from Spies was Valentino Rossi's best dry result at Ducati, the gap to the front very much closed. Nicky Hayden had looked even better, leading the session at one point, before finishing in 3rd, a tenth down on Spies. They can do five or six fast laps, both factory Ducati men told the media, the problem comes after that. Maintaining that pace beyond that point was virtually impossible, though.

The problem is the tires: the Ducati's aggressive power delivery uses them up too quickly, and the lap times drop off far too much after that. Nicky Hayden's race at Silverstone was a prime example: the American was running hard in the early laps, but once his tire was gone, his only option was to go into damage limitation mode and salvage what he could. The good news for Ducati is that the updated electronics package they are using at Assen is helping, providing "a better connection on the bottom end" as Nicky Hayden put it. The relationship between throttle and rear tire is improved, some of the aggressiveness gone. More was needed, especially more mechanical grip, Valentino Rossi explained, and geometry changes might help with that. Though the power delivery was improving, the understeer remained, however. "Understeer remains in the character of this bike," Rossi said.

At Honda, there were far from happy faces. The Repsol Honda riders have a new chassis, but that had done little to help. Casey Stoner told the press that the new chassis had felt a little better in the morning, but worse again in the afternoon. Dani Pedrosa's experience was much the same, saying that he couldn't feel much difference between the two. They had both concentrated on the standard chassis in the afternoon, explaining in part why Stoner had spent so much time in the pits, effectively working with one bike, as the other had the new chassis that was causing so many problems.

The problem was the tires, and Stoner once again launched into an attack on Bridgestone, expressing his unhappiness with the way the new front tire was introduced. He also pointed out - with a little prompting from a veteran journalist - that the performance of the 2012 tires was much worse than the previous generation of tires, offering that as an explanation for the fact that the 1000cc bikes were not really any faster than the 800s had been. Valentino Rossi defended the new tires, however, telling the press that the drop in performance was the price that had to be paid for the massively increased safety of the new tires. The early morning highside is a thing of the past, and the price for that is greater performance drop off.

Stoner was also asked about why the satellite riders don't get chatter on their bikes, and whether the fact that Alvaro Bautista was using Showa suspension rather than Ohlins could have anything to do with that. The Australian replied that the satellite bikes do actually have chatter - he had spoken to Honda technicians who could see it very clearly in the data - but that the satellite riders apparently cannot feel it. Perhaps they were not sensitive enough to detect it, Stoner suggested, while he and Pedrosa are.

After the news that Cal Crutchlow had been offered a two-year big money deal with Ducati, Nicky Hayden was asked about his situation at Ducati. With Crutchlow holding an offer and Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchio having made his intent to keep Rossi at Ducati perfectly clear, there may not be room for Hayden at the Ducati inn. Hayden joked most of the speculation off, saying that he had offers, but that he wanted to stay in MotoGP, hinting, perhaps, that those offers had come from WSBK. Ducati had an option to keep Hayden, but that ran out at the end of the month, the Kentuckian said. Though talks with Ducati had been positive, they were telling Hayden that their hands were tied until the deal with Audi was finalized.

Hayden himself was keen to stay. The bike had to come good some time soon, he was certain, as the people at Ducati were working too hard for it not to. After several hard years at Ducati, Hayden said he would find it frustrating not to be there when the bike finally started winning races. The American was also asked about who was representing him, and he said that he was doing most of it himself nowadays, adding that he was making a lot more money since he starting managing himself. Getting rid of his managers had been a smart move, he said: "So much bulls**t comes with those guys," he quipped.

Given that Hayden has often been the fastest Ducati rider, there is no question he deserves to stay, if not at Ducati, then at least on a competitive MotoGP bike. The problem is, there are ever fewer of those available, and right now, the talent pool is pretty deep.

Back to top


Do the right thing, and get Nicky a prime position in WSBK. Checa is doing well, but a younger buck in Ducati, hungry as heck for wins, now that would be nice.

Rossi beat Hayden in the standings last year and leads him this year. But, if Hayden was to change that, finishing the year ahead of Valentino, Ducati's choice not to keep him would be a bit foolish. Sounds like he will stay if Rossi leaves for another mfr. or he'll be gone if Rossi chooses to stay.

Silly season at its' finest.

Hard to watch this track remembering how it used to look and flow. The very end of the track is abysmal. 2005 still just doesn't seem that long ago.

