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Chaz Checks In... Assen
We left home for the Dutch Grand Prix early on Tuesday morning, a day earlier than normal because the Assen race is always on the Saturday rather than the Sunday. We flew into Amsterdam airport and rather than hire a car and have it sat in paddock parking for 4 days, we took the train to Assen and then a taxi to the circuit.
Assen hasn't been such a good circuit for me in the past. It's very flowing so that means minimal braking and maximum corner speed and I normally go better at places with a lot of tight corners with heavy braking involved like Motegi and Valencia, but, it's my job to adapt to the circuit and make sure I get comfortable with the place. Also when I arrived at the circuit I was told that my telemetry man Klaus Nohles would now be riding for the German Keifer Honda team. Although I am sad to see him go as he has helped me a lot over the last eighteen months, I am really pleased for him to be offered this chance and I wish him well (I did tell him however, that didn't mean he could beat me!)
As usual at Assen, nobody had much of a clue what the weather was going to do for the 3 important days. On Wednesday after I got my gear prepared I was ready to go for a run around the circuit. As soon as the sky looked like it was going to stay dry for a bit you could wait a few minutes and it would start lashing it down again and become windy. This carried on all day so eventually I took the easy route out and jumped on the team scooter!
On Thursday morning the rain was again on and off and the wind was very strong. Our session was wet and for the first 4 laps I was running in a new engine. On my 4th lap the bike started to mis-fire in between the 2nd and 3rd corner and then completely stopped so I took to the grass. The problem I had was getting myself and the bike back to the pits before the end of the session. At first the marshals presumed that I had a spare bike (I wish!) so I could get on the back of the recovery rider and get back to the pits quickly, until I told them that this wasn't the case and I had to get this bike back as soon as possible. At Assen the paddock is in the centre of the circuit and there is no fast way back. So it took the best part of 40 minutes by the time the recovery truck had been called to get me back to the pits and I got back out on track for the last 10 minutes where I had to finish off running in the new engine and obviously had not enough time to get into a rhythm and post a decent time. The reason why the bike broke down the mechanics were not to sure of, but they thought that seeing as the bike ran after they changed the battery, water may have seeped into the battery terminals.
For the afternoon session it was again wet. The engine felt strong and possibly even a bit too aggressive for the conditions. The session was a bit of a struggle after doing very few laps in the morning. I had one problem with the front end of the bike feeling very light and with the wind as strong as it was close to being blown off the track and also I wasn't feeling very comfortable on the bike and put 50% of the problem down to losing valuable time in the morning and 50% my problem.
For Friday the forecast prediction was better than the day before, a 20% chance of rain apparently, but when I woke up in the morning it sounded more like 100%. For the first 4 laps I was running in a fresh set of pistons and then again on the 4th lap, as I exited the second corner, the bike spluttered and cut out. I waited for the recovery truck and wasted another 30-35 minutes of the session getting back to the pits and I got back out for the last 10 minutes with a different battery again and started to find a decent rhythm where I felt I could go much faster and was getting faster each lap. On my last lap as I exited again the 2nd corner the bike mis-fired and cut out again. By this time as you can probably imagine I was getting pretty annoyed with having to take the recovery truck back to the paddock and to make matters worse the driver of the truck who I had taken the trip with 2 times already was a fairly old guy, with bloodshot eyes who was constantly puffing smoke everywhere from a huge cigar he had in his mouth and had both windows done up! In Assen you have to go outside the circuit a short while to come back in and this guy seemed quite content to sit in traffic waiting to go into the circuit. I gestured to him to blast his horn as time was fast running out, but it didn't understand, so I did it for him and kept doing it until he got me back to my garage!
The good thing about Assen is that it dries up in no time at all. The rain had stopped just before the end of the 125cc final qualifying and before the half way point of the MotoGP session the circuit was bone dry. My mechanics had replaced some electronic parts on the bike where they thought my problem may be coming from because it now seemed that it wasn't a battery problem so to be on the safe side they replaced more electronic parts to hopefully eliminate the problem. The skies had now been clear of rain for at least 30 minutes which was the longest lack of rain we had since we had arrived at the circuit. The slick tyres went in just before the start of our session as it looked pretty safe that it was going to be dry. After riding in the wet it takes a few laps to re-adjust to riding in the dry because it feels stupidly fast at first. The engine felt good and the chassis wasn't so far away considering we had had no dry time at all. With about 15 minutes of the session left I got up into 13th with a new rear tyre. I then came back into the box with about 6 minutes to go and made a slight change to the front end to help with a bit of chattering. We didn't go with a new rear tyre for the last few minutes as we needed to know exactly how this tyre would hold up for the race. I didn't manage to get in such a good lap in my final 2 laps and as a result got bumped back to 17th but at least for the race I knew that I had a pretty good set-up. My lap time was a 2.07.5 which was 2 tenths faster than I did last year in only 1 dry session so it shows we're improving somewhere.
In warm up I did the usual running in of new pistons and trying the bike with a full tank which felt OK. I still had chattering like the day before but I could live with this for the race as it wasn't a major problem.
I got a pretty good start in the race, but I think a few other riders got really good starts, but I didn't lose any places on the first lap. I maintained my qualifying position for the first few laps and then picked off Sylvain Guintoli and Joan Olive. I was stuck behind Naoki Matsudo and Eric Bataille for a few laps who were doing low 2.07's and I wanted to get past because I knew I could go faster and hopefully drop them. On lap 9, half way through the race I got past them both and did a 2.06.7. In-front I could see Franco Battaini who was getting closer and I got down to low 2.06's and did a 2.06.1 on lap 13. It took me the best part of 2 laps to pass Battaini which was a bit too long as he was doing 2.07's. He was really difficult to pass as he is renowned for being a late braker but he had chosen too soft a rear tyre so he was struggling on exiting the corners. I knew there was one place where I could pass him but I would have to get a good run on him on the exit of the left hander and then be along side him to outbrake him into the next right. I got along side him and then squeezed myself up the inside of him and came down an extra gear to use the engine as a bit of extra brake. On lap 15 on the entry to the final chicane I tried to push harder and make a break from the riders around me. I went in a bit too deep, the rear kicked sideways and I had to pick the bike up and ran across the grass. As a result Battaille, Matsudo and Battaini passed me at the start of lap 16 and I lost about 1/2 a second on them. I pushed as hard as I could and had passed Battaini and Matsudo by the start of the last lap. My plan was to pass Bataille in the same way that I passed Battaini and then make it difficult for them to pass me before the flag. Bataille defended his line into where I had him lined up, so then I had to wait for the last chance passing spot into the final chicane. I got a good run on Bataille to go around the outside of him at the long left before the chicane but he was holding me up and left no gap to go around the outside. The next thing I knew was Matsudo screaming up the inside of the both of us and then cut in-front of us, sending us both wide, before the chicane.
In a way I was disappointed because I did most the work to pull the other two riders up to Battaini and then lost out to them both, but I was happy with the way I rode. I really felt that I had a good fight and learned a lot. I had also gone 1.4 seconds quicker than I had last year and I recorded the twelfth fastest lap of the race with 11 works/semi-works bikes finishing in-front of me. My aim at the start of the season was to try and be the first non-works bike home and I am quite surprised and pleased to have done this in Assen. I am now looking forward to the next race in Brazil as I got my best result there last year and I hope things will start to consistently come together."
© chazdaviesracing.com 2006