Early summer sunshine welcomes MotoGP to Holland

Wednesday, 22 June 2005

Early summer sunshine welcomes MotoGP to Holland

The MotoGP World Championship paddock has filtered into the Assen circuit on the crest of a Dutch heat wave this week as summer arrived uncharacteristically early to Northern Europe. More accustomed to swiftly bolting their hospitality awnings and tents to the ground in wet and windy conditions at the historic TT Circuit, the Grand Prix team members and organisational staff have seemingly brought the Mediterranean weather with them from the last two rounds in Italy and Spain as temperatures touched 30ºC.

A group of riders made the most of the conditions yesterday afternoon to take a traditional barge trip along the canals of Amsterdam, taking in the sights of one of Europe's most colourful cities. Nicky Hayden, Alex Hofmann and Marco Melandri were joined by Dutch 125cc youngster Raymond Schouten for the excursion, although all four will be forgiven for being too preoccupied with thoughts of this weekend's racing to take in the architectural details of Holland's capital.

For Melandri in particular the 75th anniversary Gauloises TT Assen holds a special significance as he looks to improve on his impressive start to the season and targets a first MotoGP victory at the scene of his maiden 125cc triumph back in 1998. "Up to now we have been consistent, we're constantly growing, so now is the time to take the next step forward," said Melandri, who has taken three podium finishes and three fourth places from the opening six rounds. "I know it is a difficult step and I don't want to get ahead of myself but I feel more and more comfortable every time. Hopefully it can be this weekend at Assen, one of my favourite circuits."

The Italian's biggest challenge will be overturning a sensational run of form for the series leader Valentino Rossi, himself a regular visitor to the top step of the podium at Assen. The World Champion made his first visit there in the arms of his father Graziano, who won the 250cc race in 1979, and has since taken victory himself in the 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP categories. So far this season he has taken five victories and one second place.

"I was only four months old when Graziano won here so it is a special circuit for me, but I think it is also a special circuit for everybody," reflected Rossi today. "It the oldest track in the World Championship, it's an old style circuit and it is always a pleasure to ride here. You need to be very brave and ride at 100%, but it is a great feeling when you get it right."

One rider who won't be experiencing that feeling this weekend is Yamaha rookie Toni Elías, who has stayed at home in Barcelona to continue his recovery from wrist and leg fractures. Fellow Spaniard David Checa will again deputise for Elías, who took his first Grand Prix victory in the 125cc race here in 2001. Whilst it would have taken a superman performance from Elías to race at Assen this weekend, the fans that flock to the circuit for tomorrow's free practice sessions will be forgiven for rubbing their eyes at the sight of another action hero on track. Makoto Tamada's helmet, leathers, boots and motorcycle have all been specially designed around the Batman theme as part of a promotion for the movie Batman Begins, and will be auctioned off for the MotoGP charity Riders for Health at the Donington Park Day of Champions next month. .

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