It would be disappointing to see Nicky go after he's put in so much effort into trying to make a lame duc go faster. He exhibits the passion that the brand prides itself on and uses as a selling point, (since selling on the basis of being a winner is not an option )

Cal would no doubt be a great rider, though he should realize that he is replacing a great rider already, and even if the Ducati came around to being consistently competitive he would have to contend with the fact that the other side of the garage would see to it that he was just one update or two behind. which would relegate him to satellite status. Which he already stated was not what he wanted.

To Ducati I say don't replace Hayden, but if you do, put him on Karl Abraham's team with factory support and do right by him.

To Cal I would say if the other side of the garage contains a 46, don't do it the bike may look the same, but it will most assuredly not be, and your value will languish while everyone else questions your performance and schedules a psych visit.

If Rossi stays and If Ducati can build a more competitive bike to keep him and If Crutchlow really wants to go to Ducati and not just show his stack of bargaining chips then maybe Hayden will have to leave. Big asks, these. My money says he stays and Rossi gets his own team.

Broken finger causing him to be off the pace???? He's always OFF the pace. No change. Still haven't understood why's he's in GP and not moto2. That seat needs to be for someone with promise. Not a mid pack Moto2 guy.

The seat was created for him by his father, who is a wealthy businessman who also happens to own the Brno circuit. They negotiated a bike deal for him with Ducati, so he is not taking anyone's seat, they are providing one! Actually, on a decent bike and team I think he'd do ok. He's having a miserable year and not getting on with the current Duc provided at all. I won't argue that he's a match for Bradl or Bautista, but he's earned his place with occasional decent finishes (last year). 2012 is a disaster for him.

Don't think that's quite right. I know it's his fathers team and yes I know he owns the Brno circuit. I understood that his father was looking for riders and his son was obviously one of the choices. If what you say is true. Even more reason he shouldnt be in GP. His father may own the team, but decent results and not throwing it down EVERY race should be priority. He's a mid pack Moto2 rider. What has he ever accomplished? Kind of embarrassing for him that he needed daddy to get to the premiere class.

It's just like passports which some riders complain, special tyres some riders need, the money a team has (MM's Suter), the CEO that are driving exotic Italian sports car just to commute and the slow guy that owns a Desmosedici but shows up at Starbucks.

I do not think it is embarrassing for Karel that his dad is rich. There're richer dads out there but their sons are not racing :)


I used the think Karel was dead weight too, but he has proven he can at least beat some of the more experienced riders sometimes.

Besides, GP racing is no picnic, it's a lot of work and he's making a good effort. There're a lot easier ways to spend daddy's money.

Like what's been said before, he's not taking anyone's seat. Cardion AB wouldn't be racing if not for Karel. That team exists for him and him only.

Just the other day discussion was about why motoGP is losing fans and now there is all this talk about who can win races because of which bike they are on, factory or satellite. Basically there's only 4 guys with the bike to win a race. There are too many talented riders to limit winning machinery to 4 especially with the MOTO2 talent coming up. Who wouldn't want to see every prototype rider on a bike that was capable of winning, not 3 steps behind development.

This is where WSBK really has a leg up, there are 5 different manufacturers that won this year (including sykes) and almost 10 guys that could win at any race. Nicky was lucky to get his championship when he did because I don't see him on a competitive gp bike ever again. I bet he could be right in the fold back on a superbike. It would be nice to see him win something, same with Ben if he gets bounced. The way I see it if you aren't on the Honda or yamaha gp factory team within 3or 4 years of racing gp's (and on the podium regularly with a factory bike) you better look somewhere else because its not gonna happen.

Not counting Rossi, Hayden is the next racer on the top of the box for marketability besides his talent on track! Hayden is a superb businessman, public relations expert, and the poster-child of loyalty when talking with the media! If Ducati management let Hayden go after all they have been through together... they are just a lame as the GP12! I would love to see Hayden on a competitive Honda or Yamaha even! If he does go to WSB... I hope he partners J. Rea!


"superb businessman, public relations expert, and the poster-child of loyalty when talking with the media"

All necessary traits if you ride for Ducati and aren't CS :)

I'm a huge fan of any American racing in any series but Cal is just a British version of Colin and I don't see how he deserves a factory seat when he hasn't won ANYTHING. He has no clue what the Duc will require from it's rider, he alludes to having a style like Stoner therefore should succeed on the duc but that is a farse.

His decent results on the Tech 3 aren't a measure of his greatness rather proof that the bike is a really good satellite. At least Colin was a true champ in a relevant series.

That's a little harsh for a rider who was 12th his first year and currently 4th a third of the way this year.

He's trending well... give him till at least the end of this season!

