Assen race start
“The race today saw most of the compounds being used in different pairings right through the field but we did not foresee what would transpire later,” said Michelin’s Nicolas Goubert. “As rain began to fall, we expected lap times to drop, but the guys at the front hardly slowed down.”Photo: Michelin

Valentino Rossi won Sunday's Dutch Grand Prix, an epic shootout that some are already calling one of the greatest races of all time. Earning his second podium finish of the season, Danilo Petrucci was a close second, with defending MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez third.

On the starting grid, when asked what to expect for the race, Scott Redding spoke for the entire field. “Difficult to say. We’ve got a setup in the bike that we didn’t use on Friday in the dry. We need to get the tires working as soon as possible. I hope the changes we made work.”

The Doctor at Assen
Reflecting in parc ferme on his 10th win at the Dutch circuit, 20 years after his first, a nearly speechless Valentino Rossi could only utter, “This place is always special. I am so happy for me and for my team because I’m back in first place after one year. It was a great race.”Photo: Yamaha Racing

With little dry track time, rear tire choice was a toss-up. “Nobody’s really got any data,” Redding said. “[Rossi] is going with the hard. [Johann] Zarco is going with the soft. It’s a bit of a gamble for everyone. We’re going to see a mix in the race.” Redding opted for the medium.

“I think we’re going to see people on the soft, people on the medium, and people on the hard,” expressed Movistar Yamaha team boss Lin Jarvis. “It’s going to be a bit of a lottery today to see who has made the right choice.”

While the majority of the field selected the medium Michelin rear, six riders—Hector Barbera, Petrucci, Sam Lowes, Bradley Smith, Pol Espargaro, and Jonas Folger—went with the soft. Only Zarco, Lowes, and the Espargaro brothers, Aleix and Pol, chose the soft front.

2017 Dutch GP podium
Danilo Petrucci (left) could not hide his disappointment. “In the penultimate lap, we found [Hector] Barbera in the last chicane, and in the last lap I found [Alex] Rins. No blue flags for the lapped riders, and I lost Valentino. We arrived together on the finish line.”Photo: Yamaha Racing

2017 Dutch GP Race Results 1. Valentino ROSSI (46) Movistar Yamaha MotoGP YAMAHA 2. Danilo PETRUCCI (9) OCTO Pramac Racing DUCATI 3. Marc MARQUEZ (93), Repsol Honda Team HONDA 4. Cal CRUTCHLOW (35) LCR Honda HONDA 5. Andrea DOVIZIOSO (4) Ducati Team DUCATI 6. Jack MILLER (43) Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS HONDA 7. Karel ABRAHAM (17) Pull&Bear Aspar Team DUCATI 8. Loris BAZ (76) Reale Avintia Racing DUCATI 9. Andrea IANNONE (29) Team Suzuki Ecstar SUZUKI 10. Aleix ESPARGARO (41) Aprilia Racing Team Gresini APRILIA 11. Pol ESPARGARO (44) Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 12. Tito RABAT (53) Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS HONDA 13. Dani PEDROSA (26) Repsol Honda Team HONDA 14. Johann ZARCO (5) Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YAMAHA 15. Jorge LORENZO (99) Ducati Team DUCATI 16. Hector BARBERA (8) Reale Avintia Racing DUCATI 17. Alex RINS (42) Team Suzuki Ecstar SUZUKI DNF: Scott REDDING (45) Octo Pramac Racing DUCATI DNF: Alvaro BAUTISTA (19) Pull&Bear Aspar Team DUCATI DNF: Bradley SMITH (38) Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM DNF: Maverick VIÑALES (25) Movistar Yamaha MotoGP YAMAHA DNF: Jonas FOLGER (94) Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YAMAHA DNF: Sam LOWES (22) Aprilia Racing Team Gresini APRILIA

Both factory Ducatis picked the medium front and medium rear. Jorge Lorenzo started on the seventh row, his worst grid position in 14 years of Grand Prix racing. “Starting from 21st is obviously a big problem but it’s a long race,” said Ducati’s Paolo Ciabatti.

Yamaha Tech 3 head man Herve Poncharal had fingers crossed, as well. “The [Yamaha] factory guys are hard rear, we are soft. The temperature is now rising, the sun is almost out. Honestly, I don’t know what to say. The only thing I can tell is it’s going to be a great race, a big battle.”

Johann Zarco at Assen
Johann Zarco (5) finished 14th at Assen and is sixth in the points standings. “I could not push anymore with the slick tires, so I took the decision to swap bikes. In the end, it didn’t rain enough to make a difference. This is part of the game.”Photo: MotoGP

Indeed. Tech 3’s Zarco led from pole positon, holding the top spot for 11 of 26 laps of the legendary, 2.82-mile TT Assen circuit. From fourth on the grid, Rossi tucked in behind Marquez, with Petrucci fourth and Alvaro Bautista fifth.

By the time the riders reached the final chicane for the first time, Zarco had opened a half-second lead on the rest of the field, with Redding taking fifth back from Bautista and Lorenzo up four spots to 17th. By the end of the second lap, Marquez was the quickest rider on track.

