Posts Tagged ‘Sachsenring’

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 15, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Marquez Retains Sachsenking Crown 

Screenshot (159)

Sadly, the 2018 Pramac Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland lived up to its advance billing. Marc Marquez, starting from pole for the ninth consecutive year, got a little swamped by a couple of Ducatis at the start. By Lap 5 he had moved past Danilo Petrucci into second place. On Lap 13 he went through on Jorge Lorenzo into the lead. With factory Yamaha pilots Rossi and Vinales playing catch-up over the second half, it was a routine ninth win in a row for Marquez in Germany as MotoGP makes the turn heading for the back, um, 10 starting at Brno in August. 

Practice and Qualifying 

Since FP4 doesn’t really count for anything and is mostly used for working on race set-up, the results after FP3 are important. This time around, the lambs heading directly into Q2 included most of the usual suspects. Dani Pedrosa snuck into 10th place in front of Andrea Dovizioso, sentencing the Italian to a second qualifying run—Q1—in his increasingly futile effort to chase down Marquez.

Notice how close Alex Rins (in 9th place) was to 1st place–.252 seconds—and to (Q1) 11th place–.125. Andrea Iannone pushed his Suzuki to within a tenth of the track record, which looked primed to fall. Rossi, struggling, only made it through on Saturday morning by the skin of his teeth. And let’s dispense with any discussion around his finishing Friday in 17th place being all part of the plan.

The Q1 goats included Dovizioso by .048, along with the suddenly tepid Johann Zarco, Jack Miller, who has cooled off, the KTMs and the rest of Tranches 4 and 5. The Ducatis failed to improve, sending only three riders—Petrucci, Lorenzo and Alvaro Bautista?—directly through to Q2. My concern that Bautista would join Morbidelli with the new Petronas team was apparently unfounded, as he is reportedly searching for a World Superbike seat for next season. Leaving unanswered, of course, the question of Morbidelli’s teammate, now that Pedrosa is hanging up his leathers. (I keep hearing the name Fabio Quartararo getting thrown around.)

Q1 was pretty straightforward, as Dovizioso responded to the imperative and made it through while Taka Nakagami, on the strength of one fast late lap, joined him on the passage through to Q2. Aleix Espargaro flirted with Q2 for much of the session, but it would have been for naught anyway, as he was penalized six grid spots for lollygagging in the racing line during FP3 (for the second time this season—repeat offender).

Q2 was another morality play in reverse, in which the swarthy underdog (played by Danilo Petrucci) who had never won a premier class pole sat in first position, owning the new track record, as the checkered flag waved. His impending problem was that Marquez, the fair-haired boy conqueror, had successfully started his final lap before the flag fell. During what felt like injury time in soccer, Marquez survived three separate wobbles to lay down a 1:20.270, relegating Petrucci to second and Jorge Lorenzo, looking dangerous, to third. Poor Danilo. And putting the staff here at 5-for-7 for the season, hitting .720 breaking track records for the year.

There it is again. Nine straight poles in Germany. Marquez looked utterly capable of dominating the proceedings on Sunday, especially if he were to enter Turn 1 of the first lap leading the pack. Petrucci and Lorenzo, his front row buddies, seem to be bristling, raring to go, another testament to the progress Ducati Corse has made during Dall’Igna’s tenure. Vinales, Dovizioso and Rossi hogged the second row, giving them at least a puncher’s chance on Sunday. Iannone, doing a good Snidely Whiplash impression with his new stash, could manage no better than 8th after blistering the field twice in practice. This track is tight and moving through traffic is as difficult as anywhere on the calendar. I made myself a promise on Saturday: If someone from outside of Rows 1 or 2 won on Sunday I would renew all of your Late Braking MotoGP subscriptions for the next year. 

 

The Race

Other than the mayhem leading up to the race, the German grand prix was a bit of a snooze. The carnage started on Friday, when Mika Kallio, on a KTM wildcard, took a header into an inflatable wall followed closely by his bike. He sustained a serious knee injury which, it appears, will end his season. (It could also mean a gig next year for Bradley Smith as a test rider for KTM.) During the morning warm-up on Sunday, Aleix Espargaro attempted to launch his Aprilia into a low earth orbit, sustaining a chest injury that kept him out of the race. Franco Morbidelli gave his bad wrist a try on Friday before calling it a weekend, the team calling upon Stefan Bradl to sit in for him. On Lap 1, Pol Espargaro lost control of his KTM machine, which then took out an unsuspecting Alex Rins. And the LCR Honda contingent was pancaked during the race, Nakagami losing it on Lap 7, my boy Cal Crutchlow on Lap 10.

There was some good action farther back in the pack all day, but I’ve only got two hands. Suffice it to say that some people, perhaps fans of Danilo Petrucci, left today feeling buoyed by his razor-thin margins to Marquez in search of his first pole and Vinales in search of another podium. The ride of the day goes to Alvaro Bautista, horribly badmouthed in this space for years, who pushed his Ducati GP17 to fifth place, ahead of both Dovizioso and Lorenzo, the big factory studs. 

The Big Picture 

The 2018 MotoGP championship is now officially Marc Marquez’ to lose. He leads the ageless Valentino Rossi by 46 points heading into the break, with Rossi teammate Vinales another 10 points in arrears. Yamahas scored a lot of points today but were never a threat to actually win the race. Ducati riders turned in some blistering practice times, and their top four riders finished 4th through 7th, but again, they just weren’t competitive over the last three-quarters of the race. The virtually unavoidable conclusion is that this is Marquez’ personal sandbox and the rest of y’all can just tussle over second place. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Marquez camp votes to retain Sachsenring as the venue for the German Grand Prix. Rins took whatever hopes Suzuki entertained today with him as he got skittled on Lap 1. Oh, and for you KTM freaks out there, let us not fail to mention Brad Smith’s stunning top ten finish. 

Tranches After Assen

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Iannone

Tranche 3:   Miller, P Espargaro, Bautista, Petrucci, Rabat, Pedrosa

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Nakagami

Tranche 5:   Redding, Smith, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Tranches After Sachsenring

Tranche 1:   Marquez

Tranche 2:   Rossi, Vinales, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Petrucci

Tranche 3:   Bautista, Pedrosa, Zarco, Rins, Crutchlow, Iannone, P Espargaro

Tranche 4:   Morbidelli, Syahrin, A Espargaro, Miller, Rabat, Smith

Tranche 5:   Redding, Nakagami, Abraham, Luthi and Simeon

Postscript 

By way of historical context, Germany’s “long racing heritage,” entirely missing today, is still celebrated here at what was, 75 years ago, ground zero for The Final Solution. Dresden was needlessly firebombed by Allied planes late in the war in retribution for the Nazi firebombing of Coventry, which the Allies knew was coming, but were prevented from warning the residents out of fear of revealing they had cracked the German military codes. We should not gloss this over. MotoGP doesn’t take us to a lot of places that were so brutally consumed by WWII, and we should honor them when we are visiting.

We hope you MOrons enjoy your summer vacation. We will try to craft a coherent mid-season review in the next several weeks, assuming I can pry the $$$ out of Toronto.

2018 Sachsenring Race Results

World Championship Standings after 9 Rounds

MotoGP Sachsenring Preview

July 9, 2018

© Bruce Allen. Exclusive to Motorcycle.com, which has high-rez images and snappy captions.

The field should be very afraid heading to Round Nine. 

If your name is not Marc Marquez, Round Nine of the MotoGP 2018 championship at the legendary Sachsenring in eastern Germany could not arrive at a worse moment. Bad enough that he put his hands on the throat of the 2018 title last time out in Assen, inserting 41 points between himself and Valentino. But to do so on the way to Germany, where he hasn’t lost since, like, grade school, is a little much, if you ask me.  

Is there anyone on the grid ready, willing and able to take on the juggernaut that is Marc Marquez at The Knockwurstring in 2018? Anyone? What’s this noise I hear from some readers about Rossi being happy finishing third? Rins and Marquez don’t get along great; perhaps the Suzuki guy will be feeling froggy. 

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An unfamiliar image, taken from the front.

 

Recent History in Greater Dresden 

The Repsol Honda duo of Marquez and Pedrosa were fast here in 2015.  How fast?  Marquez, back on the 2014 chassis he lugged out after Montmelo, led every practice session.  As they had in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the macho factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Lorenzo to 3rd and 4th place afterthoughts, respectively.  At least for the day. But Rossi extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points and left for summer vacation all pumped up.

