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From the moment he topped Thursday’s opening practice session, Rossi was a man on a mission to reassert his authority.
With nineteen years of experience reporting on MotoGP™ for Motorcycle News, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2015 season he joins the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.
Before the engrossing showdown between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez came down to a nail-biting final corner in Assen (more on that tomorrow), it’s worth examining how we arrived at such a tense and dramatic finale.
From the moment he topped Thursday’s opening practice session, there was a sense that Rossi was a man on a mission to reassert his authority on the World Championship.
Jorge Lorenzo had seized momentum in the Championship and in the Movistar Yamaha garage with four successive wins. Rossi knew he had to stop the rot, but it was the manner in which he did it that was impressive.
Assen was Rossi’s best weekend since Misano back in 2009. That was the last time he won a MotoGP race from pole position and went fastest in two practice sessions.
So what was the inspiration behind his best show of authority and superiority in six years?
Balance tweaks experimented with at the previous round in Catalunya had already boosted Rossi’s feeling with his YZR-M1. Yamaha then shipped over a revised chassis for post race tests in Barcelona and Motorland Aragon, which Rossi found to be an instant benefit.
The frame made the already sweet handling and fast turning YZR-M1 even more manageable. It felt lighter and more agile, which proved invaluable in Assen’s fast changes of direction through Ruskenhoek, Meeuwenmeer, Hoge Heide and Ramshoek.
It was only in FP4 and Qualifying that Rossi wasn’t fastest through the final sector. And crucially the modified frame prolonged tyre life for the final laps, which Rossi had identified as a key Honda advantage in Marquez’s romp to 13 wins in 2014.
Marquez first hit the front with seven laps remaining and last year he would have been able to eke out precious tenths while the Yamaha struggled on worn tyres.
The Yamaha though is a different beast this season. Rossi’s M1 didn’t get close to making a small twitch all weekend and Yamaha’s engineering group are rolling out new parts that are making the M1 faster and easier to ride.
For Honda and Marquez it is the opposite and in Assen it was in with the old and out with the new. Marquez raced a hybrid RC213V, with the 2014-spec chassis used with this year’s engine and swingarm. The 2015 frame wasn’t born bad. It just wasn’t as easy to use or forgiving as the older version.
This year’s frame offered more precision and was good for a brain out fast lap in Qualifying. But to maximize performance, it had to be ridden like every lap was an attack for pole position, which was even beyond the considerable talent range of Marquez.
For Marquez, reverting back to the 2014 chassis was like putting an old pair of comfortable shoes back on. There was more margin for error and he could flirt with the limit more without going over it.
A motorcycle ridden by Marquez never looks on rails. His natural aggressive style means he uses and abuses the RC213V in a unique way, but in Assen he looked more in control that at any other time this season.
In practice, he could get the bike loose on the brakes with the rear wheel flapping around in the air but gather it all back before he had to enter the corner. At worst he’d run wide.
Do the same on the 2015 RC213V and he’d be looking for a ride to the pits on the back of a scooter.
In the race, his Honda barely bucked or weaved and riding at the limit clearly wasn’t the mentally and physically draining experience of previous races.
Honda’s aggressive power in 2015 means it doesn’t have the acceleration, grip or the rear stability that the Yamaha does.
With more confidence on the front, Marquez also opted for the medium option Bridgestone front tyre, which the other 23 riders ignored. The harder compound offered more support for Marquez on the brakes and allowed him to be aggressive on corner entry to counter any time he lost on the exit.
It almost worked. Marquez recovered almost 0.5s on the last lap with some daring late braking moves to latch onto Rossi’s back wheel heading into the final chicane.
What happened next will be debated for years...
Check back tomorrow (June 30) for the second instalment of Matthew Birt's three-part #RossiVsMarquez Assen analysis.
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