The MotoGP circus rolls into the Netherlands this weekend for the Assen Grand Prix, and sitting pretty at the top of the table is Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda) who will be hoping to increase his championship lead over nearest rival Jorge Lorenzo. Stoner is in a good position after claiming 4 podiums in the past 4 years at Assen. In the pre-race press conference Stoner wasn’t getting cocky though, “The early part of the season was a bit up and down but the last few races have been amazing and everything has worked out really well,” said the Repsol Honda rider. “The last win at Silverstone was definitely the most cherished one, because it was very difficult with the tough conditions, so to come away with the win and Championship lead was perfect for us.”
He continued, “We don't just expect that form to continue, we know we have to continue to work hard. Everything's worked so well for us so far, but that can change at any moment so we need to stay focused and see what we can do this weekend. From our past record at this track I think we can hope to be running at the front. We've had some really good success, and hopefully we can take it to try and get another podium this weekend.” Stoner’s team-mate Andrea Dovizioso will be hoping to continue his progress after an impressive 2nd place at the British Grand Prix that sees the Honda rider currently sitting 3rd in the championship.
Jorge Lorenzo will be hoping to bounce back from his major disappointment at the British Grand Prix, where in the awful conditions he crashed out of contention, and in the process lost his championship lead to Stoner. “In Silverstone I made a mistake and couldn't finish the race, it was a long run of finishing in the top four but now the record is over and we have to look to the future,” said the reigning World Champion, who won last year's Assen race. “I think that we now have less pressure and can push a little bit more. Of course I don't want to crash or get injured and lose second position. I have good memories at this track from all categories, so it's maybe my favourite track and it's great to be here. You have to be so smooth through the corners and I think I'll be very comfortable here.”
He continued with hope after making huge steps with his Yamaha M1, “Over the past few races we have made some changes, and have improved by a few tenths so my confidence on the bike is rising, so let's see if we can be closer sooner here than at the previous tracks.” Ben Spies will also be hoping to get back on track after a nasty fall at Silverstone which saw him hit a tyre barrier at high speed, leaving him unable to walk for 2 days afterwards.
Dani Pedrosa will miss another grand prix as he still recovers from his broken collarbone, and has been replaced this weekend by San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Hiroshi Aoyama. “I would like to say thanks to HRC and my team San Carlo Honda Gresini for letting me ride this factory bike, I think it's a very good opportunity for me,” said Aoyama. “On the other hand I'm sorry for Dani because it means he is still at home and suffering with his injury. I hope he recovers soon.”
Aoyama himself missed the 2010 Assen GP through injury, but has a 250cc win under his belt from 2009. “Compared to last year I think I feel much better with the bike and team and I've been able to go a bit faster,” he said. “I'm still not satisfied but it's clearly much better than last year, and now I have the opportunity to try the factory bike and team. If I can take something from this and take one step for myself I'll be happy with that.”
Aoyama will be replaced by Honda test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi, who will race alongside Marco Simoncelli, who will hope to finally get some more points on the board, after another fall at Silverstone.
Cal Crutchlow will follow in the footsteps of his team mate Colin Edwards by returning to the grid less than a week after breaking his collarbone in front of his home crowd. Edwards claimed a stunning third place at Silverstone, and in the press conference said;
“The collarbone didn't cause me so much of a problem but at Silverstone I couldn't move on the bike how I wanted because of the ribs. The muscles are working a bit more than they were a couple of weeks ago and I feel in a lot better condition than I was,” said the American, who has had the joy of an improved M1 this season.
Speaking about the improved package, he continued “I would say this is the closest we've ever been to the factory guys in terms of chassis, engine and electronics – we have a whole new package whereas last year we struggled a bit with some older stuff. We're trying some new things and Yamaha are giving us new things. I like to work and see if I can find an advantage with this or that and we seem to be making some headway,”
Ducati’s Valentino Rossi will be using a hybrid version of the GP11, with parts of next years GP12 bolted onto the chassis. Team-mate Nicky Hayden however will not get this privilege until Laguna Seca. “I don't have such big changes myself, I have a different chassis this weekend which is a 'step 2' – it's a bit softer in the front. It would be nice to have stable weather for that, we hope it can give me a help because we know I need to take a big step to be up the front and we'll see what this offers.”
Speaking about the weekend itself, Hayden said, “I have always liked this track, it's a special one with a lot of history. Even with the changes in recent years I like it. When the bike's working well and you're confident it can be a lot of fun.”