2016 was a straightforward flag-to-flag affair, going from wet to dry.  Riders began pitting around Lap 7, exchanging their rain tires for Michelin’s intermediate or “taint” tire, for those of you familiar with the term.  Except for our boy Marquez, who pitted on time but came out on slicks, upon which he strafed the entire field in a great example of teamwork between rider and crew.  In a race like this, the rider doesn’t know how his #2 bike will be fitted when he enters pit lane; that call is up to the crew chief.  Credit chief Santi Hernández for having believed Marquez when he said, earlier in the week, “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.” 

A year ago, The Sachsenring had been Marquez’ personal playground for the past seven seasons; he was due for a fall. Instead, the young Catalan survived some early muggings from pole, dropped back in traffic, methodically worked his way through to the front, went through on Tech 3 Yamaha homeboy Jonas Folger midway through the race and won going away. In doing so, he seized the lead in the championship for the first time in 2017. With the standings tighter than a nun’s knees MotoGP left for its seemingly endless summer vacation on a high note.

As we’ve observed before, Marquez owns every record worth owning at The Sachsenring. Eight consecutive poles, eight consecutive wins.  Fastest lap ever.  Sure, soon-to-be former teammate Dani Pedrosa owns seven career wins here, but the most recent, in 2012, is mostly history.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Marquez and his RC213V leave for summer vacation having gone nine-for-nine in Germany. Your basic master of his craft working with a great machine and a great team in the prime of his career at a track he loves. Rarely beats himself. Like him or not, it’s an amazing thing to watch when he has it hooked up. The only thing left to add to his vast array of tools and skills is the chin slider, which will complete the mosaic of rider, bike and track.

Riders We Neglected to Slander After Assen

Pramac Ducati tough guy Danilo Petrucci, who arrived in the Netherlands fifth in the world. His luckless weekend ended when he crashed out of, like, 13th position on Lap 18. He is now tied for eighth with Andrea Iannone. He was doing great before we pointed out that he was doing great. The group of riders (below) characterized as Looking for Work in 2019 compiled, at Assen, two DNFs (Abraham and Simeon), 20th (Luthi), 19th (Nakagami), 17th (Smith), 16th (Rabat), and, somehow, Bautista in ninth. We will overlook Dani Pedrosa’s heartbreaking weekend. But Cal Crutchlow, who qualified on the front row, as well as Johann Zarco and Jack Miller seemed to be the only fast movers who didn’t lead Assen 2018 at some point.

Crutchlow closeup

Cal Crutchlow needs a podium.

Prediction Takes Some Shade at Assen

My “track records falling like dominoes” string came to a halt at Assen, with Marquez’s qualifying lap (1’32.791) failing to better Rossi’s fluky 2015 lap of 1’32.627. Sure, some writers would call this a rounding error and improve their stats by declaring it practically a win. Not around here we don’t. I go from 4-for-5 to 4-for-6–.667, still Hall of Fame numbers. Track records are getting challenged almost every time out. Just sayin’.

It’s Almost Official—22 Bikes on Grid in 2019-20

With the announcement that the Aspar team will leave Ducati to become the Petronas SIC Yamaha satellite team commencing next year, it appears to be curtains for the Marc VDS contraption. Speculation as to whom will be riding the new team’s “not quite fully up-to-date” M1s centers on Dani Pedrosa and Franco Morbidelli. One keeps hearing whispers that Pedrosa may, in fact, still retire, which would reportedly elevate one Alvaro Bautista to second chair, the boy toy once again landing on his feet in an unbelievable way. Loyal readers will recall that Bautista, loathed by Italian Fausto Gresini in 2011, was on his way out the MotoGP door until Marco Simoncelli lost his life in Sepang, leaving Gresini without a rider at all heading into 2012 and forcing him to swallow the alliance with the Spanish narcissist Bautista. Aspar could find himself in the same situation although, being Spanish, it wouldn’t be as painful. And OK, Bautista’s been Tranche Three for a few rounds.

Pretty sure it will be Pedrosa and Morbidelli. Pretty sure that Abraham, Bautista, Tom Luthi, Taka Nakagami, Brad Smith and Tito Rabat are looking hard right now for 2019 gigs. I thought I heard Simeon has a two-year contract/rider option. Scott Redding chooses half a loaf and agrees to testing with Aprilia. In case another full-grown rider comes along some day.

Pretty sure, too, that a Rossi-led SKY VR46 will become the satellite Yamaha team starting in 2021. (Perhaps the factory team.) Mr. Jorge Martinez seems to have bought himself two years to find another gig. Suzuki? Aprilia? Suzuki needs a satellite team like now, as their concessions, as of next year, appear to be toasting. And Ducati must have wanted to trim the 2019 roster; what better place to start than the shoestring operation that is Team Angel Nieto, and its deluxe duo of riders, Karel Abraham and Alvaro Bautista. Bye Felicia. Cull the herd.

If and when the grid returns to 24 riders, I fully expect the newbies to be these speed merchants from Moto2 and Moto3, guys like Jorge Martin, Lorenzo Baldassarri, and Xavier Vierge. These guys, with their reflexes and aggressiveness, will likely enjoy success in MotoGP, since the bikes are getting better and better, closer and closer. They will join November grads Miguel Oliveira, Peco Bagnaia and Joan Mir. Guys will be able to make reputations in a hurry in the next 3-5 years.

Leading the chase for, you know, second place.

Your Weekend Forecast

If you believe that a win on Sunday for #93 is inevitable, the most you can hope for are interesting weather and track conditions. Like your basic life sandwich, your only real choice is whether you want it on wheat or white. Alas, writing on Monday, rain is in the forecast until Thursday, when perfect conditions take over—high 70’s and sunny all weekend. Comfortable air but high track temps. Honda weather. Great.

There is no obvious reason not to expect Marquez to be standing on the top step of the podium on Sunday afternoon. There is no obvious reason to expect the Yamahas to do well here. The Ducatis have struggled here in years past. If the Hondas are to have things their way, I would expect to see Crutchlow on the podium with Marquez. Alex Rins is in “podium or bin” mode. Although I can see Valentino Rossi in third, I cannot see him genuinely happy about it.

alex-rins

Alex Rins with his game face.

MotoGP 2016 Sachsenring Results

July 17, 2016

© Bruce Allen  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

Lucky Sevens Abound as Marquez Romps in Germany 

Occasionally in this world, team sports produce individual accomplishments that stay etched in people’s minds for years.  We know that Marc Marquez qualified on pole at the Sachsenring for the seventh consecutive time.  We know that he won at the Sachsenring for the seventh consecutive time.   We know that in doing so he became, at age 23, the seventh winningest rider in MotoGP history.  It is important, however, to acknowledge the work of his crew that made all of these sevens possible.

Qualifying Issues for Aliens

In Assen, it was Dani Pedrosa’s day in the barrel on Saturday, when he had to join the dregs in Q1 and failed to make it out, starting in 16th place and never making an impression in qualifying or the race itself.  This Saturday it was defending triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s turn.  For the first time since the current qualifying format was adopted in 2013, Lorenzo had to go through Q1 to get to Q2, which he did, barely, by 5/100ths of a second ahead of Cal Crutchlow, despite crashing hard late in the session.

Barely 20 minutes later, in Q2, Lorenzo parted company with his bike again, smashing his #2 while the crew was still busy putting #1 back together.  His scooter ride back to the garage was a sorry sight.  For the second round in a row, he started from 11th place on the grid, the sole difference being that in Assen he had to contend with the rain, while here the qualifying conditions were perfect.  It appears Lorenzo has lost confidence in his tires, his bike and perhaps himself.  This is a man in need of a vacation.

When the smoke cleared on Saturday, Marquez sat on pole, with Valentino Rossi looking dangerous on his Yamaha M1 in third.  But three of the top five spots belonged to satellite entries:  the occasionally amazing Hector Barbera sitting second on the two-year-old Avintia Ducati; mudder Danilo Petrucci in fourth on the year old Pramac Ducati, and Pol Espargaro, who coaxed his Tech 3 Yamaha into the five hole.  Even in dry conditions, things were shaping up oddly in Germany.

