The second half of the 2022 MotoGP World Championship commences this weekend at Assen, the most historic venue in motorcycle Grand Prix racing, with the 11th race of this year’s 20 MotoGP rounds.
The roads around Assen in the north of the Netherlands have been hosting motorcycle races since the 1920s and the Assen circuit is the only venue that survives from the inaugural World Championships in 1949.
Assen is also unique for the event’s name. While the other 19 rounds of the 2022 MotoGP series are called Grands Prix, Assen is named the Dutch TT, not the Dutch GP. In the earliest days of racing at Assen the organisers were given permission by the Isle of Man TT, at that time the world’s biggest motorcycle racing meeting, to give its event the same designation, which stands for Tourist Trophy, because competition machines of that era were based on touring models.
Assen is also historic for Honda. It was at the Dutch track that the company made its European mainland racing debut in June 1960, after contesting the 1959 and 1960 Isle of Man TTs.
Honda didn’t win first time out at Assen, but newly signed rider Jim Redman finished fourth in the 125cc race, just one place off the podium, despite having ridden the RC143 twin in only one practice session.
Honda returned to Assen the following year, when Mike Hailwood won the 250cc TT and Tom Phillis won the 125cc TT, on their way to winning Honda’s first World Championships later that year.
Apart from an 11-year absence between 1968 and 1978, Honda has always been involved in Grand Prix racing, gaining more race victories and world titles than any other manufacturer, always enjoying the highs and always learning from the lows.
Honda’s four MotoGP riders come to the 2022 Dutch TT following a difficult Sunday at last weekend’s German Grand Prix. Troubled by injuries and ill luck, three of four RC213V riders didn’t make it to the finish of the race, which was staged in debilitating 35-degree heat.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) had to withdraw from the race due to injuries to his ribs sustained in a practice crash. Since then he has been working hard with his medical team to prepare as well as he can for the Dutch TT.
Like most riders the 30-year-old Spaniard loves the Assen layout, which is dominated by challenging fast corners and high-speed direction changes. However, controlling a MotoGP bike around the serpentine Dutch track won’t be easy with his still-healing ribs.
Espargaro has enjoyed victory and more at Assen. In 2013 he won the Honda-powered Moto2 race, on his way to winning that year’s Moto2 World Championship, and in 2010 he finished third in the 125cc race, behind winner Marc Marquez. Espargaro achieved his best Assen MotoGP result so far in the rain-affected 2016 race, when he took a fourth-place finish.
Honda’s six-times MotoGP king Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) is currently recuperating from recent surgery to his right arm, so his place this weekend will once again be taken by Honda’s MotoGP test rider Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V)
Bradl has been racing at Assen for almost a decade and a half but the track has never been very kind to him in terms of results. His best finishes so far are two sixth places, in the 2009 125cc race and the 2013 MotoGP race, when he rode an RC213V for the LCR Honda team. Bradl contested the Honda-powered Moto2 series in 2010 and 2011, winning the title in 2011, but didn’t score a single point at Assen in either of those two years.
The last time Bradl competed at Assen was in 2016, so he may take some time reacquainting himself with the layout.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) had high hopes of a great ride in Germany last Sunday but slid off while competing for a top-ten result. The 31-year-old from Chiba hopes for better at Assen, where he won the 2016 Moto2 race, beating current MotoGP rivals Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli.
Nakagami aims to better his best MotoGP ride at Assen this Sunday, a ninth place recorded last June.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) has so far scored one victory at Assen, when he rode his Honda NSF250RW to first place in the 2014 Moto3 race, the second of the three wins that took him to that year’s Moto3 World Championship. Four years after that he finished third in the Moto2 race.
This year the 26-year-old Spaniard aims to improve on his MotoGP debut at the track last June, when he finished 14th. Assen is an immensely complex and technical racetrack, which takes time and dedication to learn.
Assen is often called ‘The Cathedral’ because its sinuous, high-speed layout is often the crowning moment of the Grand Prix season. The current track has hosted races since the 1950s, though the layout has been much modified and gradually reduced in length since then. It underwent major modifications in 2006, when the track was shortened from 5.997km/3.726 miles to 4.5km/2.82 miles. Since then Assen is more like a conventional GP circuit, though the final section of the current track retains some of the old circuit’s character with super-fast, sweeping corners that test rider ability and machine set-up like nowhere else.
Honda riders have enjoyed many premier-class successes at Assen in recent decades. American Randy Mamola gave the company its first 500cc success at the track in 1984, riding a Honda NS500. Since then Wayne Gardner, Alex Criville, Mick Doohan, Tadayuki Okada, Alex Barros, Valentino Rossi, Sete Gibernau, Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner, Jack Miller and Marc Marquez have all climbed to the top step of the podium at the legendary Dutch venue.
Once Sunday’s racing is over the MotoGP paddock will pack up and head off on a much-needed mid-season holiday break, which now numbers five weeks, following the cancellation of July’s Finnish GP. The paddock will reconvene at Silverstone, for the British GP on August 7.