Last year, the Dutch TT was one of the best races in the Moto2 World Championship, and with an even tighter championship this time round, Assen looks set to deliver a cracking intermediate class race yet again.
Two weeks ago, in Barcelona, Fabio Quartararo crossed the line first to take his debut Grand Prix win, and Speed Up’s first since Sam Lowes won in Texas, 2015. It was a breakthrough for Quartararo, who has had a couple of years in the doldrums since his broken ankle at Misano in his debut GP year, 2015. The win was an important one for Speed Up, too, who had traditionally struggled in hotter conditions, but Quartararo’s imperious performance proved that those days may well be gone, which could be important for this weekend, which looks set to be uncharacteristically – for Assen – hot. Assen has been a good track for Quartararo in the past, too, taking one of his two Moto3 podiums at the Dutch track back in 2015, and he will see this weekend as an opportunity to prove that his Catalunya win was no fluke.
Whilst the Catalan GP was a dream for Quartararo, it was a nightmare for championship leader, Francesco Bagnaia. The Italian had looked strong all weekend, which made his race performance particularly confusing, as he finished eighth. The situation became more clear after the race, though, as it became obvious that Bagnaia had suffered a tyre problem – a whole chunk, at least, missing from his rear Dunlop by the end of the race. Fortunately for him, he held the championship lead coming to Assen, although his advantage is down to one point over Miguel Oliveira, and Bagnaia will be keen to extend that on Sunday.
Whilst Oliveira could not keep tabs on Quartararo to fight for the win in Montmelo, he was able to come through from seventeenth on the grid to finish what was, in the end, a comfortable second place. Oliveira is going to need to sort his qualifying out at some point, there are only so many times you can start in the middle of the pack and not get caught up in a race-ending incident. Miguel scored Mahindra’s first Moto3 pole position in Assen, back in 2014, so perhaps this is the time for the Portuguese to set his 2018 Saturdays straight. What is sure, though, is that the warmer conditions this weekend should suit well the KTM-Oliveira pairing come race day, where tyre management will be key to obtaining a good result.
Alex Marquez only managed third place at home in Barcelona. Once more, he went from race winning pace in practice to fighting hard for the last podium spot in the race, this time 3.485 seconds off the win in the end. Since then, Marquez has been testing the Kalex chassis for next year with the Triumph engine, with positive results. With so much time riding the Honda Moto2 Kalex, it is improbable that Marquez will struggle to re-adjust back to the 2018 spec machine, however it will be interesting to see if there are any issues. Assen was a circuit at which Marquez dominated, though, in 2014, taking the Moto3 win by a few seconds from Alex Rins. Perhaps this weekend can thus provide the catalyst for Marquez’ title charge.
Lorenzo Baldassarri needs to bounce back this weekend, but in a different way to his flatmate, Bagnaia. Balda struggled all weekend in Barcelona, in complete contrast to the domination he enjoyed in Jerez, the previous Spanish round. It was seventh in the end for Lorenzo in Montmelo, and the onus will be on him to return to the podium on Sunday.
The Dynavolt Intact GP team were unfortunate to miss a podium in Montmelo, with both Xavi Vierge and especially, Marcel Schrotter in the running for a top 3 finish. Vierge came almost from nowhere in the race to be challenging for the podium, whilst Schrotter had looked strong all weekend and probably would have been on the podium had he not made a mistake at turn one, costing him a lot of time and many positions. Expect the #23 and #97 to be fighting at the front again this weekend.
With so many riders having the potential, coming into this race – and to the aforementioned riders you can add Mattia Pasini, Sam Lowes and possibly Iker Lecuona – the intermediate class should produce a brilliant battle this weekend, which could have, potentially, large ramifications for the championship.