With three laps complete, Zarco, Marquez, Rossi, and Petrucci had begun to break away from the rest of the 23-rider field. Andrea Iannone on the factory Suzuki charged through from 16th on the grid, posting the quickest lap on his way to sixth.

Marquez at Assen
Marc Marquez admitted the race was difficult. “In this circuit, we know that we will struggle; conditions are always changing. The last lap was fun.” With 10 rounds remaining and the summer break looming, Marquez knows a sixth world title remains well within reach.Photo: Repsol Honda

Iannone fell back to 10th on the eighth lap, leaving Dovizioso and Vinales, coming from the fourth row of the grid, to run down Redding. Lowes was first to crash, dropping out of 15th, followed shortly thereafter by Jonas Folger.

Over a two-lap span approaching half race distance, Rossi outbraked first Marquez for second and then Zarco for the race lead, both passes coming in Turn 1. Zarco attempted to regain the lead in Turn 4 but contact with Rossi pushed the Frenchman back to third and, later, fourth.

Maverick Vinales crash at Dutch GP
Andrea Dovizioso (04) narrowly misses Maverick Vinales.Photo: MotoGP

Shortly after Rossi took over the lead, Vinales crashed exiting the chicane, Dovizioso narrowly missing the sliding Movistar Yamaha rider. Unhurt, the 22-year-old Spaniard dejectedly walked back to the Yamaha garage. Bradley Smith also crashed out on the factory KTM.

With Zarco staging a comeback, Petrucci slipped under Marquez in Turn 5. At this point, rear tire choice for the leaders was hard, medium, medium, and soft. Mugello and Barcelona winner Dovizioso, on a medium in fifth, was the fastest man on track, the last rider still in the 1:34s.

With nine laps to go, Rossi had opened a one-second lead on Petrucci. Bautista was the next to crash, handing sixth to Cal Crutchlow. Drama! Rain began to fall. Corner workers waved white flags, and teams prepared spare machines fitted with wet tires.

Crutchlow at Assen
“I made a mistake by showing Marc [Marquez] and [Andrea Dovizioso] my hand,” Cal Crutchlow said. “I went too early and should have passed them on the last lap. As it was, Marc just followed me and passed me on the second to last corner and there was nothing I could do.”Photo: MotoGP

Dovizioso took full advantage of the situation, passing first Zarco and then Marquez. Three victories in a row? Meanwhile, Petrucci, with nothing to lose, closed on championship-mindful Rossi. Zarco entered pit lane, changing to his spare Yamaha and re-entering the race 16th.

Back at the front, Dovizioso dove under Petrucci in the chicane, closing on to Rossi’s rear tire at the entrance to Turn 1. Other riders, including Barbera, Alex Rins, and Lorenzo pitted for rain setups, just as the precipitation appeared to stop.

With five laps to go, the top four—Rossi, Dovizioso, Petrucci, and Marquez—were covered by less than half a second. Petrucci and Dovizioso went back and forth, with the former then taking the lead from Rossi.

Marquez and Dovi
Marquez moving past Dovizioso.Photo: MotoGP

Dovizioso ran wide in Turn 1, opening the door for Marquez, rain appearing again. Dovizioso was able to recapture third, a gap opening behind the leaders. Rossi led once again with three remaining. Caught speeding through pit lane, Zarco was assessed a ride-through penalty.

With lap times of the front four dipping into the 1:38s and even 1:40s, Crutchlow was quickest and closing fast on Dovizioso and Marquez. The LCR Honda rider moved past Dovizioso and then Marquez, taking over the final podium position.

More drama: On the final lap, Rossi and Petrucci lapped Rins, with Petrucci getting the worst of the deal. At the checkers, margin of victory was 0.063 seconds. Five seconds later, Marquez crossed the finish line in third, 0.126 seconds separating him from Dovizioso in fifth.

Vinales’ miscue handed Dovizioso the championship lead heading next week to the Sachsenring in Germany for Round 9 of the series. The top four—Dovizioso, Vinales, Rossi, and Marquez—are now separated by just 11 points.

At the post-race press conference, Rossi reflected on his return to the top step of the podium after a one-year absence. “I have raced motorcycles for a long time,” said the nine-time world champion. “What you feel five or six hours after the victory is fantastic.

“Coming after a great race, a great battle with Danilo, with Marc, with Zarco, I am happy because we worked a lot on the chassis, and I am able to ride the bike in a better way. It’s important also for the championship because it is incredibly ‘open’ after eight races.”

The Doctor at Assen
Valentino Rossi, Movistar YamahaPhoto: Yamaha Racing
Yellow smoke at Assen
Rossi fans at Assen.Photo: Yamaha Racing

Rossi spoke about the uncertainty of bike setting and tire choice. “We know that the hard [tire] works well, but the temperature was very low. You have some drops of water, so we were not sure about the choice.

“The first moment I started to be optimistic about the victory, when I was in front and could keep a good pace, it started to rain. So, it was like you had to restart from there. But we did the right choice front and rear. The bike and the tires worked well to the end.

“We discovered this season that from one week to another can change everything, so it will be very important next week to also be strong in the Sachsenring. But before we think to next week, we will try to feel this victory in Assen.”

Nicky Hayden fans
Thinking of Nicky at the Assen TT.Photo: MotoGP