CHEMNITZ, Germany – Located roughly between Dresden and Leipzig in the former East Germany, the Sachsenring is a geographically spectacular tight and demanding track with severe elevation changes. With a counter-clockwise orientation (mostly left-hand turns), it’s also extremely demanding on tires, especially in the spectacular T-11 “Waterfall” turn, a scary-fast downhill right-hander following a series of lefts that have let the right side of the tires cool.
Michelin (the Moto GP series tire provider) brought specially-developed assymetric tires with softer right sides to deal with this problem – but cool temperatures and on-and-off rain all weekend destroyed everyone’s plans.
The Moto 3 race, first to run, went off in heavy rain which continued for the full race. Conditions were so bad it’s a wonder the race wasn’t stopped, but in the end it allowed the unbelievable wet-weather talents of Malaysian rider Khairul Idham Pawi to shine – the youngster on the Honda Team Asia bike went from 20th to eighth on the first lap, grabbed first shortly after, and finished an unbelievable 11 seconds ahead of the experienced Italian Enea Bastianni. Pawi did the same thing in Argentina near the start of the season in similar conditions, fighting the bike, refusing to let it crash despite incredible gyrations and near-falls. The guy is amazing in these conditions; apparently the bookmakers flipped odds greatly in his favour at the start of the race and some people made quite a bunch of money out of it!
The Moto 2 event was also wet, but perhaps in even worse conditions, as it rained, stopped, started to dry, rained heavily again – and so on through the race, to the extent that almost every corner was like the first time through. It was such a crap shoot that out of 28 starters only 15 were classified at the finish, several riders crashing, re-starting, then crashing again. The track was treacherous at best, and podium finishers Johann Zarco, Johann Folger, and Julian Simon deserve great credit not only for their speed but also their ability to adapt to the changing conditions.
Perhaps after the riders and teams at the top the happiest man in the paddock was Tech 3 team owner Hervé Poncheral, who’s hired both Zarco and Folger to join his Moto GP squad in 2017 and will have been delighted to have his foresight confirmed!
The Moto GP race started wet, but with the rain moving off – again, a crap shoot. The riders had to start on wet tires, but it looked certain that it would be a “flag-to-flag” race – that is, they’d stop and switch bikes to get different tires at some point. The race was won by the call to change – the Repsol Honda team called in Mark Marquez first and sent him back out on slicks to deal with a dangerously narrow drying line. Others who stopped all swapped to intermediates, or a combination of inter fronts and slick rears – the only exception was Brit Cal Crutchlow, whose LCR Honda team also sent him back out on slicks. Crutchlow was on fire all weekend; his wife Lucy was at home on the Isle of Man expecting their first baby, the second time in nine years she hasn’t been at the track. Crutchlow may insist she stay away in future!
The calls were perfect. Marquez ended up winning by more than nine seconds ahead of Crutchlow, at one point leading by more than 20 seconds. Crutchlow broke fellow Brit Scott Redding’s heart (Redding on inters) by getting him on the last lap, then Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso gave Redding another stab to the heart by getting past on the last corner to grab the final podium spot.
That gave Marquez a huge boost in the title chase, aided by the pathetic performance of his leading pursuer Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo, almost unbeatably fast when conditions are perfect, has a huge weakness in the rain, particularly in the changing conditions seen at the Sachsenring. The triple Moto GP world champion was nowhere all weekend, finishing a lowly 15th – dead last.
His Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi simply blew his race by ignoring pit signals to come in and staying out far too long on his disintegrating wet tires. The frustration on the faces of his pit crew was palpable, and after finally swapping – to inters rather than slicks, so the pit crew has to share some blame as well – the best the legendary “Vale” could manage was eighth – doing his title hopes no favours at all.
With the summer break on – the next event isn’t until August 14 at the new Red Bull Ring in Austria, it’d be a brave punter who’d bet against Marc Marquez and Honda for their third joint title.
Moto GP Championship after 9 of 18 Races
- Marc Marquez, Spain, Repsol Honda, 170 points
- Jorge Lorenzo, Spain, Movistar Yamaha, 122
- Valentino Rossi, Italy, Movistar Yamaha, 111
- Dani Pedrosa, Spain, Repsol Honda, 96
- Maverick Vinales, Spain, Suzuki Ecstar, 83
- Pol Espargaro, Spain, Tech 3 Yamaha, 72
- Hector Barbera, Spain, Avintia Ducati, 65
- Andrea Iannone, Italy, Ducati Team, 63
- Andrea Dovizioso, Italy, Ducati Team, 59
- Eugene Laverty, U.K., Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati, 53
Note: Laverty’s on a two-generation old Ducati and the only non-factory (or semi-factory in Espargaro’s case) guy ahead of him (Barbera) is on a newer Ducati. Why doesn’t somebody give this guy a competitive bike and see what happens?