MotoGP: Viñales ends Yamaha win drought in Assen

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Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) has taken a stunning Grand Prix win at the Motul TT Assen, stalking the front before striking for the lead and stretching his legs to pull away from reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) followed up his record-breaking pole position on Saturday with another podium, impressing once again even as he continues to recover from arm pump surgery.

Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) took the holeshot from third on the grid, the Suzuki man streaking away from the line and soon joined by impressive rookie teammate Joan Mir as he slotted into second. Quartararo didn't retain P1 but he stayed third after a solid start, with eventual winner Viñales the man initially losing out a little. Marquez was next up, with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) harrying teammate Danilo Petrucci just behind.

More from the Dutch TT

At the start of Lap 2 Viñales made his first move to take Marquez, but then all eyes on were the lead as Rins suddenly slid out...leaving Mir under the pressure of leading a premier class race for the first time, and Quartararo in second for a rookie 1-2. The number 36 then headed a bit wide and the number 20 sliced through, with Viñales taking over in second and Marquez up into third.

Mir had been shuffled back into fourth but Dovizioso soon struck, having passed teammate Petrucci to begin his assault on the front, before there was another strike of bad luck lightning as Viñales headed wide from the lead. Marquez took over, stalking Quartararo, with Dovizioso then within touching distance of the number 12 Yamaha as he got shuffled back. Marquez tried to attack, Quartararo resisted, and Viñales was then back on their tail and it was a trio locked together in the lead.

That was how it would stay for much of the race. Viñales overcooked Turn 1 but reeled them back in, Marquez attacked Quartararo a lap later after a wobble for the Frenchman, and then Marquez had his own moment and the rookie was back in the lead. The trio were once again line astern, uneasily holding station. 

With 11 to go, Viñales broke the stalemate. He attacked Marquez and got through before then homing in on Quartararo, pouncing where Marquez had earlier as the Frenchman struggled again with a bit of a wobble at high speed. But a small error soon after cost him and Marquez took over in P1. Would that be the number 93's chance to pull the pin?

No chance. Viñales sliced back through as swiftly as he could, and the two were starting to gap Quartararo behind. With six laps to go they were still both locked together and there was nothing in it, but gradually then, Viñales started taking a tenth here and a tenth there.

Finally, it seemed the number 12 had broken the Honda rider. The top three had all had their share of mini dramas during the race, but Viñales was then pitch perfect to the flag. Eventually, the gap was nearly five seconds over the line and the Spaniard celebrated in style. It's his first win since Phillip Island last year, Yamaha's first of the season and one of his most impressive rides.

Quartararo took his second podium in succession in third as he managed to last the distance, ever-impressive as he continues to makes waves in MotoGP™. Dovizioso was the man behind him, locked in battle with Petrucci and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) for much of the race and coming out on top. Morbidelli eventually just beat Petrucci to complete the top five and equal his best ever premier class result.

Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) recovered from a moment to take P7 and overhaul Mir's impressive performance as the rookie finished eighth, with Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) crossing the line in ninth after a more difficult weekend.

Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) completed the top ten for his best result of the season so far and some valuable points, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), escaping a battle behind that saw Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) best Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) and Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) in the points scorers, with all incredibly close over the line.

There were a few names missing from the finishers along with Rins, the biggest of which was Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). The 'Doctor' lost the chance at a ride back through the field as he collided with Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and both went down, making it a difficult run of three for the number 46 of late.

Quartararo the youngest ever to take back-to-back poles

'Fast Fabio' is an easy moniker to bestow, but it's much harder to live up to. And yet, rookie Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) just won't stop breaking records. At the Motul TT Assen the Frenchman put in the fastest ever lap of the track in qualifying to take his third pole position overall, and in doing that he also becomes the youngest ever rider to take back-to-back poles in the premier class. 0.140 is his advantage over Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) as the pattern of the two taking it in turns at the top continued, with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) taking third as he blasted from Q1 to the front row.

Before pole was decided, it was that Q1 that would prove crucial for one big name: Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). The 'Doctor''s difficult  day at the office began earlier in FP3 as his lap that would have seen him move through to Q2 was cancelled for exceeding track limits, and that left him fighting it out in Q1. In that Q1, he eventually finished fourth and will therefore start from P14, with Rins and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) the two men moving through. 

Rins held the advantage first as the Suzuki man started Q2 on provisional pole, but on the second runs Viñales had something to say about it. The number 12 machine put in a stunning lap with a few minutes left on the clock to cut a few tenths off Rins' best effort, and he was the man with the target on his back as Quartararo began his assault. But then, Quartararo began his assault.

Keeping it together to perfection and able to pull out nearly a tenth and a half by the time he crossed the line, the Frenchman made some more history – and celebrated so hard, it made his airbag go off in his suit!

