Six-times MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) goes back to work at Assen on Friday, just five days after a remarkable victory in last Sunday’s German Grand Prix.
The 28-year-old Spaniard’s Sachsenring success followed a nine-month layoff through injury and sealed one of the greatest comebacks in motorcycle racing history. The outing was only Marquez’s sixth race since he returned to action at April’s Portuguese GP, underlining his incredible determination to return to the very top aboard his Honda RC213V.
Marquez is still recovering from the right arm injury he sustained at last July’s Spanish GP, so Sachsenring’s anti-clockwise layout minimised the handicap with which he currently rides. While he continues to regain strength in his right arm he finds right-handers more difficult, because he can’t assume his perfect riding position through these corners.
Therefore he fully understands that this weekend’s Dutch TT will be more challenging, because like most European tracks Assen runs clockwise, with 12 right-handers and six left-handers.
Like two of the last races – Mugello and Sachsenring – Assen didn’t host a MotoGP round last year due to the global pandemic. The fact that three races have already returned to the championship in 2021 offers the paddock some optimism, especially since fans will be allowed at Assen, albeit in limited numbers.
At the last Dutch TT in 2019 Honda staged a special celebration to mark the 60th anniversary of the company’s first World Championship race, in June 1959. The event included Honda heroes Mick Doohan and Kunimitsu Takahashi riding demonstration laps aboard historic Honda GP bikes.
Marquez has a great record at Assen, as indeed do all four Honda MotoGP riders, each of whom has stood on the top step of the podium at the track in at least one of the three MotoGP classes. Marquez has scored victories in all three categories: 125cc (now Moto3), Moto2 and MotoGP. In 2010 he took the third GP win of his illustrious career and he followed that with Moto2 victories in 2011 and 2012 and MotoGP successes in 2014 and 2018. He has been on the podium every year since 2010.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) will contest his first Dutch TT aboard his RC213V on Sunday. The 30-year-old Spaniard has also enjoyed some success at Assen. In 2010 he shared the 125cc podium with Marquez, after finishing third, and in 2013 he won the Honda-powered Moto2 race. His best MotoGP result came in the rain-affected 2016 Dutch TT, which he finished in fourth place.
Espargaro is working hard to get the maximum out of his RC213V, following a preseason testing programme that was severely limited due to the pandemic. His best results so far are eighth places in the Qatar and French GPs. The fact that his team-mate is returning to his usual brilliance will certainly help Espargaro because he will be able to analyse Marquez’s data, which will help him see where he can make time.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu Honda RC213V) won the Assen Moto2 race in 2016, when he beat Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli, who are now his MotoGP rivals. The 29-year-old from Chiba returns to the Dutch venue this week still chasing his first podium in the premier class. He has already come very close this year, when he finished fourth in May’s Spanish GP at Jerez, but since then he has struggled to get close to the front.
Last time out in Germany, Nakagami took a gamble on tyre choice – choosing a soft-compound rear slick – in the hope that the weather would repay his gamble. However, the weather didn’t play out as he had expected, so he ran out of grip and finished 13th, which in no way reflected his true potential.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol Honda RC213V) took Assen glory in 2014, when he won the Moto3 race aboard his Honda NSF250RW, on his way to winning that year’s Moto3 World Championship. Five years later the younger Marquez brother secured the 2019 Moto2 World Championship.
This weekend will be the 25-year-old Spaniard’s first outing on a MotoGP bike Assen, so he has much to learn. Last year Marquez scored two podiums in his rookie MotoGP season. This weekend he aims to better his best 2021 result, a sixth place at last month’s rainy French GP.
Assen is the only MotoGP circuit that has been part of the motorcycling World Championships since their inaugural season in 1949. Last year was the first time the paddock didn’t make its traditional stop at the Dutch venue.
The Dutch TT is also the only World Championship event that is not a Grand Prix. TT stands for Tourist Trophy, the name applied to many races during the early days of motorsport when touring machines, rather than pure-bred racers, were used. Assen is a fast track with high-speed, interlinking corners that prioritise handling and stability.
Honda won its first races at Assen during 1961. Since then Honda riders have enjoyed great success in the premier-class race, starting in 1966 and 1967, when Jim Redman and Mike Hailwood won the 500cc race aboard Honda’s first MotoGP bike. Since then Randy Mamola, Wayne Gardner, Alex Criville, Doohan, Tadayuki Okada, Alex Barros, Valentino Rossi, Sete Gibernau, Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner, Jack Miller and Marquez have won premier-class races at the track.
The TT is the fourth race in five weekends, so MotoGP riders and teams will be grateful for the five-week mid-season break that follows. Racing resumes with back-to-back races at Red Bull Ring – the Styrian and Austrian GPs – on 8th and 15th August.