The TT Circuit Assen – aka the ‘Cathedral of Speed’ – in the Netherlands holds the halo as the only circuit to have been a fixture on the Road Racing World Championship calendar since the start of proceedings in 1949.
An amazing achievement, and the high-speed curves and banked corners consistently produce battles that leave spectators and viewers gasping for breath – let alone the gladiators producing the pyrotechnics out on track.
Quite simply, it’s one of the most popular and revered events in the MotoGP title, and will host round 11 this weekend (June 24-26) before the traditional summer recess. That’s Friday until Sunday, but until quite recently the Dutch TT was a Thursday until Saturday meeting – an historical remnant.
Just as the schedule has changed so has the circuit, with the current 4.542km layout a truncated version of the previous 6.027km incarnation which the likes of Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie and Kevin Magee raced on in the 1980s and 1990s.
The dominant form of Doohan (five wins) and Gardner (two) during that era is no surprise, but Magee’s appearance as a wildcard at Assen in 1987 was a headline-grabber for another reason. After brilliant form for Yamaha both domestically and in Japan, the ‘Horsham Hurricane’ was on his second MotoGP wildcard appearance in the team run by three-time world MotoGP champion Kenny Roberts – with support tutelage from his Aussie boss Warren Willing.
Aboard the ever-peaky 500cc two-stroke and at a technical circuit he had never seen before, Magee stunned the paddock by qualifying in second position, ahead of Gardner. He fell back through the pack in the wet race, but his CV was about to add another impressive entry: he would become a full-time MotoGP rider in 1988 alongside American Wayne Rainey.
The week after his Assen heroics, Magee – a staple of Fox Sports’ MotoGP coverage – was back racing in Australia at a cold and wet Calder Park on his Yamaha FZR750 superbike. Back down to earth with a thud, but still with a smile and on top of the world…
Just one of many Assen tales of derring-do, and another chapter will be written this weekend as the championship threatens to turn into a Fabio Quartararo show unless the brakes can be put on the Frenchman and his flying Monster Energy Yamaha.
After two successive victories coinciding with a barren run for Francesco Bagnaia (Lenovo Ducati), the only man who can consistently match him for raw speed, Quartararo now leads leads the championship by 34pts (172 to 138) over Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia). Meanwhile, Bagnaia is well back in sixth alongside Aussie teammate Jack Miller.
With Assen kickstarting the second half of the 20-round championship, Quartararo can grab a vice-like grip on proceedings if he can make it three wins on the trot and become the first rider to go back-to-back in the Netherlands since Valentino Rossi in 2004-2005.
“I‘m so happy with the win at the Sachsenring. I was riding well in Barcelona, but in a way Sachsenring was even better because I did it while not feeling well,” said Quartararo.
“I enjoyed a few days of rest and now I‘m feeling better again, so I‘m ready for the race in Assen. We have good memories from last year there with the team. This is one of my favourite circuits, so I think we can do well again.”
In 2021, Quartararo defeated then Yamaha teammate and now Aprilia teamster Maverick Vinales at Assen, followed by Joan Mir (Suzuki Ecstar), Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Ducati) and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM).
All will again want to stake their claims at the historic venue, and you can also add Miller, Bagnaia, Enea Bastianini (Gresini Ducati), Espargaro, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM), Alex Rins (Suzuki Ecstar) and Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Ducati) to the ensemble cast.
Various sub-plots abound – will Rins’ broken wrist stand up to the rigours, and who will get the upperhand in the jockeying between Martin and Bastianini for the second Ducati factory seat in 2023 alongside Bagnaia – but Miller just wants to continue the superb form he showed last weekend at the Sachsenring in Germany when he finished third behind Quartararo and Zarco.
“I’m excited to be racing in Holland again. I have great memories of this track, as I took my first MotoGP win here,” said Miller.
“After the Barcelona test, we took big steps forward, which helped me find a good feeling with the Desmosedici GP, allowing me to be competitive in the last race in Germany.
“I hope to find these sensations again here at Assen. The weather is predicting rain, so the track conditions will be decisive on Sunday. In any case, I’m ready to face the last GP of the first part of the season.”
Miller’s maiden MotoGP win at Assen in 2016 came in a 12-lap dash to the finish line in wet conditions, with ‘Thriller’ taking the chequered flag on his satellite Honda after a rousing run through the field.
In fact, a sodden Assen has treated Aussie riders well: Ant West also won his two Moto2 races in the wet.
Meanwhile, Binder continues to rack up the points as the Sunday specialist – he’s now fifth in the title – and if he can find more one-lap firepower in qualifying he’ll be pushing for wins sooner rather than later.
The battle of the 2022 rookies is also intriguing, with Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Ducati) banking the most points so far ahead of Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Ducati) and Darryn Binder (WithU Yamaha RNF), but Tech 3 KTM duo Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez are beginning to find their feet.
Fernandez and Gardner dominated the Moto2 race at Assen in 2021, so they already know the fast around the 18-turn layout.
“I am really looking forward to going racing in Assen,” said Gardner.
“The circuit was already fast on a Moto2 bike, so it will be incredible on a MotoGP machine. I hope that we will be able to finish the first half of the season with a good result before heading to the summer break.
“We are coming from two good weekends, so let’s see if we can continue. It looks like we might get some rain which can re-distribute the cards, so let’s see what the weather has in store for us. At least, it won’t be as hot as in Germany!”
The MotoGP race will start at 10:00pm AEST on Sunday, following the Moto3 (7:00pm) and Moto2 (8:20pm) battles – all broadcast live on Fox Sports and Kayo.
Darwin’s Joel Kelso (CIP Green Power KTM) crashed in last week’s Moto3 race in Germany while on the tail-end of the front pack, but Assen will provide a chance for redemption.
In 2021, the top seven Moto3 finishers weer separated by just 1.338 seconds, so it’ll be no surprise if this week’s round is of a similar intense and position-swapping ilk. Tune in at 7:00pm Sunday to catch all the mayhem!
2022 MotoGP standings (after 10 of 20 rounds):
1. Fabio Quartararo Yamaha 172pts
2. Aleix Espargaro – Aprilia – 138pts
3. Johann Zarco – Ducati – 111pts
4. Enea Bastianini – Ducati – 100pts
5. Brad Binder – KTM – 82pts
6. Francesco Bagnaia – Ducati – 81pts
6. Jack Miller – Ducati – 81pts
8. Alex Rins – Suzuki – 69pts
8. Joan Mir – Suzuki – 69pts
10. Miguel Oliveira – KTM – 64pts
23. Remy Gardner – KTM – 9pts
Mark ‘Mav’ Fattore has been hanging around the motorcycle scene longer than he can remember, but still struggles to contain his two-wheel exuberance. He also eats like a bull-at-a-gate, which is why he once swallowed the prong off a plastic fork stuffing down Chinese takeaway during a frenetic magazine deadline. The digital space is a safer haven, and he’ll turn his writing hand to anything.