The all-conquering Fiat Yamaha Team of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo move north through Europe this weekend for the historic Dutch TT at Assen. Following their show-stopping performance in Spain last time out, which saw Rossi better Lorenzo by just a split second, the pair will be targeting a repeat performance this weekend. With two wins apiece already this season the World Champion and the Leading Rookie of 2008 currently share the championship lead with Casey Stoner - all three are tied on 106 points with six races gone.
After two wins this season Rossi is approaching yet another incredible milestone in his charmed career; he now lies on 99 wins and another on Saturday would see him as only the second rider in Grand Prix history to reach 100 wins, the other being the great Giacomo Agostini. The Italian maverick has six victories to his name at the track but has had a turbulent last few years there. Following a brace of wins in his first two years with Yamaha he injured himself in practice in 2006 but rode through the pain to finish eighth, before winning in stunning style from 11th on the grid in 2007. Last year he made a rare mistake and crashed on the first lap but made up a gap of more than 20 seconds with a damaged bike to finish 11th. Following a set-up overhaul in Barcelona the 30-year-old is in blistering form and will be hoping to make it two on the bounce at one of his favorite tracks.
Assen is 22-year-old Lorenzo's favorite circuit and the youngster certainly has an impressive track record there, having won there once in 125cc and twice in the 250cc class on the way to his two world championships. He finished sixth there last year but after his stunning performance at home last time out he will not be happy with anything but a return to the podium for the sixth time this season and he will be doing everything possible to take back the advantage from his team-mate following their Montmelo thriller. A hard day's work at the post-race test in Barcelona has put the Mallorcan on an even sounder footing with his M1-Bridgestone package and he is confident that he will once again be a part of the story in Assen.
One of the most technically and physically demanding circuits on the calendar for the MotoGP riders, Assen has barely a straight piece of tarmac in sight. Handling is a major focal point due to high-speed chicanes and dramatic camber changes - the latter, in some places, resembling the profile of the public roads that the original circuit was based around - features that have traditionally favored the nimble YZR-M1.
"Assen is a very special track for all riders and it is a wonderful place to ride a MotoGP bike, even if it was better before they changed the layout," said Rossi. "Last year I had my worst point of the season there so I want to make up for that with a good performance, because the fans are very passionate and they deserve a good show. After Barcelona we know how strong we are but also our rivals are strong too so we can't afford to relax, we have to keep pushing. Montmelo was fantastic, one of my best wins ever, but the championship is very close between the three of us and so we have to try to win again to take the lead. There is still a long way to go but we have to remain consistent."
"I could never have imagined after the crash in Jerez that I would have the opportunity to become leader again so quickly, but here we are at the front with Casey and Valentino!," exclaimed Lorenzo. "The last three races have been fantastic and almost unbelievable, and now for the three of us it's almost like we're starting the championship all over again. Assen is my favorite track and I am going there feeling very confident in my bike and my Bridgestone tires and with all the team feeling very motivated. Last year I was sixth so the most important thing is to improve on that, but of course I am aiming for another podium, because consistency is the way to remain close to the top of the standings. We had a positive test in Barcelona and now I will hope to show our improvements with an even better performance in Holland."
Fiat Yamaha team manager Davide Brivio is anxious to see what happens at the next race. "After such a great race in Barcelona we're excited about getting back on track and seeing what happens next! We had a good test after the race and it was well worth the effort to go back out on track, even after such a hard day's racing. We did some good work and collected important information, which we hope will be useful over the next few races, because now we have a very busy period with four races in five weeks. Valentino has had some great races at Assen, last year was a bad moment but we are feeling very strong right now and we're confident that we will be able to put on another great show."
Lorenzo's crew chief Daniele Romagnoli is staying focused on the task at hand. "We're approaching Assen on a roll and following a useful day's testing in Barcelona. The race there was fantastic and we were able to make more progress on the Monday in order to improve our setting further for the next five weeks, which will be very intense. We need to keep working and keep focused, as we have since the start of the season, because this year is shaping up to be a great battle of which Jorge is a part. Assen is a totally different track to Montmelo and Mugello and it will require a different set-up we're confident that we will be able to find a good balance straight away, It's one of Jorge's favorite tracks so we're looking forward to seeing him put on another great show there."