The only breaking news from Saturday was that Cal Crutchlow was angry after qualifying, starting from 13th when any wanker could clearly see he would have been on the second row but for Bradl’s stupidity blah blah blah…(yawn)…  However, this time he proved to be right.  And—MO will be the only racing site to provide this factlet—for the third and final time this season, he doubled his point total in one hour.  As usual, he diluted the goodwill generated by his performance today with a nasty post-race interview with Dylan Gray, taking credit for being the only rider with the “balls to go out on a wet track on slicks,” which is 1) incorrect, and 2) self-aggrandizing, never a pretty combination.

Sunday Dawns Gray and Wet

The undercard races were fascinating.  Malaysian rookie Khairul Pawi simply ran away with the Moto3 tilt for the second time in his rookie season, again in the rain, after starting from 20th on the grid. Then there was the thrilling run to the wire in Moto2, where Johann Zarco, heading to Tech 3 Yamaha next season, pipped future teammate Jonas Folger at the flag on a surface that was wet-ish, but not drenched as it had been for Moto3.

Other than the abbreviated FP1, none of the MotoGP practice sessions had been run in the wet.  Marquez crashed heavily during the soaking morning warm-up session and was lucky to escape without the remnants of his RC213V embedded in his torso, after rider and bike went cartwheeling through the gravel together. Four hours before the race was to go off, Marquez’s crew had an intact #2 bike and, off to the side, an engine, two wheels and a pile of steel and fiberglass fragments they needed to instantly convert to a functioning MotoGP machine.  With no time to do it, and a potential flag-to-flag situation in the offing.

Decisions, Decisions

The race started with everyone on rain tires.  Marquez got off to a good start, but was immediately overtaken by Rossi, then Dovizioso on the factory Ducati. On Lap 3 Danilo Petrucci went through on both Marquez and Rossi into second place, seizing the lead from Dovizioso on Lap 4.  Suddenly, passing Marc Marquez became fashionable.  Jack Miller—yes, that Jack Miller—did so on Lap 6; Hectic Hector Barbera got in on the act on Lap 9.  Marquez was sinking like a stone.  He went hot into Turn 8 on Lap 11, spent some quality time in the gravel, and re-entered the fray trailing Dani Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Scott Redding and Andrea Iannone, although Petrucci had crashed out of the lead on the same lap.  If someone had offered me the opportunity to bet my house against Marquez at that point I would now be homeless.

While all this was going on, the rain had stopped by Lap 7, and the beginnings of a dry racing line were becoming visible from the helicopter. On Lap 13, Andrea Iannone had changed bikes and gone back out on the Michelin intermediates (perhaps “indeterminants” would be a better name).  Chaos reigned on pit row; crews were working madly, changing tires and brakes.  Dylan Gray was going mental, trying to suss out what was happening.  His guess was that the teams were fitting intermediate tires and steel brakes.  He would be proven wrong.

Loris Baz was the second rider to enter pit lane when, suddenly, Marquez himself entered after Lap 17.  When #93 returned to the track, Nick Harris and Matthew Brit, calling the race, became semi-hysterical upon discovering that Marquez’ crew had fitted his bike with slicks and a dry setting.  What had been a pile of breathtakingly expensive junk barely four hours earlier had become the fastest bike on the track.

The leaders, all on wet tires, were at this point lapping in the 1:35 range.  Marquez, squeezing his bike into a racing line perhaps a foot wide, completed Lap 23 in 1:28.  Though it was too soon to tell, the race was already over.  The leaders, other than Jack Miller, entered the pits on Lap 24, way too late to challenge Marquez.  Miller, having decided to go down with his ship, finally pitted on Lap 26 on his way to a very respectable, if ill-considered, seventh place finish.  The Pawi/Miller parley, offered by London bookies at a billion to one, was history.  Marquez eased back on the gas on Laps 29 and 30 and still won by 10 seconds.

In the post-race press conference, Marquez revealed that he and his crew have decided that the intermediate tires “do not exist for them.”  The startling decision to put him back out on slicks, which I had been crediting to a cerebral Santi Hernández, had actually been made weeks earlier.  We have observed in past years that MotoGP teams are “teams” in only the loosest sense, as the #1 rule on track is Beat Your Teammate.  Today, however, it became clear that this is, in fact, a team sport, that the sublime efforts of a supremely gifted rider will often be scuttled by lackluster work from his crew (see Bradl’s race here in 2014).  For the Repsol Honda #1 team today, it was, indeed, a brilliant team effort that produced a scintillating win.

The Big Picture

Marc Marquez came to Germany leading the 2016 chase by 24 points and left leading by 48 as Jorge Lorenzo again failed to show up in any meaningful way, finishing 15th with his head down, his hopes for a fourth world title in 2016 in tatters and totally at the mercy of the weather.  Teammate Rossi lost more ground again today, coming in eighth and trails now by 59 points.  Marquez likes to say that Assen and the Sachsenring offer opportunities to gain or lose a lot of ground.  Even if that’s true for every circuit on the calendar, he took control of the championship over these last two rounds, making it hard to argue with him.

The top ten finishers, listed below, were interesting, as is often the case in flag-to-flag contests.  The Ducati contingent had another highly productive weekend, thanks mostly to the weather, which also contributed to a dismal outing for Suzuki Ecstar—Vinales 12th, Espargaro 14th.  The grip problems the Suzuki experiences on dry surfaces are magnified in the wet, according to team principal Davide Brivio.

Most of the grid heads to Austria tonight for two days of testing.  Marc Marquez, the 2016 championship now officially his to lose, is heading to the beach.  It is reasonable to expect that before he leaves tonight he will have picked up a big dinner check, a small thank you to his crew for a big job well done.

2016 German Grand Prix Race Results

2016 Championship Standings after Nine Rounds

MotoGP 2016 Sachsenring Preview

July 12, 2016

© Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com

It’s starting to feel a lot like 2013

Misfortune having found Movistar Yamaha icons Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo last time out in Assen, Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez looks to be getting away with the 2016 championship. For the riders currently trailing Marquez, i.e., everyone, the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland couldn’t come at a worse time.

The German Grand Prix arrives in the midst of a two-races-in-68-days drought; there are simply no opportunities to play catch-up until mid-August. Then, beginning with the newfangled Austrian Grand Prix, the grid confronts an eight- races-in-77-days stretch, culminating at Sepang at the end of October. Marquez has fared well during the orderly every-other-week schedule that opened the season. Once The Red Bull Ring arrives, teams will have few opportunities to make adjustments, with the frantic Pacific swing looming in the fall.

Scheduling issues aside, the Alien contingent faces major challenges cutting into Marquez’ lead in Germany, where he is undefeated since 2009. He has won every MotoGP race he has started here, from pole each time. (If you wish to take issue with the fact that he’s hung onto his 2014 chassis, feel free.) Meanwhile, Rossi hasn’t won here since 2009, with but two podia to show for his efforts since then. Jorge Lorenzo has never won here in the premier class, his high water mark having been four consecutive second place results between 2009 and 2012. And Dani Pedrosa, suffering out loud with the Marquez specs built into his 2016 RC213V, owned the joint until 2013. Although he’s finished second here the last two seasons, his fortunes have taken a downturn this year. One doubts he will see the podium this weekend.

Anyone thinking, “Well, what about Jack Miller?” at this juncture needs to make a New Year’s resolution to quit sniffing glue in 2017.

Recent History in Dresden

2013 looked like it would be Dani Pedrosa’s year. He had avoided injury early in the season, and led the championship heading into Round 8 in Germany. Lorenzo was wounded in Assen, Rossi was still getting re-acquainted with the Yamaha after two years at Ducati, and rookie Marquez was, well, a rookie. Instead, Pedrosa went flying over the handlebars in FP3 on Saturday morning, returning to Spain for yet another surgery on his re-pulverized collarbone. Lorenzo, pressing, crashed yet again on Friday, re-injuring the collarbone he broke at Assen; with two Aliens missing, the other riders all jumped up two spots. Marquez won that day, seizing the championship lead he would not relinquish until 2015. Cal Crutchlow, who had qualified well in the middle of the front row on the Tech 3 Yamaha, finished second for his best premier class result ever, eight seconds ahead of Rossi.

