Ben Spies hailed his commanding Assen MotoGP victory as the greatest moment of his career as he helped Yamaha mark its 50th anniversary celebrations in style on Saturday. The Texan was never seriously threatened once he’d opened up a cushion of 2.589s on the first lap as teammate Jorge Lorenzo was involved in a fifth corner collision with Marco Simoncelli. He eventually finished over 7.6s clear of Repsol Honda rival, Casey Stoner, to become the 11th American rider to win a MotoGP race and join legends like Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Schwantz.
“Once I had a four-second lead and I knew Casey had about four seconds on Andrea (Dovizoso), I knew I had the podium wrapped, even if the soft front tire went to crap,” said Spies. “I knew it wasn’t going to come apart but I was afraid it was going to get to a point where Casey would catch me. But I knew he was also on the soft front, so I knew if I could just be consistent and keep the lap time at a mid 35 to 35.7, with a four-second lead and with 10 laps to go, he was going to have to pull a miracle to catch me. I just needed to be consistent and that’s what I did. I’ve been used to leading races, but it’s been awhile since I’ve led a race. When you’re seeing plus 3.5 and plus 3.8 for 15 laps and the name under it is Stoner, you’re not really resting easy. But there was never any fear once I knew I could get into my rhythm because I knew I had the pace to keep Casey at bay, maybe not put time on him but where he couldn’t catch me. My fastest lap was a 35.2 in the middle of the race and I know we could have gone into the high 34s if we needed to. I didn’t want to have to push that being on the softer front tire, which I don’t have a great feeling with, but we could take more of a risk than Casey could and I knew that. I knew he knew that Lorenzo had crashed so he wasn’t going to ride over the limit. It was actually quite a comfortable race.”
Ben Spies: “There was never any fear once I knew I could get into my rhythm because I knew I had the pace to keep Casey at bay.”
The only concern for Spies was the possible intervention of rain. The earlier 125 and Moto2 races had been disrupted by rain that had dominated the weekend, and many anticipated the MotoGP race to be a flag-to-flag encounter. But despite the constant threat of dark clouds over the Circuit van Drenthe, the 26-lap race was completed in the dry and Spies added: “I was looking at the clouds during the race and I didn’t think it was going to rain except for the last three laps. It got quite dark and I just knew when the crash happened with Marco and Jorge I needed to establish as big of a gap as I could to make it easier in the end.”
Meanwhile Lorenzo was furious after his hopes of a second MotoGP victory of the season were ended after just five corners. The Spaniard crashed out on the first lap when he ran into Simoncelli’s factory Honda RC212V when the Italian highsided on a cold tire at the first left-hander. Lorenzo remounted to finish sixth, but he vented his frustration at Simoncelli as he knew a golden chance to claw back precious points on Stoner had been blown.
Lorenzo was confident he had the pace to fight with eventual winner and factory Yamaha teammate. Lorenzo, who also crashed out of the recent British Grand Prix, said: “I didn’t do anything wrong, but Simoncelli crashed at a point when I was right behind him. When something bad happens to me that I cannot control then I’m not thinking about the past, but I could have been in the fight with Ben. There was a real opportunity to finish in front of Casey and be closer in the championship.”
Lorenzo couldn’t hide his frustration with Simoncelli.
After crashing because of Simoncelli, Jorge Lorenzo wasn’t able to get closer in the standings to Casey Stoner.
“Of course Simoncelli doesn’t want to throw me off the track, that wasn’t his intention but I think he is not very conscious about the risks in this class with these tires,” said Lorenzo. “I thought he learnt from the past and the polemic he created with Dani but it’s clear he hasn’t learned. The good thing is that we finished in sixth and took some points. I was fast with a good pace. The championship is now more difficult so we have to go all out to win races and go fast.”
Despite his own disappointment, Lorenzo was full of praise for Spies, who was in commanding form to mark Yamaha’s 50th anniversary celebrations in style.
“In the recent races Ben was catching some confidence and getting faster, and here in Assen he was fast all weekend, so I am not surprised about his victory,” Lorenzo said. “He demonstrated that the Yamaha on this track was a winning bike and I hope at the next tracks it will be the same.”
Cal Crutchlow was denied the chance to score a career best MotoGP finish in Assen after a front tire problem struck while he was leading Valentino Rossi in fourth position. The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team rider was forced to pit at the halfway stage of the 26-lap race for a new front tire after his soft compound selection quickly lost grip on a cold track. The 25-year-old, riding just over a week since surgery to pin and plate the left collarbone he broke at Silverstone, eventually finished in 14th.
“Looking at the positives I got a fantastic start and for the first few laps I was running close to the front in a MotoGP race for the first time,” said Crutchlow. “I felt confident I could keep Valentino behind me, but then after about five or six laps I started struggling with the front tire on the right side. I had no choice but to come in and change it because if I had carried on pushing it was going to be easy to crash and that’s the last thing I need to be doing at the moment. Having only had surgery on my left collarbone just over a week ago I just couldn’t afford to have another crash. Without that I’ve no doubt I’d have finished fourth but I’ve proved again I’ve got the speed and shown that I can race with the best in this class. It wasn’t the final result we wanted but I can’t change it and I still learned a lot.”
Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow was on pace for a top finish when he was forced to pit due to tire wear.
Crutchlow ran the exact same Bridgestone front that Spies and Lorenzo used, but bizarrely an identical issue struck teammate Colin Edwards. The Texan eventually finished seventh after his pace dramatically slowed when he was running as high as fifth.
“That wasn’t an easy race at all and to be honest I’m happy I made it to the finish,” Edwards said. “I was feeling really good and catching Valentino and Cal when I went through the second corner and lost the front. I thought it was just because I was pushing, but the next corner the same thing happened and from that moment it was really difficult. Each time I was in a right-hander I couldn’t turn but that wasn’t my only issue. After about 10 laps I got really bad arm pump. I’ve got no upper body strength with the rib injury from Catalunya, so to compensate I was doing everything with my arms and at one stage, the combination of the two issues meant I thought I was going to have to pull in. It was a case of gritting my teeth and getting some points, but we’ll analyze what happened because Spies won the race on the soft front tire. Our bike isn’t set-up completely different so we’ll have to talk to Bridgestone, but hats off to Ben because he’s done an awesome job all weekend and rode a great race.”