Maverick Viñales closed his eyes, lifted his head and basked in the moment. He was standing higher than anybody else in Holland. Victory at the 2019 Motul TT Assen brought ecstasy and relief as the Monster Energy Yamaha star achieved his first success of 2019 on the greatest stage.
71 years old. The TT Circuit Assen may have shape-shifted slightly in eight decades since motorcycles first bobbed and weaved around the narrow Dutch roads but there is a spirit of speed and competition that still filters into MotoGP. For a good reason this Grand Prix is one of the most eagerly anticipated and prestigious on the calendar.
It’s not only the history and the glorious roll call of winners (a quick internet search also reveals amazing old imagery of vast numbers of people inches away from the track perimeter) but the festival atmosphere that the fans bring to a fixture that has traditionally occupied a June slot and hopes to make the best of the summer weather.
The sun beat down without inhibition for the eighth outing in MotoGP this year and the distinctive shallow Dutch banks were filled with well over 100,000 spectators who were able to lap-up the usual 40 minutes of gripping racing fare.
Viñales had signalled his potential with lively pace through Qualification and a slot on the front row of the grid. After the usual tense pre-race procedure and waiting time the 26 lap sprint got underway. A stiff breeze added to the difficulty and the Yamaha man had to contend with the intimidation of world champion Marc Marquez and the youthful impudence of Fabio Quartararo in a three-way dice. With six laps to go Viñales broke Marquez. He sprinted free for his (and Yamaha’s) first win in nine months.
“I felt the bike was pretty ready for trying to attack, to be in the first place, fighting for the top place,” a vibrant #25 offered-up. “But on this track, already from Friday I feel extremely good on the bike. I was pretty strong for the last seven, eight laps where I thought was the key point for this race. I played my cards in the best way.”
“It’s all the atmosphere,” Maverick said. He has previous snippets of the Assen vibe with two wins in the smaller classes and three further podium appearances in his nine-year career. “It’s like the ‘cathedral’ of all the tracks. It's one of the tracks where I really like to win. 125, Moto2, all the classes: it’s been good for me in Assen. It’s something unbelievable. You see the fans are pretty close [to the track]. You can feel the emotion. We’re going to enjoy this moment but we know this moment is now, but we need to keep working with the same mentality.”
Teammate Valentino Rossi did not fare so well, and his early high-speed crash meant a third consecutive DNF for the sport’s most popular figure. Elsewhere and Petronas Yamaha SRT’s Franco Morbidelli pushed through to fifth position: a remarkable result for the Italian only two weeks after his painful dismount in Barcelona and a classification that equals his best of 2019 so far. VR46 Academy-‘mate’ Luca Marini made the Moto2 box, with third position, for the second time this season.
History remains one of the current themes for MotoGP with the HJC Helmets Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland taking place around the old curves of the Sachsenring next week.