The 2014 fiasco started memorably with nine bikes on the grid and 14 in pit lane, the result of a rapidly drying track at the start. Homeboy Stefan Bradl might have won the race that day, lining up on the grid with slicks and enjoying a 12 second advantage over the Alien contingent on the first lap. Alas, though his crew had thoughtfully mounted slicks on his LCR Honda, they had neglected to change the setting from wet to dry, causing him to lose two seconds per lap to the big dogs and leading, ultimately, to a demoralizing 16th place finish, seemingly running in molasses. Predictably, the race was won by Marquez, followed closely by Pedrosa, with Lorenzo, Rossi and Andrea Iannone spread out over the next half mile.

2015: The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were so fast last year they appeared to have snuck their MotoGP machines into a World Superbike race. Marquez, back on the 2014 chassis he hauled out after Barcelona, led every practice session. As in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Lorenzo to also-ran status. Rossi, however, extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points, and left for summer vacation in a fist-pumping celebration of a near-perfect first half season.

Marquez owns pretty much every record worth owning at The Sachsenring. Six consecutive wins, six consecutive poles. Fastest lap ever. Sure, teammate Pedrosa owns the most career wins here, but the most recent, coming in 2012, is receding into memory. It would surprise no one if Marquez ties that one this year and pummels it into submission in 2017.

2017 Rider Lineup

Unconfirmed riders in italics:

Repsol Honda
Marc Marquez
Dani Pedrosa

Movistar Yamaha
Valentino Rossi
Maverick Vinales

Ducati Factory
Jorge Lorenzo
Andrea Dovizioso

Suzuki Ecstar
Andrea Iannone
Alex Rins

KTM Factory
Bradley Smith
Pol Espargaro

Aprilia Gresini
Sam Lowes
Aleix Espargaro

LCR Honda
Cal Crutchlow

Marc VDS Honda
Jack Miller
Tito Rabat

Monster Yamaha Tech 3
Jonas Folger
Johann Zarco

Pramac Ducati
Scott Redding
Danilo Petrucci

Aspar Ducati (Suzuki?)
Yonny Hernandez
Alvaro Bautista

Avintia Ducati
Hector Barbera
Loris Baz

It would not surprise me if the Avintia team were to jettison hard-luck Loris Baz in favor of noted underachiever Stefan Bradl, the highest profile rider not to have a seat lined up for next year. Bradl, not known for his ability to develop a bike, needs no such skills in order to pedal a two-year-old Ducati.

Quick Hitters

Aleix Espargaro abandoned all hope for eventual Alien status by accepting the second seat on the factory Aprilia Gresini team for the next two years. Factory money should soothe some of the pain…Nicky Hayden continues to perform respectably during his rookie season in World Superbikes with Honda, securing a podium and a fifth place finish at Laguna Seca over the weekend. He currently stands sixth for the season, a mere 13 points out of fourth, but a country mile from third. There are Aliens in WSB, too…Loris Baz returns from injury this week, having missed the last two rounds with around a dozen titanium screws in his foot. No FMLA for this guy, as his seat with Avintia for next season would appear to be in jeopardy, in part due to his recent extended absence…The elusive Circuit of Wales has applied for a new funding “scheme,” the same week it was revealed that one of its executives had $42,000 worth of landscaping performed at his home and billed to the track. In the UK, they don’t call these things schemes for nothing.

Your Weekend Forecast

At this writing, Weather.com tells us to expect wet conditions for much of the weekend, with temps rising from Friday to Sunday. If such turns out to be the case, it will bode well for the Ducati contingent, neutral for Marquez and Rossi, and negative for Lorenzo, who may show up with a note from his mom excusing him from any wet sessions. If, as is generally the case, Weather.com has it completely wrong, look for sunny skies on race day with temps around 80° F.

Speaking of completely wrong, the layout and expected weather conditions would seem to favor the Hondas and Suzukis; the Ducatis will rarely get out of fifth gear. I can visualize Marquez, Rossi and Vinales on the podium, with Jorge Lorenzo nowhere in sight. The tradition of leaving on holiday during the heat of the summer commences on Sunday evening, erasing all interest in MotoGP across the globe until mid-August. As usual, the race goes off early in the morning on Sunday in the states, and we will have results and analysis here around noon EDT.

MotoGP 2015 Sachsenring Results

July 12, 2015

Marc Marquez dominates in German flashback.

By Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com. 

The Repsol Honda duo of Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa were so fast this weekend they seemed to exit the space-time continuum, re-entering in 2014 amidst a rewind of last year’s German Grand Prix.  Marquez, loving himself the 2014 chassis he hauled out after Barcelona, comfortably led every practice session.  As in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the factory Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to also-ran status.  Rossi, however, extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points, and left for summer vacation in a fist-pumping celebration of a near-perfect first half season. 

pedrosa_marquezMarquez now owns pretty much every record worth owning at The Sachsenring.  Six consecutive wins from pole.  Fastest lap ever.  Sure, teammate Pedrosa owns the most career wins here, but the most recent, coming in 2012, is fading into memory.  It would surprise no one if Marquez ties that one next year and pummels it into submission in 2017.  And while Karel Abraham’s dad owns the Brno circuit, Marquez can now claim to own The Sachsenring, lock, stock and podium.

Today’s race was contested only until Lap 5.  Lorenzo got off to a slingshot start from the three hole and held the early lead; my notes on Lap 3 read “JL won’t hold up.”  Marquez went through Lorenzo easily two laps later and disappeared into 2014, leaving Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa in his contrail.  The three remaining Aliens hopscotched positions from there.  Rossi went through for good on Lorenzo on Lap 9.  Pedrosa repeated the Mallorcan assault on Lap 11.  Pedrosa, then, looking like a 2010 version of himself, went through on Rossi on Lap 17, delivering the final top four standings.  Rossi would get close to Pedrosa several times before submitting around Lap 27 determined, above all, to extend his 2015 lead on Lorenzo.

Marquez, celebrating his first win since Austin in April, would probably concede that today’s triumph falls under the Marquez at Aragonheading of a Pyrrhic victory, coming after so much devastation as to mean relatively little.  There are no bad wins, but, trailing series leader Rossi by 65 points, there aren’t very many good ones, either.  Meanwhile, the resurrected Rossi now has 13 successive podia under his belt; the expression “regular as a piston” comes to mind.  Even if Marquez returns to the form he showed us over the previous year and a half, there do not appear to be two other riders capable of consistently keeping The Doctor off the podium.  Rossi is living proof of a lesson Marquez is learning only this year—you don’t need to win every round to take the title.  Being consistently competitive will overcome occasional flashes of brilliance.  Consistently.

Elsewhere on the Grid

dovizioso-iannone-658x437Coming into Saxony, the Ducati contingent was surprisingly candid about their chances this weekend, conceding that the layout was not favorable to their bike’s strengths.  Then, Andrea Iannone on the factory team and Yonny Hernandez on the Pramac team, neither of whom received the memo, went out and qualified 4th and 5th respectively. Iannone would finish 5th today which, as teammate Andrea Dovizioso crashed out for the third time in the last four rounds, elevated him beyond question into the #1 seat on the factory team, sitting an astonishing 3rd for the year.  (I recall writing about Dovizioso only a month ago that “the guy never crashes.”  Since then, he has determinedly made a liar out of me.)  Hernandez slipped to 12th at the finish after battling for eighth place most of the day, while teammate Danilo Petrucci, in the midst of a highly gratifying season, came home in 9th, the #2 Ducati on the grid.  Maverick Vinales, on the Suzuki Ecstar, set an all-time record today by becoming the first rookie ever to score points in his first nine races.25vinalesmaverick__gp_6818_original

Tech 3 Yamaha rider Bradley Smith, he of the rapidly vanishing hairline, described by Nick Harris as “the best starter on the grid,” again finished a respectable 6th after qualifying 9th, putting just a little more distance between himself and Cal Crutchlow.  Prior to the start of the season, Crutchlow gave the clear impression he and his factory-spec Honda would be the top Brit on the grid, but such has not been the case.  With Dovizioso’s fortunes sinking below the horizon, Smith has now pulled into a tie with the Italian in 5th place for the year.  All Smith needs to do in the next couple of years to become a credible candidate to succeed Rossi on the factory Yamaha is secure dual British/Spanish citizenship and some high quality hair implants.

bradley_smithRich Men, Poor Men

Most of you are probably too young to grock the 1980’s TV miniseries reference.  But since the ouster of Gresini Aprilia #2 Marco Melandri this past week, the grid is now graced with two sets of brothers.  First and foremost are the Espargaro brothers Aleix and Pol, riding a factory Suzuki and satellite Yamaha respectively, with little brother Pol sitting in 9th place for the year while Aleix, the victim of some bad luck and poor decision-making, resides in 12th.  Aleix’s streak of front row starts ended today at two, the Suzuki somewhat surprisingly struggling at a track seemingly well-suited to it.  At the other end of the food chain are the Laverty brothers, Ulstermen Eugene and now Michael, toiling on an Aspar customer Honda and the #2 Gresini Aprilia, respectively.  Collectively, for the season, the Spaniards lead the Irish 108 to 7, this comparison only slightly skewed by the fact that Michael completed his first MotoGP race since last year today in 20th place.

