MOTOGP: Round 7 – Assen, Netherlands – 27 June

Valentino Rossi notched up his 100th MotoGP victory at Assen, with a convincing performance that allowed him to dominate the race from early on.

Initially it was Dani Pedrosa who performed his trademark lightning lunge into the lead off the start line, but that was a short-lived affair and he was quickly shuffled back to third place by Casey Stoner and Rossi. Jorge Lorenzo had the worst start of the leaders, dropping back to 6th place before getting his act together to record the fastest time on lap 2 and get past Colin Edwards and Chris Vermeulen.

Stoner’s time at the front was just as short-lived as Pedrosa’s, with Rossi dispatching him and quickly sating to build up a lead while his chief threat – his own team mate, Lorenzo – still had to get past Stoner and Lorenzo before he could even think of taking the fight to Rossi.

Lorenzo took care of Pedrosa toward the end of lap 3, and just a few corners later Pedrosa went and washed out the front end going into turn 1 and slid into the gravel. On the plus side, he didn’t appear to exacerbate his injuries; but it’s still yet another bad weekend for the Spaniard. If not for the accident then he would be in among the knife edge three-way battle for the title with Rossi, Lorenzo and Stoner. It will be very cold comfort to him indeed that his Repsol Honda team mate Andrea Dovizioso exited the race at exactly the same corner six laps later.

Lorenzo had no problem taking care of Stoner, who was fading – once again suffering from a seriously debilitating virus that also left him close to collapse last time out at Catalunya. He seemed content just to hang on to 3rd ahead of Edwards and Vermeulen.

Lorenzo did his best to close the gap to Rossi, but Valentino was in complete control and managed the race from there until the chequered flag without any perceptible difficulties. Lorenzo seemed to start to struggle with handling toward the end and gave up the chase, leaving Rossi to savour the spotlight of his 100th victory with a huge banner full of photos of each and everyone of his previous 99 wins.

With the front end of the race essentially settled early on, then, this was a frankly uneventful race until you got back to the midfield battle. Nicky Hayden had managed a terrific start, climbing five places from 13th to 8th, and he held that spot for a long period of time – albeit by bottling up many faster riders behind him. The pressure was building, and it delivered the most entertaining racing of the afternoon.

First off, James Toseland got past Hayden; and then – to really annoy the Kentuckian – Hayden found himself overtaken by the customer Ducati of Mika Kallio, and then finally by Randy de Puniet and Tony Elias. Toseland and Kallio staged a major battle over what became 6th place, exchanging the place a number of times while de Puniet lurked right behind trying to take advantage of their duel.

Toward the close of the race it looked like Kallio had emerged the winner, but Toseland’s trademark muscular riding style seemed to rattle Kallio who overcooked one of the final turns and crashed into the gravel, giving Toseland a career best result of 6th place (not entirely coincidentally at Assen, a circuit he knows very well from World Superbikes.)

That battle and last second deciding crash added some spice to what otherwise was a very comfortable day at the office for Valentino Rossi – who thoroughly deserved his “Greatest of All Time” title with a hundred not out.

But for all that, his chief rivals for the 2009 championship finished 2nd and 3rd. It’s still as tight as can be out there …

Race result

Pos  Rider            Bike               Time/Gap
 1.  Valentino Rossi  Yamaha           42m14.611s
 2.  Jorge Lorenzo    Yamaha           +   5.368s
 3.  Casey Stoner     Ducati           +  23.113s
 4.  Colin Edwards    Tech 3 Yamaha    +  29.114s
 5.  Chris Vermeulen  Suzuki           +  33.605s
 6.  James Toseland   Tech 3 Yamaha    +  39.347s
 7.  Randy de Puniet  LCR Honda        +  39.543s
 8.  Toni Elias       Gresini Honda    +  39.774s
 9.  Nicky Hayden     Ducati           +  39.823s
10.  Loris Capirossi  Suzuki           +  40.673s
11.  Alex de Angelis  Gresini Honda    +  46.100s
12.  Marco Melandri   Hayate Kawasaki  +  57.777s
13.  Sete Gibernau    Hernando Ducati  +1m05.366s
14.  Niccolo Canepa   Pramac Ducati    +1m09.897s
15.  Yuki Takahashi   Scot Honda       +1m09.930s
16.  Gabor Talmacsi   Scot Honda       +1m25.099s

Retirements:

     Mika Kallio      Pramac Ducati       25 laps
     Andrea Dovizioso Honda               10 laps
     Dani Pedrosa     Honda                4 laps

Championship standings

Valentino Rossi’s win breaks the three-way tie for the championship and gives him a 5pt lead over his team mate, Jorge Lorenzo, and another 4pts over Casey Stoner who did well to struggle on through illness to do the best possible damage limitation job.

But Rossi – and indeed the others – will know they are only a crash away from suddenly being dropped out of the title race, as poor Dani Pedrosa now very much knows. While clearly every bit the equal of Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo as a rider, Pedrosa is in a lowly 5th place and 64pts behind Rossi as a result of his string of crashes and injuries.

As Murray Walker used to say in F1: to finish first, firt you must finish. Pedrosa urgently needs to recapture his ability to finish consistently in the top three or four, before dreaming of race wins and titles.

Pos Driver            Points
1   Valentino Rossi    131
2   Jorge Lorenzo      126
3   Casey Stoner       122
4   Andrea Dovizioso    69
5   Daniel Pedrosa      67
6   Colin Edwards       67
7   Loris Capirossi     55
8   Marco Melandri      54
9   Chris Vermeulen     53
10  Randy de Puniet     51
11  James Toseland      39
12  Toni Elías          31
13  Alex de Angelis     30
14  Mika Kallio         26
15  Nicky Hayden        26
16  Niccolò Canepa      12
17  Sete Gibernau       12
18  Yuki Takahashi       9
        
Pos Constructor Points
1   Yamaha          165
2   Ducati          122
3   Honda            98
4   Suzuki           71
5   Kawasaki         54
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