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no room for a little one. . .

German MotoGP, 16th JUly 2006, Sachsenring
Words by Simon Bradley

Proving that there's little a combination of willpower and strong drugs can't beat, Marco Melandri goes to work ...with a broken collarbone.Sachsenring is a very tight circuit with frequent elevation changes and some decidedly bumpy tarmac. There are probably only two places where a bike will be at full throttle, and the start finish straight is less than half a mile long. Somewhere that the all out power that the Honda riders have on tap may be less of an advantage, but where the extreme rideability of the RC211 will really come into play. With the handling challenges that Yamaha have been up against this season, allied to the fact that Valentino Rossi really doesn't like the place, it would be a brave man who would bet against one of the Repsol Hondas taking the chequered flag. And with Dani Pedrosa on cracking form throughout practice and qualifying it would have to be the young Spaniard that would get the shortest odds. Mind you, it's not a hard circuit on tyres so perhaps the Bridgestone runners would have a better chance, with the sweet handling Suzukis in particular maybe able to minimise their power disadvantage.

Added to the mix, of course, is the fact that several riders are still carrying injuries. Marco Melandri carries a broken collarbone, as does Sete Gibernau, the Spaniard making his return after that terrible crash at Mugello and his consequential surgery. Loris Capirossi isn't fully fit after getting duffed up in the safe incident while Valentino Rossi still has a fractured hand from his Assen crash.

So, all in all, it looked as though Sachsenring may well be the place that Valentino Rossi might finally have to concede at least the possibility of defeat in a world championship.

Dani Pedrosa uses all his weight (and that's not a  lot) to keep the Honda on a tight line...And practice certainly did little, if anything, to dispel these thoughts. A little while ago it would have been unthinkable to actually commit to print an admission of doubt in Rossi's ability to pull something out of the bag. But here we were, looking at the champion clearly struggling with both ropey handling and lacklustre power and bimbling around in the midfield while the Honda riders made hay. Colin Edwards was faring equally badly, seemingly unable to get a setup that worked for qualifying or race pace, while Nicky Hayden, comfortably in the lead and ahead of his team-mate Pedrosa, strolled around with his grin getting bigger and bigger.

Come qualifying and it got even worse for Rossi. The best the champion could do was a meagre eleventh, a full second behind pole setter Pedrosa. Mind you, the diminutive Honda rider had been on fire all weekend, destroying Gibernau's outright lap record by nearly two seconds and putting his stamp firmly on the circuit. With four pole positions this season, Pedrosa is the youngest rider to have done so well in qualifying since Fast Freddie Spencer back in 1982, as well as being the first rookie to have done so well since the same year. Someone else who rode spectacularly well was Kenny Roberts Jnr. The 2000 champion has found a reserve of some of his old form, coupled with a bike that obviously suits him well and a team built solely around him. Whatever the reason, he took a solid second place on the grid ahead of Nicky Hayden in third. Shinya Nakano continued his fine run of qualifying results to head up row two from Capirossi and Melandri while the third row consisted of Gibernau, Stoner and Hopkins in an unusually lowly ninth. Makoto Tamada rounded out the top ten on the Minolta Honda.

Kenny Roberts Jnr shows a clean pair of heels in qualifying. It can't be long before he breaks his long drought of victories, surely?...The weather proved mercifully consistent, with race day as warm and sunny as the rest of the meeting had been, and the capacity crowd worked hard to show that it isn't just the Mediterranean countries who know how to appreciate good motorsport. And it looked as though they would be rewarded with a day full of action as well. Warmup is normally a fairly tame event. Yes, there's a fair amount of posturing and it's a great way to start psyching out your opponents. What you don't normally expect is for someone to crash hard enough to take themselves out of the race. But that's exactly what Casey Stoner did, ending up in hospital with concussion and promoting everyone behind him one place higher up the grid. Loris Capirossi was the man to beat, though, pipping Pedrosa for the fastest lap. And, interestingly, whatever changes Jerry Burgess and the team had done to Rossi's bike seemed to have made a difference as the Italian was now running sixth on the timesheets. Poor Colin Edwards, though, remained languishing back in eleventh, nearly a second off the pace.