Junior Class Headlines

Danny Kent tightened his stranglehold on the Moto3 title with another convincing win today, which is not news.  The fact that riders three through nine—seven riders!—were separated by .64 seconds IS news, something that could only happen in Moto3 and maybe the Rookie’s Cup.  Imagine losing out on nine championship points by 6/10ths of a second.

Belgian Xavier Simeon won the Moto2 tilt today, holding off season leader Johann Zarco over the last three laps for his first career win.  Never having heard the Belgian national anthem during a podium celebration, I was not surprised that Simeon got choked up, as it sounds like a cross between Richard Strauss, Josef Hayden, Todd Rundgren and ELO.  Personally, I too would hate to have that mess as my national anthem, preferring “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream, for example.

First Semester Exams, Then Vacation

A number of teams are going off for some private testing this week; if you must know who and where, go to David Emmett’s site.  Then it’s off to summer vacation for a few weeks of Early Silly Season before returning for Round 10 in Indianapolis.  Today’s podium occupants must feel pretty good heading out of town for holiday, Jorge Lorenzo somewhat less so.  Despite the fact that we have now returned to an Alien class comprised of the Usual Suspects, things at the top of the food chain are sufficiently unsettled to promise an interesting second half.  One would have to be completely jaded to complain about the prospect of watching Rossi, Lorenzo, Marquez and Pedrosa in their current forms slugging it out for the rest of the year.2015 Aliens

MotoGP 2015 Sachsenring Preview

July 7, 2015

Marquez reduced to spoiler as season hits halfway mark.  By Bruce Allen.  Exclusive to Motorcycle.com. 

Round nine of the 2015 MotoGP world championship returns to The Sachsenring, arguably the most Honda-friendly circuit on the tour.  Hondas have taken the checkered flag the last five times out, three wins from Dani Pedrosa followed by two from Marc Marquez.  Although the fortunes of the Repsol Honda team have suffered a downturn in 2015, both riders could easily be in contention for a spot on Sunday’s podium.  It’s that kind of track. 

motogp-suzuki-espargaro-vinalesMidway through the season, it can be said that Honda and Suzuki have opposing problems.  Suzuki’s problem, historical in nature, is a lack of horsepower available to complement the bike’s sweet handling.  Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales have combined to make the Ecstar team immediately competitive, far more so than it was in its previous iteration when sponsored by Rizla.  The bike and the riders are both better.  Espargaro, who was showing steady improvement early in the year, has been dragged down by consecutive DNFs at rounds five through seven, and sits in 12th place for the year.  Vinales, the consensus rookie of the year having finished in the points every round, sits in ninth place for the year, and deserves an Oakley contract to deal with a future so bright…he’s gonna need shades.

The factory Honda’s problem, on the other hand, is a surfeit of power, the result being a bucking bronco of a bike that pedrosa-marquezconsistently wants to get away from Marquez and, to a lesser extent, Pedrosa.  The veteran Pedrosa is dealing with it better than Marquez, the result of having spent 10 seasons on the bike or its previous iterations.  Marquez, whose early season escapades (DNFs in three of the first seven races) cost him a third consecutive world championship, is now engaged in a series of workarounds—2014 frame, harder front tires–in an exhausting effort to stay relevant while the engineers in Japan figure out how to make the RC213V rideable again.  (If he doesn’t mind a little pinging, perhaps the team should consider using regular gasoline rather than the high-test stuff.)

With the factory Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo hitting on all cylinders this season, and Pedrosa having missed three of the first four rounds of the year to arm pump surgery, Marquez’ role has been reduced to that of a spoiler.  He can still contend for wins and podiums to salve what has had to have been a miserably disappointing year.  But more importantly, he can have a material effect on the competition between Rossi and Lorenzo.  He can be the fly in the ointment, a wild card mixing it up with the Bruise Brothers and generally making a nuisance of himself.

Lorenzo - MarquezAssen is a perfect example; had the drama at the final chicane turned out differently, Lorenzo might have won the race, Rossi might have ended up in the gravel, and the standings at the top would be reversed.  The boys in blue have ten rounds of this stuff to look forward to, not to mention Marquez’s reputation for risky business in the turns.  If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, there will be plenty of Rossi and Lorenzo fans pulling for #93 to assert his influence during the remainder of the season.  On the other guy.

Recent History in Saxony

The 2012 German Grand Prix had all the makings of a Repsol Honda clambake.  The Hondas had been fast in practice, with Pedrosa and Stoner flanking the briefly brilliant Ben Spies and his factory Yamaha on the front row.  When the lights went out, the two Hondas went off to wage war by themselves, leaving Lorenzo by himself in third place, Andrea Dovizioso and Spies battling for fourth, with homeboy Stefan Bradl and Valentino Rossi scrapping over sixth place.  Amazingly, Stoner lowsided out of the race on the “penultimate” lap (I hate that word), awarding the win to Pedrosa.  Lorenzo moved up to second, and Dovizioso punked Spies for third; three Yamahas finished in the top four.  At the end of the day Lorenzo led Pedrosa by 14 points on the way to his second MotoGP title that fall.

2013 was to have finally been Dani Pedrosa’s year.  He had avoided injury early in the season, and led the championship heading into Round 8 in Germany.  Lorenzo was wounded in Assen, Rossi was still getting re-acquainted with the Yamaha after two years at Ducati, and rookie Marquez was, well, a rookie.  Instead, Pedrosa went flying over the handlebars in FP3 on Saturday morning, returning to Spain for yet another surgery on his pulverized collarbone.  Lorenzo, pressing, crashed yet again on Friday, re-injuring his own wing; with the two Spaniards missing, the other riders all jumped up two spots.  Marquez won that day, seizing the championship lead he would not relinquish for the remainder of the season.  Cal Crutchlow, who had qualified brilliantly in the middle of the front row, finished second for his best premier class result ever on the Tech 3 Yamaha ahead of Rossi, chosen over Crutchlow by the suits at Yamaha corporate to ride for them in 2014 and beyond.

Last year’s fiasco started memorably with nine bikes on the grid and 14 in pit lane, the result of rapidly changing weather conditions.  Fan fave Stefan Bradl might have won the race that day, lining up at the start on slicks and enjoying a 12 second advantage over the Alien contingent on the first lap.  Alas, though his crew had thoughtfully mounted slicks on his LCR Honda, they had neglected to change the setting from W(et) to D(ry), causing him to lose two seconds per lap to the big dogs and leading, ultimately, to a demoralizing 16th place finish.  Predictably, the race was won by Marquez, followed closely by Pedrosa, with Lorenzo, Rossi and Andrea Iannone spread out over the next half mile.  What fireworks there were that day were extinguished in the first five minutes.

Arm Pump: An Occupational Hazard of MotoGP

015129-rod-laverBack in the 60’s there was an Australian tennis player, “Rocket” Rod Laver, whose left forearm—he was a southpaw—was roughly twice the diameter of his right.  When he wasn’t playing, just standing around, he looked like one of those photoshopped pictures you see of guys with one arm and one leg extending from their shoulder sockets.  MotoGP riders are going to have to do more than they’re already doing to build up their right arms, as virtually all of them suffer the effects of operating throttle and brake against heavy centrifugal force while wrestling several hundred pounds of steel and rubber.  Perhaps if they were to spend the offseason dipping cones at Baskin Robbins they could build large enough forearms to withstand the rigors of an 18 round season.

Not that arm pump is the only occupational hazard in this sport.  Road rash, crushed digits, cracked skulls and shattered collarbones all contribute to the festival atmosphere at races, followed by jetlag, jock rot and a variety of, ahem, social infections.

