Joan Mir

Assen MotoGP Preview: Worshipping At The Cathedral Of Speed

Four weeks after press releases full of rolling Tuscan hills, the cliché machine is running out release after release containing the phrase "The Cathedral of Speed". There are of course good reasons to employ a cliché (and press releases usually benefit from trite language, as their objective is to promote the team and its sponsors, rather than the literary skills of press officers), but to call Assen the Cathedral of Speed is to raise the question of whether it still really deserves that moniker.

Much has changed since the first ever Dutch TT in 1925. The first thing that changed was the very next year, in 1926. The first circuit ran over public roads between the villages of Rolde, Borger, and Schoonloo, but the council in Borger refused to pave one of the sand roads on the original course. So in 1926, the race was moved to Assen, run between the villages of De Haar, Hooghalen, and Laaghalerveen to the south of the city of Assen.

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Barcelona MotoGP Subscriber Notes: The Crash That Changed The Championship, And Hope For Yamaha Yet

On Saturday night, I wrote that it was impossible to make sense of the times set in practice, to judge who had pace and who didn't, who could be fast for the full length of the race, and who could only be quick for a few laps. There were too many confusing factors: different riders running different tires at different times. Distilling that into a clear picture of what might happen was impossible.

I was right: it turned out to be impossible to predict how the race would turn out. But I was not right because of some great skill in reading between the lines of the timesheets. I was right because of something I had completely overlooked. Sometimes, weird stuff happens and throws everything into disarray. A wildcard, a joker, and any predictions you might have made go right out of the window.

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Barcelona MotoGP Friday Round Up: New Parts, Seen And Unseen, And No Grip

Why are the MotoGP bikes so much slower at Barcelona than last year? In FP1, fastest man Marc Márquez was a second and a quarter slower than Valentino Rossi was in the first session of 2018. Fabio Quartararo, fastest rider in FP2, was 1.2 seconds slower than Jorge Lorenzo was in the same session in 2018. "If you compare to last year, in FP2 somebody did a 1'38 and many riders were able to do a 1'39, but this year, nobody was able to do a 1'39," Takaaki Nakagami wondered. "More or less 1 second slower than last year."

The answer came from the skies. When I walked to my car this morning, I found it covered in thick drops of very fine dust. According to the locals, this is a fine dust carried from sandstorms in the Sahara, 1000km south of Barcelona. Heavy rain earlier in the week, then brief showers overnight, and at the start of the afternoon, left this fine Saharan sand all over the track, making it dusty, and robbing it of grip.

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Mugello MotoGP Thursday Round Up: The Danger And Glory Of Mugello, The Risk Of Going Faster, And Aprilia's Woes

"Mugello is a fantastic track," Valentino Rossi told the pre-event press conference at Mugello, a sentiment echoed by every single rider and just about everyone in the paddock. "When you ride the feeling is great." It really is a magical place, and a magical experience.

But it is not without its dangers, chief among them the brow of the hill the riders take at over 350 km/h just before they have to brake. "It's also an old style track," Rossi said "So in some points it's also dangerous because you are very fast, not a lot of space around and the braking for the first corner is at the limit. It's very good to ride, but if you arrive at 340 or 350 km/h, it starts to be dangerous because of the jump, the hill. So maybe we have to modify a little bit, but I think it's not very easy. Maybe we try to arrive at little bit slower. Or we try to cut a little bit the jump and make it a bit more flat, if it’s possible."

It is a constant topic in the Safety Commission, where the riders meet with FIM and Dorna officials to discuss how to make the racing safer and better. Marc Márquez explained that the end of the straight, where the track snakes right and left up a slight incline, until reaching the brow of the hill before plunging down towards San Donato, the first corner, was something under continuous discussion. The wall on the left is too close, the crest itself is dangerous, and speeds generally are very high at that point of the track.

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Mugello MotoGP Preview: Speed, Danger, And Beauty - The Magic Of Mugello

Once upon a time, every Mugello press release started with the same words: "Nestled in the Tuscan hills, Mugello is the jewel in the crown of MotoGP race tracks". After a few years, that cliche became too much even for the writers of press releases. And yet the basic statements in those press releases are as true today as they ever were. There is, after all, a reason cliches come about.

For Mugello is arguably the most beautiful race track on the MotoGP calendar. The circuit is wedged in a valley, the track snaking its way around one side up towards the head, then off along the other side, and down toward the dip between the Arrabbiatas, and the track entrance. It is set against a backdrop of steep Tuscan hills, covered in a mixture of woodland and pasture. It is a bucolic setting for one of the greatest race tracks in the world.

What makes it truly great, of course, is the fact that it is large enough for the MotoGP machines to stretch their legs. The official top speed recorded at the track is 356.5 km/h last year, but the speed trap is at a point where the bikes are starting to brake. Dorna don't like people to talk about just how fast the bikes really go at Mugello, and Brembo are said to be reluctant to state the real speeds reached. There is good reason to believe they are hitting around 360 km/h already, and it could easily be even faster.

Racing, reflected

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