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  • Peter MacKay

TT Assen: The ultimate Moto GP weekender

Rounding up a few friends to make the pilgrimage to the ‘Cathedral of Speed’ for ‘The TT’ is a weekend you will never forget. In 2019, this classic motorcycle race celebrated its 89th edition. Since the inception of the motorcycle world championship in 1949, the TT at Assen has been a staple of the calendar.

Based in the north of The Netherlands, near Groningen, Assen is perfectly located to attract fans from nearby Germany. Belgian residents don’t have too far to travel either. As a result, the race is often a sell-out. Despite a tendency for wet weather, this does little to reduce the appeal of the event.

In the fun loving Netherlands, the TT is a highlight of the national social calendar. Many visitors to the TT have little interest in motorcycle racing. However, simply providing an excuse for a good party guarantees a lively atmosphere.

Aptly named, “Tourist trophy”, the race should be on any Moto GP revellers bucket list. Regarded alongside Phillip Island as the finest circuit to race motorcycles, Moto GP races at Assen are often frantic affairs. 2018’s 88th edition of the TT will go down in history as one of the most enthralling races of all time.

Assen is narrow, fast and flowing with high speed changes of direction. Encouraged by the circuit character, races often descend into brutal dogfights, with multiple riders pouncing at every passing opportunity. Those riders down on horsepower, can keep in a group with the joys of the slipstream. On a slightly less competitive bike? No problem! Plentiful overtaking opportunities present themselves around the lap and can be used to slow the pace of the group to yours.

For those flying in to the wonderful Amsterdam Schiphol airport, travelling to the TT couldn’t be simpler. Within the airport, a direct train to both Assen town itself and nearby Groningen takes little over 2 hours and costs less than 20 euros. Top tip here is to visit the Albert Heijn supermarket to load up on their extensive selection of tasty beers and snacks for the journey north.

Accommodation for the event is in high demand but far from impossible to find comfortable lodgings without denting the beer kitty too heavily. For those wishing to be in the centre of the action, surrounded by fellow bike fans, Assen town is for you. However, hotels here are limited and far from luxurious. Nearby, Groningen provides a far wider array of options.

A vibrant university town, Groningen provides a wonderful combination of convenience and opportunity to discover the legendary local nightlife. Whether your taste is for sticky floor student nightclubs, sophisticated cocktail bars or a quiet pub, Groningen has them all. On a recent trip to the TT with a good friend, we encountered a heavy metal gig, a game of beer pong, an awful rendition of ‘Come on Eileen’ in a karaoke bar and a couple of vespa martini’s. All in one night.

Hotel options range from cheap ‘pension’ hotels, right up to 5 star boutiques. NH Hotel de Ville in the town centre is my tip. Boasting an exquisite in house restaurant, friendly staff and best of all, free sweets at reception! From Hotel de Ville, all of Groningen’s packed bars are 5 minutes away by foot. Yet a peaceful sleep is guaranteed given the side street location.

Justification for your entire expedition to Assen can be found in the local “snack bars”, typically found near the busiest bars. FEBO is a Dutch institution and a must visit during your stay in Groningen. Picture this, it’s 5am and the executive decision has been taken to retire for the evening, given the impending departure to the circuit. But, your night under the bright lights of Groningen is not complete without a visit to FEBO. Believe me, at 5am, the sight of FEBO’s glowing wall of windows, filled with delicious snacks is glorious. Enter 2 euros and a window will pop open, revealing the treasure inside. My personal choice is the ‘kroket’. Usually filled with veal and deep fried in a tubular shape. Without a trip to FEBO, you have failed on your pilgrimage to the TT. Unless your vegetarian, of course.

When waking from an all too brief, pilsner fuelled slumber, solace is found in the brief walk to the train station. Hotel to the circuit, takes under an hour. Take the train to Assen, hop on the shuttle bus waiting for you and you’re there. That first ice cold Heineken will be on your lips in no time.

At Assen, the prime spot to view the action is the Geert Timmer chicane, the final corner of the circuit. Over the years, countless races have been decided at this corner. Approaching from a fast left hand corner, riders have the opportunity to dive inside and block pass their adversary. Valentino Rossi’s trip through the gravel in 2015 to defeat Marc Marquez will remain one of the classic Assen moments.

However, understandably, tickets at the Geert Timmer chicane are in high demand. Nevertheless, plenty other positions provide excellent vantage points too. Grandstands around the Stekkenwal area give optics on wheel to wheel action as the riders dive into a tight right hand corner after the long sweeping bends on the far side of the circuit.

Unlike in Spain, alcohol consumption within the circuit grounds is allowed and encouraged. Toilets are plentiful but don’t forget spare change, a less enjoyable trait in The Netherlands is paying for the privilege to use the facilities. However, in return you will most likely find these toilets to be remarkably clean.

With direct flights from all over the world, the TT at Assen is easily accessible. In the Netherlands the standard of English is the finest in the world outside of the UK. Coupled with the friendly nature of the locals, you will never be stuck for help. So what are you waiting for, round up some mates and book those tickets, a weekend at the TT awaits!

Peter MacKay hosts The Peter MacKay Motorsport Podcast. Follow the show via the link below:

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