This is a man’s sport.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If Marc Marquez is capable of winning again in 2015, it should be at The Sachsenring.  We’ll have results and analysis right here Sunday morning.

Honda, Marquez look to repeat in Deutschland

July 8, 2014

MotoGP 2014 Sachsenring Preview, by Bruce Allen

Going back to 2007, the Repsol Honda team has won five of the last seven MotoGP events at The Sachsenring, Ground Zero of German motorsports. Dani Pedrosa enjoyed a hat trick here between 2010 and 2012, while teammate Marc Marquez, for whom we have officially run out of superlatives, won last year, the first of four consecutive wins that would culminate in his claiming the 2013 premier class title. There exists no credible reason to believe the top two steps of the podium will not be draped in Repsol orange, red and black on Sunday afternoon.

Marquez swims across the lineThe longer The Streak continues, the harder it gets to suggest that someone other than Marquez will take the checkered flag on Sundays. A number of other publications, notably MotoGP.com, rattle on week after week about how Pedrosa, or the strongmen of the Movistar Yamaha team, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, look capable of heading off the 21 year-old Catalan. Our commitment to keeping it real, however, requires us to acknowledge that, barring an unforeseeable mechanical failure or carelessness on the part of another rider early in the race, Marquez is going to win in Germany. The guy does not beat himself.

This, then, is another instance in which we would prefer, all things being equal, to be wrong. Such was the case in 2010 when we predicted that Valentino Rossi was in for a miserable two years headlining the factory Ducati team. Or last year at this time, when we predicted that Cal Crutchlow, on his way to Ducati Corse, would trail both Tech 3 Yamaha riders, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, in the final 2014 standings. All of us have heard the adage in the paddock that MotoGP is 80% rider and 20% bike, an observation borne out by Casey Stoner in 2007. Marc Marquez is the only other rider we’ve seen since then capable of winning on the Ducati; as intelligent (and well-paid) as he seems, there is virtually no chance we’ll ever see him on the beastly Desmosedici.

Let’s just pile on with one more observation about Marquez and The Sachsenring. He’s been racing grand prix bikes there since he was 15 years old. The last time he lost in Germany, he was 16. It’s one of his favorite tracks. The summer break just can’t come soon enough.

Recent History at The Sachsenring

Up until last year, one had to regard Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa as The Man at this track. He won there in 2010, 2011 and again in Dani-dani-pedrosa-9702356-435-3802012. During the second of his three consecutive wins, in 2011, he led teammate and eventual championship winner Casey Stoner and Yamaha gunner Jorge Lorenzo on a merry chase through the German countryside. Stoner appeared to have second place in the bag until Lorenzo slipped past him on Lap 30, punking him by a tenth. Stoner, having lost the battle, would win the war, taking the next three rounds, while Lorenzo crashed hard in practice at Philip Island, losing the tip of a finger in the accident, and ending his hopes for that year.

In 2012, Pedrosa again spent the afternoon with Stoner glued to his rear wheel. But, late on the last lap, the racing gods intervened, sending the Australian into a dramatic, long, agonizing lowside that looked like a slow-motion replay of itself. Suddenly, Pedrosa was home free, while a stunned Lorenzo moved up to second place, and an even more surprised Andrea Dovizioso waltzed onto a podium finish in third. It marked the first time in 22 starts that Stoner had failed to finish. Lorenzo, thus blessed, went on to claim the 2012 title, with no clue it might possibly be his last.

Last year, while both Lorenzo and Pedrosa sat out nursing broken wings, Marquez took the win by 1.6 seconds over a determined Cal Crutchlow, with Rossi another eight seconds back. Pedrosa had been leading the championship through Round 7, and 2013 appeared to finally be his year until he went flying over his handlebars on Saturday morning, landing hard, out of title contention once again. Marquez took the lead in the 2013 title race that day and never let go, despite a picky and unnecessary disqualification at Phillip Island that made the final standings appear closer than they actually were.

A Reversal of Fortune at Movistar Yamaha

Rossi & LorenzoHad you been living in a cave in Borneo for the past two weeks, and I told you that the factory Yamaha team had signed one of its riders for the next two seasons, would you have guessed that the rider in question was Valentino Rossi? That Yamaha would sign the aging legend, who will be 37 when this latest contract runs out, before doing a deal with Jorge Lorenzo? Furthermore, had I told you that a premier class rider admitted to the press after Assen that he was frightened by the wet conditions and was thus unable to compete for a podium, would you have guessed I was talking about Karel Abraham, or double world champion Jorge Lorenzo?

We have been suggesting here for some time that Marc Marquez has gotten inside Lorenzo’s head, where he is causing all kinds of problems for the Mallorcan, this last bit of candor being but the most recent. Now, it appears that Rossi, once again, is the alpha male in the factory Yamaha garage; shades of 2008 and 2009, years in which the immensely talented Lorenzo could not stand being #2 to his teammate, a situation that became so desperate the teams had to build a wall down the center of the garage to keep the two separated. Lorenzo found it difficult to be Rossi’s wingman before winning two titles; I doubt he will find it any easier now.

Six months ago I suspected Rossi was in his last contract with Yamaha, and that Lorenzo would be with them until 2020. Now, 180 degrees later, it appears Rossi will finish his career on The Big Blue Machine, while Lorenzo could conceivably go looking for greener—or redder, or turquoiser (?)—pastures. The domino effect engendered by Marc Marquez is, indeed, having some unforeseen consequences.

Your Weekend Forecast

Surprisingly, Weather.com is calling for clear skies and warm temperatures in Saxony this weekend. We had our share of cool and wet last time out in Assen, and can look forward to more of the same when we return to Silverstone at the end of August. Weather does not appear likely to be a factor for Round 9.

Which, in a way, is a shame. MotoGP needs something to shake up the status quo in what is becoming a dreadfully predictable season. Sure, a lot of us used to enjoy watching Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to title after title, but the Pippens and Rodmans helped make them possible. In an individual sport like MotoGP, utter domination by one rider is fun to watch if you happen to be a fan of that rider. Otherwise, you’re probably recording the races, checking for spoilers online, and cutting the grass, rather than watching Marc Marquez flash his boyish grin while he’s hoisted in the air by his team week after week after week, as if he had lost his virginity the night before.Marquez hoisted

The race goes off at 8 am Eastern time. We’ll have results and analysis right here on Sunday afternoon.

MotoGP Sachsenring 2013 Results

July 14, 2013

An edited version of this article, complete with hi-rez images, will appear on Motorcycle.com later today.  Until then, enjoy the raw copy.

Marc Marquez Wins, Seizes Championship Lead 

Repsol Honda rookie phenom Marc Marquez took the flag in today’s German Grand Prix, a rather anti-climactic end to a brutally dramatic weekend in Saxony.  With series leaders Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo both sidelined with injuries suffered in practice, this was clearly Marquez’s race to lose.  After a poor start, he took the lead on Lap 5 and never looked back.  The composed Spaniard again leads the series in his rookie season, with an opportunity to make more hay in California before summer vacation. 

Most of the story of today’s race was written prior to the start.  On Friday afternoon, factory Yamaha ironman Jorge Lorenzo, who had gambled and won in Assen, gambled again and lost, his violent high side taking him back to Barcelona for another collarbone surgery and out of today’s race.  Series leader Dani Pedrosa, figuratively facing an open net with Lorenzo out, fanned on Saturday morning, flying over the handlebars of his Repsol Honda and out of the race with yet another collarbone injury, a concussion and double vision.  As we argued here last week, the single factor that could keep Pedrosa from his first premier class title—injury—jumped up and bit him hard yesterday.

It wasn’t just Lorenzo and Pedrosa crashing out on Friday and Saturday.  By my count, there were at least 16 replay-quality crashes leading up to the race.  In this dubious category, CRT back marker Bryan Staring, onboard the GO&FUN #2 bike, led the way with four (4) offs, five if you include his crash on lap 28 today. Andrea  “Crazy Joe” Iannone, improving in his first season with the Pramac Ducati team, left his ride behind twice, his accident in FP4 leaving him with knee and shoulder injuries sufficient to saddle him with his first DNS of the season.

