Hopkins Breaks Leg, Will Miss Assen And Sachsenring

The Ramshoek has claimed another victim. At the end of today's official qualifying practice for the Dutch TT at Assen, John Hopkins lost the front at the Ramshoek, the final left hander before the GT chicane and the run onto the front straight, and crashed out at high speed, sliding through the gravel trap before hitting the tire wall. The crash happened with such force that Hopkins fractured his ankle and his tibia, and may also have damaged his knee as well. The crash means that Hopper will be forced to miss Saturday's Dutch TT, and the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring in two weeks time.

This is the second rider this weekend to have been ruled out of the race by a crash at the Ramshoek, with Loris Capirossi injuring his arm there on Thursday, and the corner has previous form as well. Last year, Toni Elias suffered a spiral fracture of the thigh, after tumbling through the gravel trap there, and the year before, Valentino Rossi broke his wrist in exactly the same place.

So why is the Ramshoek such a dangerous corner? There are a number of factors at work here. The changes made to the track in 2006 left the track with very few left-hand corners. What's more, most of the left handers still in the track are relatively slow, from the painfully slow Strubben hairpin, to the hard left turns at Ruskenhoek and De Bult. There is only one fast left hander remaining in the track, and that is the Ramshoek. To make things worse, it is located right after a long series of right handers, from Mandeveen through to Hoge Heide, during which the riders are building speed and getting faster and faster.

The upshot of this is that they hit the Ramshoek in full attack mode with a tire which doesn't have enough heat in the left hand side. It's a recipe for potential - and all too often, actual - disaster.

So is there anything that could be done to make the corner faster? It's hard to say. The track has already rejigged the gravel traps and provided a little more asphalt at the edge of the turn, to give riders a better chance of catching the bike before they lose it altogether. But the Ramshoek remains a difficult corner. It's fast - which is one of the reasons it's such a fantastic corner - which always carries an inherent risk. But it also turns the bikes to 90 degrees to the prevailing wind direction, which can leave the bikes at the mercy of a sudden gust of wind, something that is believed to have happened to Hopkins' bike.

All that remains is some tinkering at the edges. The location of the marshall's post could possibly be looked at, as well as the option of using air fence along the tire wall. But motorcycle racing remains a dangerous sport. Although the injuries to Hopkins, Capirossi, Elias, and so many others are tragic, they are not half as tragic as any alteration to the actual track layout at the Ramshoek would be. It truly is one of the great corners in motorcycle racing, and needs to be left the way it is.

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It's usually impact that does the damage (Caparossi's injury was slightly freakish and terrible luck) so it would seem that whatever can be done to minimise impact damage is needed. An air fence would seem to be the simplest quick fix.   I remember watching an enormous super-fast off at Assen years ago - it may have been du Hamel?? where he slid and slid, decided he was slowed down, tried to stand up while still doing maybe 60 kph, somersaulted, slid, tried it again at about 20 kph, flipped again, finally sat up and waited till he had actually stopped sliding - he must have covered 100 - 150 metres  mainly on his bum. Don't change the tarmac, change the potential for impact.. 

Now here's an interesting twist of fate, courtesy of two accidents.. the Assen hopes of three of the five manufacturers in the series rest on Australian riders.  If it is a fully wet race, it is not at all risible that those three could fill the podium, yet Australia is a country of just over 20m people and one in which motorcycling is not a major sport.  Indeed, the general official response of governments in Australia is fairly antipathetic to motorcyclists and the attitude of the Police towards us is quite (negatively) discriminatory.  Perhaps in other countries also, you might find a situation where Police have detained over 100 motorcyclists ( not 'biker gang members', just ordinary touring motorcyclists) for a mass 'exhaust system compliance check'.  Random 'licence checks' are familiar to motorcyclists but certainly not to car drivers over here.

Just as Finns seem to have an extraordinary affinity for F1, Australians seem - per capita - to over achieve in motorcycling - motoGP, WSBK, SBK...  Anybody have any theories?

Anybody have any theories?

I'm trying to figure out how a country can be antipathetic towards riders. ;)