Valentino Rossi has won the Dutch TT at Assen, waiting for 10 laps behind early leaders Johann Zarco and Marc Marquez before moving past them to lead. Four laps from the end, surprise talent Danilo Petrucci took the lead, and when repassed by Rossi tailed him closely for the last four laps, prevented from making a final push for the win by the delay of lapping Hector Barbera and Alex Rins. At the end, it was Rossi, Petrucci, Marquez, Cal Crutchlow, and Andrea Dovizioso (who now leads the championship).

Why wait? Rossi said, “At the beginning of the race, I saw Zarco in front but I know that he had soft tires, so I think that the race will be against Marc.”

Petrucci added, “During the last few laps, I saw it was only me and Vale. I was a little bit faster and had more acceleration through the fast corners in the last sector, and I was preparing an attack for the last laps. But I found Barbera in the penultimate lap, in the last chicane, no blue flags [yield the line, a faster rider is coming behind you]. And then, Rins, with rain tires, in corner six in the last lap. I lost Valentino. I felt the win very close.”

valentino rossi assen 2017 race action
Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, TT Assen 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

This race was a high-level guessing game because most of practice plus warm-up had been wet, forcing all riders to pick dry tires and set-ups out of thin air and their experience. Because it had rained, the newly dry track at the start would be quite different from a dry track after a whole weekend of dry practice and qualifying.

In the race, the fastest lap was by Scott Redding, a 1:34.617, that was a full second off the lap record. And in practice, Rossi had pronounced the grip to be the worst ever for Assen, while Marquez had acknowledged that the Yamahas were a "step ahead." Two-thirds of the way through the race, light rain returned.

Early-season points leader and Rossi teammate Maverick Vinales, from whom so much is expected, crashed out again. Starting 11th as one of the vicissitudes of the rainy practices, he moved rapidly up to sixth on Lap 9, fifth on Lap 11, only to high-side the next lap in the last chicane.

“I can’t explain what happened because I don’t even know how I crashed," he said. "I’ve passed through there 2000 times and didn’t crash. This crash is something you cannot explain, you can just learn. I did my best. It was everything or nothing and finally I got nothing.”

danilo petrucci assen 2017 race action
Danilo Petrucci, Octo Pramac Racing, TT Assen 2017Courtesy of Octo Pramac Racing

Numbers tell Vinales' story very well. The consistency of a rider’s lap times is a measure of how hard he is pushing. At a good pace and rhythm, a top rider is like a clock, very regular, but as he pushes harder, small mistakes and adjustments begin to appear, increasing the lap-time "scatter." Pushing harder yet, his mistakes grow and so does the time required to “gather them up.” Finally, a mistake too big to be retrieved can occur—and it did.

Over Laps 2 through 11, Vinales’s average scatter was 0.410 seconds, but in the three laps before his crash, it rose to 0.772. Rossi’s numbers were 0.216 and 0.196, clearly indicating that Vinales was not only pushing, but that he pushed much harder in his final laps. Second-place man Petrucci’s average scatter was even lower, an impressive 0.178 seconds, and for Marquez, 0.153.

The field started the race on slicks but when light rain returned (morning warm-up had been wet and was predictably topped by “regenmeister” Jack Miller) at two-thirds distance, riders were faced with the usual lottery. If it rains steadily harder, the rider who switches now to rain tires will win. But if light rain continues or if the track dries, rains will overheat and turn to gum. Zarco pitted.

marc marquez assen 2017 race action
Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team, TT Assen 2017Courtesy of Repsol Honda

“Just when it began to rain, I was really scared with the slick tires,” Zarco said. “We were already on the limit when it’s dry so you can imagine when it’s a little bit wet; you can crash and I didn’t want to take this risk. [If it had rained more] then I could be a god, but finally, from hero to zero.”

Of this time, Rossi said, “Then it started to rain so it was like you had to start another time from zero. I hope that it won’t increase too much and I fight a little with Danilo, who is always strong in these situations.”

Petrucci’s response was, “At the beginning when the rain came we saw only the white flag, which means there are very few drops on the track. I saw on my windscreen little rain, but not too much. We knew that when the water is flowing from the windscreen it is very heavy, but this time not, so we were very careful but there was not enough water on the track and it was useless to [pit for the “rain bike”].

cal crutchlow assen 2017 race action
Cal Crutchlow, LCR Honda Team, TT Assen 2017Courtesy of LCR Honda

Marquez said, "I had a big moment in the first part of the race and then when there was rain. I started to cool down a little bit [he knows Sachsenring, where Hondas traditionally have the advantage, is next]. I know also that Danilo and Valentino were pushing a lot but I was able to be there.

