Hayden hits Holland hungry for vital victory

World Championship leader Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) (4th 2005) arrives at Assen for Saturday’s race with a 20-point advantage over second-placed Loris Capirossi (Ducati). The super-consistent American, who has now scored 10 podium finishes in the last 11 races, knows that a win at this stage of the season would heap pressure on his rivals as the halfway stage of the season looms.

With seven of 17 races already run, Hayden’s lead is still slender enough for the Kentucky Kid to know that the hard work is yet to come. If he can register a first win of the season here at Assen, it would send out a strong signal that he is riding at peak form at just the right time.

After the first turn chaos at Catalunya a week ago, three riders were hospitalized, but, incredibly, it appears two of those riders are likely to appear at Assen. Capirossi is scheduled to ride although his team-mate Gibernau is not. And Marco Melandri (Fortuna Honda RC211V) is receiving intensive therapy on his injured neck and shoulder in a brave bid to make the grid.

The Italian superstar lies fourth overall in the World Championship standings on 89 points and he will do all he can to add to his tally of two wins so far this year. He finished a fine second here last year in the 250cc class and has won a Dutch TT on board both a 125 in 1998 and on a 250 in 2002.

 

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC211V), who finished second here on a 250 last year, is eager to make amends for his failure to score In Catalunya and the dynamic Spaniard knows he will have work to do getting to grips with a 990cc machine on what amounts to a ‘new’ track.

The entire ‘Northern Loop’ section has been bulldozed to make way for a hotel and conference centre complex, reducing the lap distance from 6.027km to 4.555km. How much this affects the riding (and viewing) experience will shortly be witnessed.

One hundred miles north of Amsterdam, Assen is a fearsomely demanding track. A former ‘road’ circuit, with some of the old layout retained, the track is very narrow in Camber, essential for drainage on a highway, gives the track a significant crown and this is one of the features of a classic track that catches many riders out.

The track can ‘drop away’ owing to negative camber on entries to turns, and perhaps more significantly, many exits are plagued with the same condition. Just as a rider needs maximum drive – the asphalt conspires to deprive him. And this is only one element that makes Assen so challenging. The turns almost merge into one here and riders are painfully aware that one small mistake can have severe repercussions in terms of overall lap time.

 

 

Much will depend on how the teams and riders wrestle with getting these 250bhp machines adapted to the specific demands of the Circuit van Drenthe. A certain amount of stability is vital for the swooping turns, yet quick-steering is essential for the ultra-fast back section where rapid changes of direction at 170mph are the requirement.

But the extensive modifications may have significantly changed the character of this historic circuit, which has hosted a Grand Prix since the series began in 1949.

Nicky said, “It’ll be interesting to get to Assen on Thursday morning and see what the new track’s like. I used to really like the old layout, it still had that old-school feel and I always went well there. I’m not complaining though – as long as it’s still a good track I’ll be ready to go. It’ll be a challenge not only for the riders but also for the teams.

The transmission will be different, the bike set-up will be different, so it’s just another curve ball we’ve got to be ready to hit.”

Dani said, “There are two main issues. First, it’s a modified track so we’ll have to see how different it is to ride. And the other thing is the weather, which is normally very unstable with a good chance of rain. Of course we hope it stays dry. I got my first 125cc Grand Prix win at Assen but this year they have modified the track a lot, so effectively it’s going to be a new track to learn. Plus I’m going to be riding a MotoGP bike there for the first time so I think we’ll be very busy in the practice sessions.”

 

Kenny Roberts (Roberts KR211V), a splendid third in Catalunya, said, “Catalunya was a good race for the team and I’m going to Assen confident we will make more progress with the bike. I heard the track has changed a lot so I can’t say how it will suit our bike. We have a few small things we can do to improve my number one bike and we’ll work to bring the second bike up to the same level. I just hope we get the dry track time we need.”

Melandri said, “My neck hurts a lot and I think this will be the main problem. Anyway the final decision will be taken before the first day of practice. I’ve seen the layout of the modified track and they’ve changed the most technical and difficult part, so this is a positive in terms of my current physical condition.”

