Assen, The Netherlands – Valentino Rossi penned another stunning chapter in what has now become the longest winning career in the history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing at the ‘Cathedral of Speed’ with his 115th win in the TT Assen, more than 20 years after his first.
In a weird twist of fate, South African brothers Brad and Darryn Binder each finished 13th in their respective races, Brad in the Moto2 race, only his third after returning from surgery for an arm injury, and Darryn in the dramatic Moto3 event, which saw Bo Bendsneyder's KTM cross the line 10th - with the rider close behind in 11th!
Six hundredths of a second was the distance between victory and podium, as the Yamaha superstar just headed compatriot and Ducati privateer Danilo Petrucci over the line, while Honda’s reigning champion Marc Marquez got the best of a three-way fight for third to complete the podium in another close contest, beating Honda privateer Cal Crutchlow by 0.042s at the flag.
At lights out, Johann Zarco (Yamaha Tech 3) took the hole shot from his first ever pole position, despite a better start from Marquez, and led the field away as Rossi took Petrucci for third. Behind was a mid-pack dogfight for fifth as Scott Redding (Ducati) led Andrea Iannone (Suzuki), Ducati Team rider Andrea Dovizioso, Alvaro Bautista on another privately-entered Ducati, Rossi’s Yamaha factory team-mate Maverick Viñales, Crutchlow and Honda privateer Jack Miller in what would go on to be a classic.
As the front four settled into a game of high-octane chess and pulled a gap, Redding was pushing hard in fifth to escape from those on the chase - but ‘DesmoDovi’ and Viñales were soon on the scene, with Viñales taking over in fifth to hunt down the leaders - just as Rossi struck against Marquez at the front.
And then Viñales crashed. Pushing to close down a three second gap to the top four, he lost control at the final chicane and slid off just ahead of key rival Dovizioso, for his second DNF of the year. Then Petrucci took second from Marquez and Rossi began to pull away, opening the lead to more than a second with nine laps to go.
And then? It started to rain - and the story was far from over. As soon as the flag flew to signal bike changes were allowed, Zarco was first in, taking the gamble just ahead of Hector Barbera (Ducati), but the conditions stayed iffy and the majority stayed out.
It was initially a four-way battle as Dovizioso exploded onto the scene at the front, joining Rossi , Petrucci and Marquez, until the rain began to fall again. As they started the last lap, it was Rossi versus Petrucci - both still on slicks - at the front, as Marquez and Dovizioso suddenly found themselves hunted down by Crutchlow and the stage was set: a duel for the win, and a three-way fight for third.
Past backmarkers, through the rain and incredibly tight together over the line, it was ‘The Doctor’ first at the flag, with Petrucci forced to settle for second as Rossi took his first race win in more than a year and the 115th of his career, extending his winning career at world level to the longest in history.
Behind Petrucci, the battle raged as Marquez beat Crutchlow over the line by just 0.042s to complete the podium, with ‘DesmoDovi’ fifth at the flag - and now heading to Germany with the championship lead.
Jack Miller navigated a difficult race to take another impressive result at the TT Circuit Assen where he won in 2016, crossing the line sixth after staying at the sharp end throughout. Ducati privateer Karel Abraham shone in the circumstances to move through in the latter stages, battling similarly-mounted Loris Baz over the line as they took seventh and eighth respectively.
Iannone took some solid points in ninth, just a tenth off the two Ducatis ahead of him, while, 25 seconds later, Aleix Espargaro brought the surviving works Aprilia home a lonely 10th.
Franco Morbidelli bounced back from some difficult races to take the honours in the Moto2 race of the season so far. Key title rival Tom Luthi took a close and hard-fought second with Takaaki Nakagami completing the podium after some final chicane shenanigans with Mattia Pasini.
Luthi got the holeshot ahead of Morbidelli and Nakagami, with KTM rider Miguel Oliveira slotting into fourth. By the end of the first lap, Alex Marquez and Pasini made it six-way fight, and the group started to pull away.