Monster Tech 3 Yamaha Brit Cal Crutchlow endured a gruesome case of road rash suffered in the second of his two crashes Friday, but still managed to start the race.  Not only did he start from the middle of the front row, he finished second to Marquez for his best premier class finish ever, one of four satellite bikes occupying the top six spots in today’s clash.  Along the way, he went through easily on factory Yamaha icon Valentino Rossi, effectively flipping off Yamaha Racing corporate, who steadfastly refuse to make a respectable 2014 offer to the toughest guy on the track.  Rossi finished third, grateful to be on the podium, but laying to rest the fantasies of his delusional fans who, after his win in Assen, expected him to run the table on his way to yet another premier class title.  That’s not gonna happen.

Elsewhere on the Grid

For one brief shining moment—six laps, actually—LCR Honda pilot Stefan Bradl, showboating for his home fans, led the German Grand Prix, throwing the PA announcer into apoplexy.  One by one, Marquez, Rossi and, finally, Crutchlow went through on the German, leaving him to finish fourth, equaling his best premier class result earned previously at Mugello.  Finally seeming to shake the “underachiever” tag that has stuck to him all season, he was warmly hugged by team owner Lucio Cecchinello at the finish, apparently still in the good graces of management.  If you look up “Stefan Bradl” in the dictionary, you’re likely to find his picture above the caption, “Man in Need of a Podium.”  Just sayin’.

The feel-good story of the day centered on Aleix Espargaro, who qualified fifth and spent some time in the top three (!) early in the race before ultimately fading to eighth position at the flag.  The race announcers were speculating as to whether the Spaniard’s success onboard the Aprilia-powered CRT might be sufficient to induce the Italian company to field a factory team in the next year or two.  It’s hard to imagine that such a venture could be any more futile than the current Italian entries from Ducati Corse.

Speaking of which, Andrea Dovizioso needed a desperate last lap pass of Espargaro to avoid the ignominy of another loss to the Frankenbikes as took place in Assen.  Dovi led the Ducati contingent in 7th place today, followed by Nicky Hayden in 9th and Michelle Pirro in 10th.  All three positions were artificially enhanced by the absence of Lorenzo and Pedrosa from the proceedings.

Lest I forget completely, GO&FUN loose cannon Alvaro Bautista finished a respectable 5th today, followed by Crutchlow’s Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Bradley Smith.  Of the two, Smith’s finish is more impressive, given the inferiority of his satellite Yamaha to the factory spec Honda under Bautista.  Rumor has it that Bautista’s contract with Fausto Gresini for 2014 is being subjected to numerous stress tests, as the volatile Italian team owner seeks some way to eject Alvaro from his team while still on speaking terms with HRC.  Bautista is, to my knowledge, the only premier class rider to have applied blonde highlights to his hair, a commentary on where his priorities lie.

The Big Picture

Here’s a look at the rather misleading premier class standings after eight rounds:

Top 10 riders after 8 rounds

By “misleading” I refer to the fact that both Lorenzo and Pedrosa are questionable for Laguna Seca next Sunday.  Lorenzo tweeted on Saturday night that he would not travel to California.  Pedrosa was held out of today’s race by MotoGP doctors, citing low blood pressure and double vision.  Although Dani apparently plans to travel to Monterey, broken collarbone and all, his concussion and attendant vision problems could easily linger, putting those intentions in doubt.  Lorenzo, for his part, might change his mind after today’s outcome.

The bottom line here—Lorenzo and Pedrosa actually trail Marquez by more than the standings would suggest, while Crutchlow and Rossi are in relatively better shape than they appear.

If there is a silver lining in the cloud shadowing the four riders trailing the Spanish rookie, it lies in the fact that Marquez has never set foot on the Laguna Seca macadam.  Thus, at the risk of besmirching my own prediction skills, I wish to reprise a sentence from our first article of season, the Qatar preview:  “But, for the record, let me just state here and now that Marquez, no matter how brilliant his rookie season may turn out to be, will not finish at Laguna Seca.”  Young Marc has a date with The Corkscrew, and an innate inability to acknowledge, or even recognize, dangerous situations.  The combination of the two may offer an opportunity for both Lorenzo and Pedrosa to climb back into a championship chase that appears, suddenly, to be getting away from them.

MotoGP Sachsenring Results

July 8, 2012

An edited version of this story will appear on Motorcycle.com with stunning photos later today.  Until then, please enjoy this summary of the 2012 German Grand Prix.

Pedrosa’s Win Tightens the 2012 Championship Race

For the third consecutive year, countrymen Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo finished one-two in the German Grand Prix.  For the diminutive Repsol Honda pilot, today’s race was a field study in skill, stamina and stones, as he tangled with teammate Casey Stoner all day, until Stoner slid off in Turn 12 of the last lap.  Yamaha ace Lorenzo, nursing an injured ankle, had appeared content to settle for third until Stoner’s mishap.  When the dust cleared, the standings at the top of the championship were scrambled, and the 2012 season had just became a lot more interesting.

The weather had been a factor all weekend, alternating between damp, dry and wet, and led to some surprising practice results.  Exhibit A was FP3, run in the wet, in which the top two finishers were CRT plodders Michele Pirro and Mattia Pasini.  Qualifying practice closely resembled last week’s shocker in Assen, as the wet track suddenly dried out late in the session, and Stoner again snatched the pole to join Pedrosa and Yamaha’s Ben Spies on the front row.  Row two included the highly ambitious Cal Crutchlow, a limping Lorenzo, and homeboy Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda.  When the red light went out, the sun was shining, the track was hot, and the big dogs had their game faces on, along with hard compound asymmetric rear slicks.

If Losail, Silverstone and Aragon are Yamaha-oriented circuits, the Sachsenring is clearly Honda-friendly.  Tight and twisty, it favors the RC213V, with its superior corner-exit power.  (The 1000cc Yamaha M1 loves long straights, but in Germany the longest is only 700 meters.)  As expected, Stoner and Pedrosa took off early, leaving all four Yamahas to scramble for third place, led by an increasingly desperate Spies.  The American, whose fortunes are waning, gave way to Lorenzo on Lap 5, and both Andrea Dovizioso and Crutchlow on Lap 9.  Though Ben would ultimately finish 4th, his best result of the year, it was more a matter of luck than skill, as we shall see.

On Lap 19, Pedrosa went through on Stoner, but the Australian looked comfortable, apparently biding his time until opportunity arose to break his teammate’s little heart once again.  With Lorenzo by himself in third, the battle for fourth place was raging.  Normally, I don’t pay much attention to the ‘race within the race’ off the lead, but there is much at stake in the Spies-Dovizioso-Crutchlow wars, namely the second factory seat alongside Jorge Lorenzo for the next couple of years.  As of this past week, Spies is officially “disappointing” team manager Wilco Zeelenberg.

On Lap 26, Crutchlow, trying to get past Dovizioso, went too hot into one of the three right-handers and ended up in the kitty litter, falling back to 11th position and effectively ending his day.  (It may be that this lone error will result in his going to work for Ducati next year, a mistake the dimensions of which cannot be overstated.  If it does, I can serenely predict that Cal will earn fewer points on the factory Ducati in 2013 than will either of the Tech 3 Yamaha riders.  Take that to the bank.)

A Shocking, Karma-Laden Finish

Pedrosa was still managing to hold off Stoner when the two crossed the start-finish line to start the last lap.  Lorenzo was a mile back, and the Dovizioso-Spies battle continued in the distance.  The only question in my mind was when Stoner would try to go through on Pedrosa.  The racing gods, apparently offended by last week’s events, in which Lorenzo was forced to give up his 25 point championship lead to Stoner, suddenly intervened.  In the midst of Turn 12, a fast left-hander, the front end of Stoner’s bike gradually folded into a lowside, with the Australian sliding 100 yards into his first DNF in 22 races.  The domino effect was remarkable, as follows.

Pedrosa’s win elevated him from third place into second, 14 points behind Lorenzo.  Stoner’s shutout dropped him from a tie for first into third, six points behind Pedrosa.  Dovizioso, who edged Spies by 7/100ths of a second, enjoyed his second consecutive podium finish.  Behind Spies sat Bradl, who coaxed his satellite Honda into fifth place, to the delight of the tollwütigen Zuschauer, for whom he is The Great Aryan Hope.  San Carlo Honda pilot Alvaro Bautista, forced to start from the back of the grid after last week’s debacle, stormed back into 7th place, a fraction of a second in front of the hard-luck Crutchlow.  For the record, Valentino Rossi finished sixth today, and had absolutely nothing to do with anything.

