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MotoGP Trendspotting: TT Assen

Valentino Rossi of Yamaha Factory Racing won TT Assen on Saturday, June 29, the seventh of 18 events in the 2013 MotoGP World Championship that includes the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 16-18 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But it’s time to take a look beyond the results sheets for trends after this race.

Rossi Is Back On Top, But For How Long?: Valentino Rossi said he left Ducati after two fruitless seasons in 2011-12 and returned to Yamaha Factory Racing this year for one reason -- He wanted to win again.

That prospect looked dim after six races this season, as Rossi only had one podium finish, second place in the season opener at Qatar.

But Rossi returned to dominant form for the first time in three seasons, winning TT Assen for his first victory since taking the checkered flag at the Grand Prix of Malaysia in October 2010.

The victory was Rossi’s 80th in the premier class, holding off Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez by 2.170 seconds. Rossi had made 44 consecutive winless starts before the victory, which put his fans at Assen and worldwide into a state of rapture.

Rossi also pulled to within two points of fourth-place Cal Crutchlow in the World Championship standings.

But the big question remains: Was Rossi’s imperious ride a long-term return to form or a temporary blip on the victory radar?

Supporters will point to the significant setup changes Rossi and his Yamaha team made to his forks and brakes during testing after the Grand Prix of Catalunya on June 16, helping Rossi brake deeper into corners with better feel.

Skeptics will point to the opportunistic nature of Rossi’s victory. His Yamaha teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, finished fifth in an incredible show of bravery, racing just 36 hours after surgery to repair a broken collarbone. World Championship leader Dani Pedrosa could manage only fourth, as the Honda RC213V loses some of its lethal effectiveness in the cool conditions that prevailed all weekend in The Netherlands.

So it will be interesting to see if Rossi’s resurgence continues at the next race, the German Grand Prix on Sunday, July 14 at the Sachsenring.

But for now, Rossi’s victory has ignited the World Championship and legions of fans of the world’s most popular rider. Their man is back on top, and the celebrations continue in his native Italy and around the globe.

Mark This Date: Eleven races remain in the 2013 World Championship, but circle the date Saturday, June 29 if Jorge Lorenzo wins his third MotoGP title.

Lorenzo produced one of the most remarkable displays of iron will by any athlete in the world this year by finishing fifth on his Yamaha Factory Racing machine just 36 hours after undergoing surgery to repair his broken collarbone with eight screws and a titanium plate. Lorenzo crashed Thursday during the second practice, flew to Barcelona, Spain, that evening for surgery and returned to Assen Friday.

He then passed a physical test Saturday morning that reportedly involved doing push-ups to show his strength – despite the agonizing pain of a broken collarbone – and then mounted his Yamaha M1 in the morning warm-up and the race.

Lorenzo lost just two points to World Championship leader Dani Pedrosa, who finished fourth on his Honda. Pedrosa leads Lorenzo by just nine points. The gap could have been 32 points if Pedrosa won the race and Lorenzo didn’t compete or finish in the top 15.

2009 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Lorenzo also played a significant mental chip by racing Saturday. Pedrosa knows he won’t win his first premier-class world title by default, as Lorenzo showed Saturday he will do anything short of committing a crime to defend his World Championship.

The next two circuits on the schedule, Sachsenring and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, will pose a tough challenge to Lorenzo. Both tracks have an abundance of left turns, which will place more pressure on Lorenzo’s recovering collarbone.

But Lorenzo knows nothing is impossible after his incredible performance at Assen, which will give him confidence. It could give Pedrosa reason to shudder.

Staking His Claim: It’s uncertain for which team Cal Crutchlow will ride next season, but one thing is very clear: The man deserves a raise.

Crutchlow earned his first career MotoGP pole at TT Assen and recovered from a slow start to finish third on his Tech 3 Yamaha, his third podium finish in his last four starts this season.

The run is even more remarkable considering Crutchlow is riding a satellite bike, which does not have the same, state-of-the-art specification of factory machines. Yet Crutchlow continues to battle with and beat factory riders on a regular basis. The Brit is fourth in the MotoGP standings, ahead of six riders on factory machinery.

Ducati apparently is trying to woo Crutchlow to a factory ride next season. But Yamaha reportedly is countering by negotiating with Crutchlow to stay at Tech 3 for a fourth consecutive season, with the probable incentive of a factory bike.

Ducati’s Despair: Troubling times continue at Ducati.

Ducati riders Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden finished 10th and 11th, respectively, at Assen. Their factory GP13 machines ended up behind the satellite Yamahas of Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith and trailed the production-based Claiming Rules Team bike of Aleix Espargaro.

Hayden and Dovizioso were disappointed with the performance of a “lab” bike during testing between the Catalunya Grand Prix on June 16 and Assen, with both riders suggesting that Ducati needs to start from scratch and build a revised bike with more significant changes.

TOP FIVE FINISHERS (TT Assen, Assen, Netherlands):

1.    Valentino Rossi    Yamaha Factory Racing      
2.    Marc Marquez    Repsol Honda Team      
3.    Cal Crutchlow    Monster Yamaha Tech 3      
4.    Dani Pedrosa    Repsol Honda Team      
5.    Jorge Lorenzo    Yamaha Factory Racing   
 
American finishers: Nicky Hayden, Ducati Team, 11th; Colin Edwards, NGM Mobile Forward Racing, 17th.

TOP FIVE POINTS:
 
1.    Dani Pedrosa    136      
2.    Jorge Lorenzo    127      
3.    Marc Marquez    113      
4.    Cal Crutchlow      87      
5.    Valentino Rossi      85     

American points: Nicky Hayden, eighth; 50; Colin Edwards, 17th, 10; Ben Spies, 18th; 9.

NEXT RACE:

Grand Prix of Germany, July 14, Sachsenring, Oberlungwitz, Germany


***


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