I'm guessing you're not following world supersport because he is a world champion indeed and was brilliant in 2009 with no result below 4th place, 10 poles, 10 podiums and 5 wins in his rookie season.
Then going up to WSBK he got 3 wins and 10 podiums to its name, 5th in the championship was not bad for a rookie.
He has what it takes to become a very successful WSBK rider but he chose MotoGP instead, can't blame him.
It took Colin 4 seasons in WSBK to gather 3 wins.

Nice to see Jlo being savvy, there are a few riders(his main competitor for one) who could learn a lot from his approach, he knows you have to work at all aspects to get the most from it, and it helps motogp as a whole not just Jorge. It's a crucial time for Nicky, it's pure fantasy to suspect that even if he finished one place ahead of Rossi he would be the better choice for them next year unless Rossi does go to Honda.. Perhaps some work on American sponsors inline, maybe, with the American rounds to part fund a competitive ride for him, Ducati have said they would make bikes available next year at the right price, maybe with a small nudge from Dorna, there are too few bikes on the grid.. Whilst we are on it, I hope they drop the 4 bike per manu rule, as Karel is clearly fed up with the duke but has the financial backing for a satellite Yam or Honda which is a much better option..
I suspect the honda riders have the wrong approach to the tyres, they've been introduced for safety reasons not because they are faster, a bit more guile is required. I suspect Dani has worked on his technique to be more casey like in the race for competitiveness and this why they struggle the most. Dare I say you put Rossi or Jorge on the Honda and they wouldn't have the problems.... Ducati making real progress at last?? Maybe it is the ride for Cal next year..?

Hayden leaving DUCATI isnt something I don't even want to contemplate. He's workman like demeanour is nothing short of refreshing, considering the ego's on show in the paddock nowadays. Besides that, a key market for DUCATI if not their biggest, is mainland America. Hayden it can be argued, has served the brand well over there and they certainly have the sales to show it. Considering Cal Crutchlow over Hayden would be just ludicrous, bordering on Stupid.

He has no clue what it takes to ride the DUCATI and truth be told, right now, Nickey Hayden has a better grasp than even ROSSI. So what has Mr. "I can ride a bike at home with Busted ankle" show for his efforts so far. Well after 2 seasons, not much. He does have SS title to his name, found himself with the correct sponsor at the right place and right time and got himself a GP ride. His Silverstone performance must be viewed in the context of the level of his machinery vs. the rest. To get by CRT's on near factory spec M1 is by no means an impossible feat in fact, any CRT rider would be able to do the same, given the time he's had on the M1. Now he's made out to be replacement for Hayden ? I hope the mangerless Hayden finds himself on a competitive bike next year, he deserves it more than anyobdy in the paddock. IMHO.

Big #35 Fan by the way. I just dont get what the fuss is all about YET.

Keep Hayden and bring Crutch, it would be great to see these two guys riding for ducati. I think Valentino had enough, and Hayden suits their style better. Maybe we can expect a fight with all these 3 guys next year, with Valentino riding for... ;) coca-cola yamaha??

The least Ducati should do for Nicky is put him on a factory 1199 in WSBK next season if they aren't going to keep him in GP. I don't think Nicky will score a different factory ride in GP, but he would be equally as valuable (if not moreso) on an 1199 in WSBK for Ducati's marketing.

I don't think Hayden will go anywhere as I don't see Rossi sticking around for another year with a piece of sh!t bike. He's stated many times before that his request has been the same. For 2 fracking years now. Ducatis arrogance to stick with someone that has constantly designed sh!t bikes is fairy tale unbelievable. Any other company in the world would have gotten rid of the obvious problem by now. It's never been the bikes fault. It's the designer. When has he produced a even decent racing machine for GP?? 2006 maybe, but that's it. Cal going there under his reign is a false hope that he can win a championship.

Perhaps those lauding Cal Crutchlow's performances since departing the 600cc Supersport World Championship should take a deep breath. In the Superbike World Championship he climbed on a proven winner, and achieved what? Ten pole positions (five of them in the first five races), fourteen (14) wins and a world superbike championshihp, on tyres he'd never used before, on a bike he had not raced before and on tracks he had not even seen before? No - that was Ben Spies in 2009. Crutchlow in 2010 was not even a pale imitation. And in MotoGP last year, well... 12th in the championship, 12 points behind Hector Barbera. Not such a strong showing as Spies' rookie MotoGP year. This season Crutchlow showed some good early season form while Spies' team had seriously screwed up the chassis set-up. But they appear to be on top of that now so in the next few races I expect to see Ben on the podium at some point. Which is a big ask given the regularity of Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa. But Crutchlow? Seriously?