Morbidelli pulled a small gap before Oliveira hunted him down to take over, with Pasini then moving through for second. Pasini then tapped the rear of his bike to show he had the pace before proving the point as he attacked Oliveira for the lead, and the battle raged as the laps ticked down under the constant threat of rain - with elbows out and some incredible moments and moves exchanged.
After the chaos it was Nakagami in the lead after fighting off first Pasini and then Morbidelli. Luthi fought back to prove the closest challenger with four laps to go, and then dived through into the lead Morbidelli following him through, shuffling Nakagami back into third, then fourth, then fifth as Pasini and then Oliveira pounced. There was nothing between the top five as the last lap began, with Morbidelli pushing past Pasini at the final chicane into second, ready for a last attack on Luthi, his key title rival, in the lead.
The two were clear at the front for the final duel and Morbidelli struck early; Lüthi found himself just too far back at the final chicane, taking a solid second and another 20 points for his title push.
Nakagami passed Pasini, who shot across the run-off area of the final corner to cross the line third, but was demoted by the stewards for corner cutting, with Nakagami pulling into parc ferme to complete the podium.
Oliveira stayed out of trouble at the chicane to take fifth – the only non-Kalex rider in the top 10, with Alex Marquez sixth after struggling with grip in the latter stages, followed by Xavier Simeon, Hafizh Syahrin, Fabio Quartararo, Francesco Bagnaia.
Brad Binder worked very hard for 13th and three valuable championship points.
Aron Canet took a stunning second win of the season, striking at the final chicane to cross the line just ahead of fellow championship challenger Romano Fenati. After an incredible ride back through the field after a tough weekend, British Talent Team rider John McPhee completed an all-Honda podium - making up 16 places from his grid position.
With the threat of rain but a dry track and slicks on the field, it was a great start for the three on the front row as Nakarin Atiratphuvapat (Honda) took the hole shot - but lost it to Jorge Martin (Honda) on the exit of Turn 1. Martin then began to streak away at the front – but not for long, as home hero Bo Bendsneyder (KTM) pulled clear of the chaos to hurt him down, followed by championship leader Joan Mir (Honda).
Next to get into the fight was Fenati, as he tagged onto the front three and the Moto3 fireworks began. The lead group of six had then begun to settle into a rhythm, with Adam Norrodin (Honda) and Tatsuki Suzuki (Honda) joining the front four up in the battle. Martin then ran off track and dropped from the lead, pushing to get back in the group early on.
An early superstar to move up from outside the top 20 on the grid into seventh was Fabio Di Giannantonio (Honda) who then crashed out; he was OK but the chasing pack got shuffled as they avoided the fallen Honda - all except Enea Bastianini (Honda), who went down and later retired.
With the top six battling, eyes turned to Canet as he got his head down from the front of the second group and began to close the gap, after having been caught out by Giannantonio’s fall. And he brought Marcos Ramirez (KTM), Jules Danilo (Honda), Gabriel Rodrigo (KTM) and McPhee along for the ride as the train at the front became 11. That set the stage for a classic Moto3 battle, with some drama when Martin clipped Ramirez and dropped back in the lead group slightly - as McPhee and Mir dueled at the front with four laps to go.
Mir was ahead at the art of the final lap, but the drama was far from over, as he lost out midway through and the pack streamed past, with the final few corners just on the right side of chaos. Norrodin crashed out just ahead of the final chicane, before Canet dived through into the lead and held it over the line for his second win of the year – almost side by side with second-placed Fenati in another incredible Moto3 finish.
McPhee completed his astonishing comeback from 19th on the grid to lock out the podium and escape the chaos behind, with Martin taking fourth after slicing back through the lead group and Danilo scoring a career best finish in fifth ahead of Ramirez.
Then Rodrigo and Bendsneyder collided just before the line and the local hero went down; both Bendsneyder and the bike crossed the line in the top 10, but the rider wasn’t in contact with his machine, meaning he wasn’t classified.
Suzuki finished off his impressive weekend at Assen with eighth place, ahead of the big name to lose out in the final corners - championship leader Mir - while Nicolo Bulega (KTM) crossed the line a solid but lonely 10th, ahead of Phillip Oettl (KTM), Juanfran Guevara (KTM) and Darryn Binder (KTM).