Idle Speculation from the Department of Idle Speculation

The torrent of leaks from the Bologna factory show the depth of concern Ducati has about the 2013 season and beyond.  They seem to think Rossi will not be returning next year, and are giving the distinct impression they don’t want Hayden, either.  They’ve offered a contract to Crutchlow, who would be crazy to accept it.  The sense here is that the overall quality of life on a factory team is so superior to that on the satellite teams (never mind the CRTs) that Crutchlow will find the “opportunity” irresistible, despite the likelihood that it will effectively remove any chance he might have to contend for a world championship in MotoGP.

This past week we learned that both Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci are in discussions with the Italian company regarding 2013.  I’m starting to feel that I’m the only guy involved in this sport who has NOT been approached by some well-groomed Italian guy in a red windbreaker.  Never mind that I’ve never ridden anything larger than 80cc, and that was during the Nixon administration.

The Big Picture

So, Pedrosa now has his hat trick, with three consecutive wins in Saxony.  Lorenzo has his fourth consecutive bridesmaid finish here, although this one likely feels much better than the last three.  Stoner received some payback for his lucky win last time out, and has work to do if he wants to repeat as world champion.  With only 20 points separating the three Aliens at the top of the heap, the 2012 season is suddenly fascinating.  Approaching the halfway point of the season next week, no one is running away with the title this year.

Next Stop—Mugello

Practice starts again on Friday for the Gran Premio d’Italia TIM.  Between the virulent European financial crisis, which now has Italy in its crosshairs, and the sagging fortunes of Rossi and Ducati, expect a sparse, subdued crowd.  Wait—what am I saying?  Never mind the economy, or the standings.  Next to soccer, MotoGP is the biggest thing in Italy, and the stands will be packed with delirious jabbering men and gorgeous, sultry and, hopefully, under-dressed Italian women.  The brolly girls will be a thing of joy.  And the circuit is one of the best on the planet.

It will be a three day party, a few short miles from Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance.  For Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, the renaissance of the 2012 season started today in Turn 12.  Portarlo sulla!

MotoGP Sachsenring Preview

July 3, 2012

An edited version of this article will appear on Motorcycle.com on Thursday, complete with high quality images.  Until then please enjoy this preview of the German Grand Prix.

Pedrosa, Stoner and Lorenzo Square Off in Bavaria

Repsol Honda’s #1 rider, Casey Stoner, is a lucky man.  He’s famous, young, and wealthy, has a beautiful wife and daughter, and reigns at the top of his chosen profession, doing what he loves, or at least likes.  While he may have lost his passion for racing, it still beats working for a living.  Thanks to the vastly ill-considered antics of San Carlo Honda’s Alvaro Bautista at Assen last week, Stoner is also back in contention for the world championship.  Lucky and good is a wicked combination.

The Sachsenring is one of those old world venues surrounded by tidy Teutonic villages and soaring peaks straight out of The Sound of Music.  Between 1962 and 1971 it hosted the East German Grand Prix, which sends a bit of a jangle up the spines of people old enough to remember the old Soviet Bloc.  After a bit of a political flap in ’71, the German Grand Prix bounced around a number of venues until 1998, when improvements at the Sachsenring lured the MotoGP race, and where it has been held every year since.  Organizers recently signed an extension of the contract with Dorna through 2016.  Dass ist eine gute sache, nicht wahr?

Recent History

The 2009 German Grand Prix was one for the ages.  That was the year Casey Stoner suffered from what came to be diagnosed as lactose intolerance.  By mid-season he was starting races like a house on fire, but would run out of gas, as it were, usually finishing well off the podium.  In Germany that year, he led the first 17 laps, at which point the Battle of the Factory Yamahas commenced.  Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, teammates and bitter rivals, went hard at each other for the next 13 laps, Rossi ultimately winning by just under a tenth.  Dani Pedrosa finished 3rd that year, a relatively poor showing for him, as we shall presently see.

The fans got their money’s worth in 2010, enjoying two races in one afternoon.  LCR Honda’s Randy de Puniet’s had his leg broken in two places and his bike destroyed as Rizla Suzuki’s Alvaro Bautista and Pramac Racing’s Aleix Espargaro were able to avoid neither bike nor rider when the Frenchman went down on Lap 9.  The race was red-flagged.  After the re-start, Pedrosa took command early and eventually finished comfortably ahead of Lorenzo and Stoner, followed by Rossi, who made a very macho early return from injuries suffered at Mugello several weeks previous.

Last year, it was “déjà vu all over again” as Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Stoner finished 1-2-3, although the final standings were in doubt until the last lap.  Pedrosa ended up edging Lorenzo by 1.4 seconds, while Lorenzo punked eventual world champion Stoner and his Repsol Honda by a tenth at the flag.  This was Round 9 last year, at which point Stoner led Lorenzo for the title by a mere 15 points.  From there, Stoner went on to three consecutive wins, with Lorenzo collecting two seconds and a fourth, and that was that.

Of the three major contenders, Pedrosa has the best history in Saxony with a remarkable five wins in eight starts across both the 250cc and premier classes.  Stoner’s first and only win occurred in 2008, and Lorenzo has never won at the Sachsenring in any class, in ten tries.  Finishing second each of the last three years must stick in his throat like a bone.  Our crack research staff is busy scouring the archives to find any other current MotoGP tracks at which Lorenzo has been, um, stoned.  Check back for the results of their hard work…well, never.  You probably don’t care all that much and they don’t really exist anyway.

Final Reflections on Bautista, Lorenzo and the Big Picture

A few half-crazed conspiracy theorists out there are promoting the idea that Bautista’s unseating of Lorenzo at Assen was part of a vast and implausible plot hatched at HRC headquarters in Asaka.  Their “reasoning” is that HRC would gladly make a sacrificial pawn of satellite rider Bautista in order to advance the championship prospects of factory stud Casey Stoner.  This goofy notion does, however, recognize the cozy working relationship between HRC and Fausto Gresini, who seems to enjoy way more factory perks than do the poor French schlubs at LRC.  In any case, we will not dignify the wild speculations of a few fevered motorheads over what was, in truth, a rather ordinary crash.  The layout at Estoril is similar to that at Assen, and these kinds of first-turn crashes happen all the time in Portugal.

Let’s not forget the uproar that took place last year at Jerez when Valentino Rossi, in only his second race on the factory Ducati, clipped Stoner from behind, putting a major damper on the Australian’s early season prospects.  Stoner, you will recall, had opened the season with a mildly surprising win at Losail in his first race on the Honda RC212V.  Thinking that 2011 might be his year, his fans were OUTRAGED that Rossi would ride in such a reckless and feckless manner.  Catastrophizers immediately assumed that Vale had trashed any chance Stoner might have had of repeating as world champion.  This, clearly, was an over-reaction, and mirrors the response to Bautista’s atypical wreck.  Stoner went on to win the title last year, and Lorenzo will probably do the same this year, as his M1 is smoother and easier to handle than the RC213V.

My only comment should not be construed as an ethnic slur, but here it is.  A rider carelessly taking a championship-leading Australian out of a race gets his wrist slapped by Race Direction.  A rider taking a Spaniard out of the championship lead in similar fashion is sent to the woodshed and thence to the last slot on the grid.  I’m not suggesting that Bautista should not have been penalized for his carelessness, as lives and careers are at stake in this game.  I’m just suggesting that Rossi, too, should have paid some kind of price for his equally ill-advised move on Stoner.  Just sayin’…

What Does Dorna Know that Rossi Doesn’t?

Final thoughts this week concern the curious comments offered up by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta last week concerning Valentino Rossi’s future MotoGP prospects.  In an interview with Omnicorse.it, Ezpeleta was quoted as saying, “I am calm. Valentino next year will be riding a competitive bike, but I [can’t] tell you what it is. It is still too early to talk about: in 2013 we will see Rossi fight for the win… again.”  When asked about the statement, Rossi’s response was to play dumb, as if to say, “I will?”

Surely Rossi has a number of irons in the fire concerning 2013 and beyond, but for now he is sticking with the story that he is 100% committed to improving the Ducati.  Ezpeleta, whose behavior reminds me of Bernie Ecclestone more each year (and that’s no compliment) may be making it harder for The Doctor to keep his intentions under wraps than it might otherwise be.  We should know sometime next month where Rossi will end up.  Until then, we’ll have to endure the pain of watching him struggle to finish in the top eight each week.  How the mighty have fallen.