Behind that little slice of history, there's one habitual front row starter missing from the top three: Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). The reigning Champion starts fourth and misses out on a place in the fastest trio for the first time this season, and he'll be looking to slice through early off the line. Alongside him, rookie Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) put in an impressive effort to take a best-yet fifth, just into the 1:33s, with Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) completing the second row.

Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team), third on Friday, is the top Ducati in qualifying and heads up an incredibly tight third row, with Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) in P8 and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) locking it out in ninth. The three men are covered by just 0.032.

2016 Assen winner Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) completes the top ten and he was also just hundredths adrift, with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) a few further tenths off the Australian in P11. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the final man in Q2 in P12, not far off the Italian ahead of him.

Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) starts just ahead of Rossi, with the number 46 facing down a few of his VR46 Riders Academy proteges in his mission to move forward on Sunday. He's won ten times at Assen, and he is the Sunday miracle maker. Can he get in the fight at the front?

A tale of two Yamahas at Assen

It was a tale of two men atop the timesheets on Day 1 of the Motul TT Assen, with Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) fastest on Friday morning from Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) before the duo switched around in the afternoon. Viñales' fastest overall, however, was a margin further ahead – with the Spaniard 0.180 faster than the Frenchman. In the morning, Quartararo's advantage was less than a tenth.

One big headline outside the timesheets on Day 1, however, was Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team), with the Spaniard declared unfit for the rest of the weekend. The five-time World Champion fractured a vertebra in his fast FP1 crash at Turn 7 and is now expected to head for Barcelona for further examination.

Back to the timesheets though and despite the Yamaha duo at the top, it wasn't complete domination on Day 1 for the Iwata marque. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) was third overall and that despite suffering a fast crash in FP1, with teammate Andrea Dovizioso slotting into fourth. 'DesmoDovi' had a better latter session, improving from outside the top ten on Friday morning to set the initial pace in FP2 and eventually just beat Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) to fourth. Rins, who came second last season at Assen, completed a top five where the timesheets really started to tighten with less than a tenth splitting him from Dovizioso.

It got even closer just outside the top five. Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) put in an impressive day and his best showing yet for Noale factory Aprilia as he took sixth, up from ending FP1 just outside the top ten. The Italian was 0.050 off Rins and 0.058 ahead of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), and although he did suffer a crash near the end of play, he was unhurt and happier with direction.

In P8 it was an infinitesimal 0.002 that separated rookie Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) from Marquez after another top day for the 2017 Moto3™ World Champion, and he beat ten-time Assen winner Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) by a tenth too. Rossi takes P9 overall after a late lunge up the timesheets, with Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) doing the same to take the final provisional place in Q2.

Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) took P11 and impressed to beat veteran teammate – and 2016 Assen winner – Jack Miller, who was 13th, with Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing) impressing in P12 on Day 1.

Will Marquez continue his march in Assen?

The drama just inches behind him at the Catalan GP, which included key title rival Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), allowed Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) to extend his Championship lead to 37 points ahead of Round 8 of the season: the Motul TT Assen.

Marquez has enjoyed plenty of success at the TT Circuit Assen, including coming out on top in last season’s epic encounter when seven riders went head-to-head for victory. This added to his 2014 Dutch GP win in the MotoGP™ class, with his other three wins coming in 2010 (125cc), 2011 and 2012 (Moto2™). As well as these victories, Marquez has finished on the podium for eight consecutive years in the Netherlands, a run that stretches back to that 2010 125cc win.

So, you’ll be right in assuming Marquez will be heading into the weekend confident of stepping onto the Assen rostrum once more. Spraying the bubbly is something the number 93 has only failed to do once this season, a crash at the Americas GP ended his COTA reign, but since then the seven-time Champion has bounced back in emphatic fashion. Spanish and French GP wins were followed by a P2 at Mugello, with a first Barcelona victory since 2014 coming his way last time out. But if you think the number 93 will have it easy this weekend, think again.

Last season proved we can expect several challengers in Assen and with the likes of Italian GP winner Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) thrown into the mix, along with Petronas Yamaha SRT duo Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli - plus other potentials - we could have another ding-dong Dutch GP duel on our hands. Marquez, barring any unexpected twists, will be right in the hunt. But the likes of Dovizioso, Petrucci and Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins simply can’t afford to be beaten by Marquez if they want to keep the Championship leader within reach heading towards the summer break – so they’ll be out to ruffle the feathers of the 93 Repsol Honda Team bike.

“Assen is a circuit where you need to be very precise and it’s difficult to be consistent there,” previews Marquez. “To be consistent and precise in the fast change of directions is really important to go well at Assen. I’m looking forward to racing there again as we have had some good battles in the past and have put on a great show for the fans. I am sure we will have a great race on Sunday. The weather is also looking good so I am confident we can have a strong weekend.”

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Simon Patterson

By Simon Patterson

MotoGP and road racing reporter, photographer, videographer