“When I saw the rain it was so difficult to understand so then I decided I will copy the front guys. It was difficult to understand when was the point to change the bike and, normally, I’m very good there, but from dry to wet is more difficult. I saw with slick tires the lap time was still faster than with rain tires.”

andrea dovizioso assen 2017 race action
Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team, TT Assen 2017Courtesy of Ducati Team

Andrea Dovizioso gave his admirably reasoned account; “I didn’t have the perfect feeling and I couldn’t catch the first group. I was quite far in the middle of the race and I saw Maverick was behind me so I tried to use his line in the only lap I was behind him. Fortunately, when he crashed, I didn’t hit him but I was very, very close.”

Dovizioso had been seventh on Lap 1, moved to fifth on Lap 12 (“I was really competitive in the middle of the race”), then third on Lap 19, and second the following lap. Looking good! Some thought he’d made a braking mistake, letting Petrucci past, but he was also thinking about finishing.

The final laps saw a spirited exchange among Dovi, Marquez, and Crutchlow over who would be third. Crutchlow came past the other two but was repassed by Marquez.

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Jack Miller, Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS, TT Assen 2017Courtesy of Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS

"I made a big mistake in the race and that was to show my hand a lap early," said Crutchlow. "I showed [Marquez] that the track was a lot drier than he thought it was. Then, he made a fantastic pass. I heard his bike, and he shut the throttle and was braking, and then he reopened the throttle to ride underneath me. I heard 'waah' and I thought someone's either crashed or someone's coming through, and he came through."

Commentator Julian Ryder suggests that the chassis Rossi is currently riding, and which he prefers to the 2017 model, is not, in fact, a brilliant innovation of the moment but is a 2016 quietly pulled from the back of one of the satellite teams’ trucks. And the Honda men are now likely all on the same “Crutchlow chassis” that has resulted from the Englishman’s demanding regimen of development testing. As Crutchlow has repeatedly spoken quite heatedly of the difficulty of riding the shaking, unstable Honda, a predictable response might be that Honda “team principal,” stubble-faced Livio Suppo, would call him to the office and make him stand in the corner through lunch. But no such thing! Instead, Crutchlow’s contract has been extended two more years. Clearly, his criticism has been useful.

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Karel Abraham, Pull&Bear Aspar Team, TT Assen 2017Courtesy of Pull&Bear Aspar Team

Marquez is saying the same: "Stability is one of the things we are working quite hard on this season. Here, with fast corners—also, it is really windy—the bike is shaking a lot. The Ducati also is shaking but the Honda also is very unstable."

Where is Jorge Lorenzo? For the moment, nowhere, as he seems to have been spooked by the weekend’s unpredictable variations in grip and by reverses in qualifying. He is not the first top rider to do best when nearly all variables are under control.

Rossi is understandably happy to win for the first time in a year or more. “I’m also happy from a technical point of view because we worked a lot on the bike and we changed the chassis, and now I feel like I can ride the bike more in my own manner, in a better way.”

tt assen 2017 podium
TT Assen 2017 podium: Danilo Petrucci, Valentino Rossi, and Marc MarquezCourtesy of Octo Pramac Racing

Race Results

Pos. Rider Num. Nation Team Time/Gap
1 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 41'41.149
2 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA Octo Pramac Racing 0.063
3 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA Repsol Honda Team 5.201
4 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR LCR Honda 5.243
5 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA Ducati Team 5.327
6 MILLER Jack 43 AUS Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 23.390
7 ABRAHAM Karel 17 CZE Pull&Bear Aspar Team 36.982
8 BAZ Loris 76 FRA Reale Avintia Racing 37.058
9 IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA Team Suzuki Ecstar 37.166
10 ESPARGARO Aleix 41 SPA Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 1'01.929
11 ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 1'09.384
12 RABAT Tito 53 SPA Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 1'10.121
13 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA Repsol Honda Team 1'10.344
14 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA Monster Yamaha Tech3 1'35.655
15 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA Ducati Team 1 lap
16 BARBERA Hector 8 SPA Reale Avintia Racing 1 lap
17 RINS Alex 42 SPA Team Suzuki Ecstar 1 lap

Rider Standings

Pos. Rider Num. Nation Points Team
1 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 115 Ducati Team
2 VINALES Maverick 25 SPA 111 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
3 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 108 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
4 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 104 Repsol Honda Team
5 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 87 Repsol Honda Team
6 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 77 Monster Yamaha Tech3
7 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 62 Octo Pramac Racing
8 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 60 Ducati Team
9 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR 58 LCR Honda
10 FOLGER Jonas 94 GER 51 Monster Yamaha Tech3

More Photos From TT Assen 2017

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Loris Baz, Reale Avintia Racing, TT Assen 2017Courtesy of Reale Avintia Racing
andrea iannone assen 2017 race action
Andrea Iannone, Team Suzuki Ecstar, TT Assen 2017Courtesy of Team Suzuki Ecstar
aleix espargaro assen 2017 race action
Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, TT Assen 2017Courtesy of Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

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