“It’s a shame about the crash in Catalunya,” said Casey Stoner (LCR Honda RC211V), who fell while in contention for the lead. “But this is another race and another chance to get back on terms. I’ve had a podium here on a 125, but it’ll all be very different here on a MotoGP bike, especially with the changes made to the track.”

Toni Elias (Fortuna Honda RC211V) said, “Assen is one of my favourite tracks, it’s technical, fast and demanding. I still can’t ride exactly as I’d like as I need to improve my feeling with the rear and find the traction we need. I really look forward to racing at the Dutch TT. I hope that the changes at the Northern Loop haven’t changed the beauty of this track too much. But before arriving in Assen, I’d like to wish Marco, my team-mate a speedy recovery.”

Makoto Tamada (Konica Minolta Honda RC211V) said, “Assen is very technical, very fast and not very easy. It’s difficult to pick out reference points and any error in your racing line affects you on the next part of the track. The weather is often unpredictable and it can rain. And I’m curious to see what the new track modifications are like – in some places the track seems to have changed a lot.”

In the 250cc class, it’s Andrea Dovizioso (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW) setting the pace after his commanding maiden 250 win in Catalunya. The Italian has now extended his World Championship lead to 25 points over Jorge Lorenzo (Aprilia).

 

After the retirement of Argentine star Sebastian Porto, hungry Colombian Martin Cardenas now steps up into the Repsol Honda 250 team from the Würth Honda squad. Porto enjoyed 12 years in the 250 class, reaping seven wins and 19 podium finishes in his long career.

Cardenas said, “This is the best chance I’ve had in my career and I’m still a bit surprised. Now I have to make good use of this big chance and respond to the trust Repsol, Alberto Puig and the team have put in me. The only thing I can say is that I’ll do everything I can to achieve a good result and make good use of this big opportunity.”

Dovi said, “Finally I clinched my first victory in 250 and I really enjoyed the way I got it, I felt emotions that I wasn’t used to anymore! I like Assen even though last year I struggled a lot here. But, this year we are more competitive and after my success on Sunday we are all motivated. Now I look forward to seeing the new TT track.”

Yuki Takahashi (Humangest Racing Honda RS250RW) said, “I am not happy about Catalunya, because I crashed twice during practice and my feeling with the bike wasn’t very good in the first part of the race. But, then, in the final part I was able to run the same lap times as the top riders. For this reason, I feel motivated for Assen, even though last year I didn’t get a good result.”

Thomas Luthi (Elit Grand Prix Honda RS125R) knows he has work to do here if he is to get back on terms with the men at the top of the 125cc World Championship points table. The reigning World Champion currently trails series leader Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia) by a massive 90 points.
Gabor Talmacsi (Humangest Honda RS125R), winner here last year, trails Luthi by two points overall. The Hungarian flier is confident he can get his machine set up right here and challenge for the top placings on Saturday.

Luthi said, “I can’t say too much about Assen yet because of the changes they’ve made. If a big part of the circuit is still the same I know I will like it. I always enjoy racing here, it’s simply a fantastic track to race on, all the riders like it here. Assen will suit us better than Catalunya where I had to use the slipstream to stay with the top group down the long straight.”

Talmacsi said, “Last year I won the Dutch TT, but this year the circuit has been changed, so I look forward to seeing how it is. In Barcelona, the bike set-up was OK, but I suffered in acceleration and I couldn’t do better than eighth position. Anyway, I’m confident we can get a better result here at Assen.”

Rookie Bradley Smith (Repsol Honda RS125R) said, “I’m looking forward to Assen. We had a good result in Catalunya so hopefully we can take it on to Assen. They’ve changed the layout, but it won’t make any difference to me because I’ve never been there before. It’s a fast track. I’ve played it a few times on the Playstation. I’m looking forward to it and hope to learn the track pretty quickly and set some good lap times.”

 

 

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