So, with a slightly depleted lineup, everyone got themselves lined up for the big event. The sighting lap passed without incident, everyone getting around cleanly and taking their spots on the grid as planned. Lights out and it was a belter of a start by Hayden, stealing the lead from Pedrosa before the lap was out. Far more impressive, though, was Makoto Tamada who came through the pack from the back of the third row to be up into fourth place by the end of the first lap. And with him came Valentino Rossi, up to sixth ahead of Hopkins, Capirossi, Nakano (who went backwards after his fine qualifying effort) and Gibernau. At the front, Hayden lead Pedrosa from Roberts, who was riding an excellent race ahead of Tamada with Melandri providing the buffer to Rossi. The next nine laps were remarkable for two things. Makoto Tamada's resurgence as a force to be reckoned with as he rode the wheels off the Bridgestone shod Honda and Valentino Rossi's Lazarus-like resurrection in the podium stakes. Indeed, on lap eleven Rossi got that podium place, the big loser being Nicky Hayden who got shuffled from the lead back to fourth as Melandri took point from Pedrosa. The other big loser on this lap was Tamada, the hard charging Japanese being skittled by the riderless KR211 which Kenny Roberts had just fallen off overcooking an attempted pass on Hayden. Roberts was clearly distraught, running across the track to comfort Tamada until the medics arrived in a massive contrast to the way that Pedrosa totally ignored the prone Melandri at Mugello and instead tried to remount his bike. Happily it seems that Tamada escaped serious injury but his race was definitely run.

Makoto Tamada rode an impecable race before falling victim to Robert's overexuberenceUp at the front and Melandri surrendered the lead to Rossi after just two laps in a beautifully clean overtake. Tenth on the grid to the lead in just thirteen laps has to be some sort of record. From here on it was a straight seventeen lap battle. There's no nice way to describe it. The top four riders were never separated by more than a second overall, frequently by a great deal less. Come the end of the race, for example, Nicky Hayden had rubber marks up the right side of his leathers where he had blocked an over-ambitious inside pass with his body. The rider he blocked was his own team-mate, Dani Pedrosa. Melandri managed to get the lead back from Rossi just once, with two laps to go, but the champion retook his rightful place on the penultimate lap and held the lead, just, to the very end. Melandri made a last minute lunge which so nearly paid off but didn't. Pedrosa tried all ways of getting around both Hayden (successfully at one point though not for long) and Melandri when they were together, while Hayden saved himself for one last do or die effort on the final lap. Again, it so nearly paid off, the American going with the approach that he needed to take both the riders ahead of him to be worthwhile, but Melandri foiled him with an attack on Rossi that used up all the spare track, conveniently keeping his podium spot. Further back, Loris Capirossi rode to a valiant but lonely fifth place ahead of Shinya Nakano with Chris Vermeulen in an extremely respectable seventh. Sete Gibernau followed the Australian home ahead of Carlos Checa on the Dunlop Yamaha with John Hopkins in tenth. To put it into perspective, the gap from Rossi back to fourth placed Pedrosa was just three tenths of a second, while it was another eight seconds before Capirossi crossed the line.

Pedrosa was the fastest man on the circuit all weekend, and got the fastest race lap as well, but that simply wasn't enough to prevail over The Doctor. Rossi has slashed Hayden's championship lead to just twenty six points. That's a win and a point. Next week is Hayden's home GP, and he won there last year. But Edwards has a point to prove, Vermeulen has always gone well there on a Superbike and Kenny Roberts Jnr is seriously hungry for a win, as well as knowing the track well. But who'll write Rossi off? Not I, that's for sure...


Just as you thought it was safe to support another rider...Results

1 V Rossi, Yamaha
2 M Melandri, Honda
3 N Hayden, Honda
4 D Pedrosa, Honda
5 L Capirossi, Ducati
6 S Nakano, Kawasaki
7 C Vermeulen, Suzuki
8 S Gibernau, Ducati
9 C Checa, Yamaha
10 J Hopkins, Suzuki

Championship Standing after 10 rounds

169 N Hayden
143 V Rossi
D Pedrosa
134 M Melandri
118 L Capirossi
91 C Stoner
77 C Edwards
67 S Nakano
66 K Roberts Jnr
64 J Hopkins



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