After struggling for much of this season, Ben Spies (#11) qualified second, just behind Marco Simoncelli’s (#58) pace, and then went on to win the 2011 Round 7 race at Assen.
With Simoncelli setting the pace in practices and qualifying, starting on pole, Spies and Casey Stoner (#27) sharing the front row, and uncertain weather, it was anyone’s guess how this one would play out.
Ominous overcast skies overhead, Spies’ team switched from rain tires to slicks and then sent Ben out to catch up with the rest of the field; most, already finished with their sighting lap. Others scrambled to make last-minute tire changes on the grid. “Dry race” declared, riders would have the option of switching bikes to change to wet tires.
Shockingly, the podium would be decided within the first five turns. Rocketing into turn one, Jorge Lorenzo (#1) would vie with Spies for the lead. At race pace, flipping the bikes over to head into the first left turn on cold tires, Simoncelli would dive for the inside line to take the lead from Lorenzo. And then, it was over! Marco’s bike slid immediately in front of Lorenzo – the bikes collided and slid off the track. Both riders scrambled to sort between their red and white bikes, and resume the race, but they would never completely recover their second and third place positions.
Just seconds later, Karel Abraham (#17) would go down; out of the race, gingerly holding his hand. Then, moments later, Randy de Puniet (#14) would also go down. The cold track was taking its toll on the riders.
Meanwhile, Ben Spies would gap the field, followed by Stoner four seconds behind, and would hold the lead until the end. Andrea Dovizioso (#4) chased Stoner for several laps, but would ultimately lose the battle and have to settle for a third place podium finish.
Recovering quickly and riding well in spite of the crash, Lorenzo would finish the race in sixth place. Simoncelli also rejoined the race, and went on to pick up a ninth place finish. And, on the new Ducati chassis, Rossi would move from eleventh on the grid to a strong fourth place finish.
Commenting after the race, Yamaha Motor Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis observed, “I think that at such an early stage in the race, in such conditions, one has to be more prudent.” With eleven rounds remaining in the 2011 season, there will be plenty of opportunities for Simoncelli to balance his drive with some degree of discipline. But only time will tell.
For the complete race results, click through to MotoGP.com.