The MotoGP World Championship returns to its oldest venue this weekend with a fresh new challenge awaiting it at the legendary Dutch TT. With major changes having taken place at the Assen circuit since last season, the whole of the Northern Loop section making way for a new car park and expanded viewing areas, the Camel Yamaha Team venture into the unknown this weekend as they look to extend their winning run to three straight races.
The 76th edition of the Dutch TT welcomes MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi in top form, the Italian having taken consecutive victories at Mugello and Catalunya in the last two rounds to put his title defence firmly back on track. Rossi has won at Assen for three of the last four editions of the world-famous race and nothing less than another success will do as he aims to cut back a 29-point deficit to current series leader Nicky Hayden (Honda), who has yet to win a race this year.
Rossi's team-mate Colin Edwards himself took three victories at Assen in the World Superbike series, including a double win on his way to the title in a gripping climax to the 2002 season. Last season he joined Rossi on the MotoGP podium after finishing in third place and, after continuing set-up work on the new version YZR-M1 chassis at Catalunya, he is confident of rejoining the battle for a top three position in Holland.
Valentino Rossi: A great emotion;
Valentino Rossi is looking forward getting back out on track just five days after the 56th victory of his illustrious career in Barcelona. Despite his opposition to such a hectic run of races, which will almost certainly see some of the riders injured last Sunday missing at least one round, the Italian sees the next two weekends as a valuable opportunity to maintain his momentum and pull even closer to the championship lead.
"Having three consecutive races is a problem because if you are injured in the first then you risk not being able to ride for two more races," comments Rossi. "By the third race the riders are also tired and begin to lose concentration so it's very tough for everyone. In the past Assen was one of my favourite tracks and it was always a great, great emotion to ride a MotoGP bike at the limit there. Sadly the track has been changed so I am not as excited about it as usual, because it seems from reports that some of the 'Assen magic' has gone. Anyway, I hope that it's still a good track and I know it will still be fun to race there; it always has a fantastic atmosphere and the Dutch fans are wonderful.
"We have now won two races in a row and if we hadn't had the problem in Le Mans then that would be three, which means we are now more or less at the same level that we were at this time last year. These races are really important so I hope that we can manage to win as many as possible. I have moved up to third in the championship now but I still only took five points from Hayden in Barcelona and he is 29 points ahead of me, so we need to keep winning because he is a consistent podium finisher and he always fights to the end."
Colin Edwards: Familiar Territory;
Colin Edwards returns to one of the most successful circuits of his career this weekend but, like Rossi, he is concerned that some of the natural character will have been lost with the recent modifications. After picking up a solid fifth place in the last round at Catalunya the American is now targeting a return to podium form as he heads into three important races at Assen, Donington and Laguna Seca.
"I grew up on the next three tracks and I've finished on the podium at all of them in MotoGP so hopefully this can be a good spell for me," says Edwards. "On paper the Yamaha should work well at the new track and some more time with the new chassis will help us get up to speed. We know that what Valentino is using works so it's a case of adapting it to me, making a few small changes and getting as close to his pace as possible - if not improving on it.
"Like a lot of the riders I have a lot of affection for the old Assen circuit and I hope it hasn't lost too much of its character. Whatever the track is like you can bet that the atmosphere is going to be just as crazy as ever and I always have a lot of fans there - especially some of the Brits who come over for the party. Hopefully I can give them something to shout about on Saturday afternoon."
Davide Brivio: A team effort;
Such a hectic schedule of races is a major strain on any team and Camel Yamaha is no different. It requires a special effort from the riders and engineers right through to the catering staff and it is a point of the season where every member of the workforce plays a crucial role. Team Director Davide Brivio says everybody has a major part to play as the points quest continues with a second race in the space of just six days.
"It was amazing watching the boxes being packed up in the pit garage and the hospitality unit being dismantled on Sunday night to think that in just two days' time they would all be put back together at a circuit 1800 kilometres away," says Brivio. "It is a huge challenge for the whole team and a lot of pressure but it is another example that shows how a rider cannot be successful on the track unless he has the right staff behind him to put everything in place.
"Our target before Mugello was to win the next four races so now you could say the job is half done. We want the same level of performance at the next two rounds and the same result, although we know it will be difficult. Assen will be a very interesting challenge because it is virtually a new track - like going to China, Laguna Seca or Turkey last year - but the base setting of our bike has improved vastly and we hope it can be adapted quickly."
Technically speaking: Assen according to Andrea Zugna;
Despite the dramatic changes to Assen's unique layout over the winter, it still promises to be one of the most technically and physically demanding circuits on the calendar for the MotoGP riders. With barely a straight piece of tarmac in sight, handling remains a major focal point due to high-speed chicanes and dramatic camber changes - the latter, in some places, resembling the profile of the public roads that the original circuit was based around 76 years ago. Andrea Zugna, Data Engineer for Colin Edwards, says the information gathered last season will still be highly valuable.
"It will be interesting to see how the track is without the Northern Loop because that was a very characteristic section of the circuit, with high camber and left-right switches," says Zugna. "I suppose the first section of the circuit will now be similar to China, with a series of tight right-handers from turns one to four causing strain on the right hand side of the tyre, and that will also make it physically demanding on the riders.
"As far as the setting is concerned we will still start with the same as last year because we know it works for around 90% of the track. On Friday morning we will analyse the data from the final 10% and the engineers will be able to make the adjustments based on that information. We expect Assen to be more like a 'normal' circuit now. It has always required only partial throttle and that will still be the case, so it is not too critical on gearbox and engine settings but does require a good compromise to cope with the fast direction changes and the slow chicane which was modified last year. Our setting worked well last year and we finished on the podium so hopefully that can be the case for both riders again."