Survival of the fittest (or most pain resistant)

German MotoGP,Sachsenring, 19th July 2009
Words by Simon Bradley, pics as credited

How close do you want it? Taking the chequered flag after thirty laps less than a length apart...Sachsenring is an unusual circuit. First of all, it's one of the oldest courses on the calendar, dating back to 1927 and originally being a street circuit. Various things interfered with racing in the region, World War II and the Communist regime which followed being high on the list, but when things got back to normal it soon became apparent that the circuit was simply too dangerous to carry on as a World Championship venue. So some serious re-engineering was carried out, and the new circuit, opened in 1998, contains some parts of the old layout but is genuinely state of the art. It's fast, flowing and highly technical. There are places to pass, which is always good, but it's never easy. Oh, and the other thing that makes it unusual is that it runs counter-clockwise. Lots of left handers, which works well for American riders who generally started out on left hand ovals of one sort or another.

There's something about Saxony in July that seems to attract rain. Actually, looking at how green the area is, I'd say there's something about Saxony that attracts rain, full stop. And practice gave riders a taste, perhaps, of what was to come as torrential rainstorms danced around the circuit, giving the teams precious little time to get a balance between wet, dry and intermediate setups. It also gave the technicians some practice at rebuilding bikes as the treacherous conditions resulted in quite a few excursions to the gravel trap, with varying degrees of destruction but happily no real injuries. Chris Vermeulen took a battering as he had a monumental highside on the Suzuki, while James Toseland and Niccolo Canepa added to the parts bill with incidents of their own.

Qualifying added at least an element of consistency as it was wet. sometimes very, very wet. So wet, in fact, that the vast majority of riders also ended up exploring the gravel. Canepa is probably the unluckiest. Nicky Hayden highsided the Xerox Ducati, getting launched into the air and landing on the Pramac rider, sending him flying. Totally unavoidable but hugely unlucky. When the carnage had died down, though, it was one of the best wet (or dry or variable) riders in the world on pole. Valentino Rossi pulled a late one out of the bag to pip team-mate Lorenzo by six tenths of a second, with Stoner a further six tenths behind. Still pretty impressive for Lorenzo and Stoner, though, bearing in mind how beaten up Lorenzo is and how ill Stoner remains. Despite that big crash, Hayden managed a season best of fourth, with de Angelis and de Puniet lined up next to him. Pedrosa and Dovizioso on the factory Hondas found themselves on the third row after a struggle in qualifying.

Just to keep everyone on their toes, race day was sunny and dry, with a gentle breeze guaranteed to clear any water from the track in short order. Other than a short warmup session in the morning, nobody had any real dry setup data. Which didn't seem to affect Pedrosa, who scorched around some three tenths faster than Stoner, with Dovizioso snapping at the Ducati rider's heels. Hayden redesigned his Desmosedici again, throwing it into the gravel but escaping injury.

Edwards, Melandri and Mika Kallio had their own personal fight. Elias is on the way to spoil things... None of this means anything as the race starts, of course. And when the lights went out it was Pedrosa who made one of his customary rocket starts from the third row to take the lead into turn one, with Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo in hot pursuit. There was a bit of a melee at turn one, as often seems to be the case, and though the front runners were unaffected, several other riders found themselves getting duffed up and generally rather further back than might be expected, In Randy de Puniet's case, that further back consisted of the gravel trap as his initial strong start went horribly wrong. Up at the front, Pedrosa didn't stay in front for long as Rossi elbowed his way through in short order. Dovizioso managed to shove his way past the obviously very sore Lorenzo to get up into fourth, though that only lasted a lap before the Yamaha rider regrouped and got his position back. Lap five saw Stoner get past Pedrosa and set off after a rapidly disappearing Rossi. Actually, while that was clearly the Italian's plan, it wasn't happening as the gap back to the three pursuing riders remained pretty constant. And indeed on lap six, Stoner made the move and slipped through in front of Rossi, but was also unable to make the break and shake off that pesky Yamaha. Behind, Lorenzo launched a concerted attack on Pedrosa which ultimately proved successful whole further back, Dovizioso's race was run as his front tyre disintegrated, crippling his corner speed and reducing him to simply trying for points. Ultimately that came to naught as five laps from the end an electrical fault forced the Italian to retire.

Back up at the front, Rossi was all over the back of Stoner's Ducati while Lorenzo was catching him. Exactly what he didn't want, so he opened the taps a bit more and managed to get past the Ducati again on lap seventeen. The plan, obviously, was to gap Stoner and use him as a blocker for Lorenzo. Unfortunately, the Spaniard didn't co-operate and passed Stoner on the next lap, chasing down his illustrious team-mate with a striking lack of deference. It took nine laps, but in a beautifully setup pass the young Spaniard took the lead. And again failed to pull away. Rossi left it until the penultimate lap before passing Lorenzo in a carbon copy of many of the passes that Lorenzo himself had pulled earlier - on the brakes into turn one. And no matter what Lorenzo tried, Rossi extended a slight gap in the lap. Despite an heroic outbraking attempt at the start of the last lap, culminating in Lorenzo trying to ride around the outside, Rossi dug deep and held onto the lead, winning by just six hundredths of a second. Pedrosa managed to pass Stoner a few laps from the end as the Ducati rider's fitness flagged again. Alex de Angelis rode a steady race to finish one place ahead of his team-mate Toni Elias who started last and rode a storming ride. Marco Melandri was furious to get mugged rather robustly on the final corner, nearly getting pushed onto the grass as Elias cannoned through. Nicky Hayden had a solid ride ahead of Colin Edwards, the two Americans proving that perhaps left hand circuits don't really help. James Toseland dragged himself into the top ten, though in fairness it was as much through attrition as his own performance, his start being compromised with hard tyres and the first turn chaos.

So now Rossi has consolidated his lead the week before one of his favourite rounds - Donington park in the UK. Anyone want to bet against him?


Chris Vermeulen would probably rather forget this weekend...Sachsenring MotoGP Results

1. Valentino Rossi (Yamaha)
2. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha)
3. Dani Pedrosa (Honda)
4. Casey Stoner (Ducati)
5. Alex de Angelis (Honda)
6. Toni Elias (Honda)
7. Marco Melandri (Kawasaki)
8. Nicky Hayden (Ducati)
9. Colin Edwards (Yamaha)
10. James Toseland (Yamaha)

MotoGP standings (after nine rounds)

1. Valentino Rossi 176
2. Jorge Lorenzo 162
3. Casey Stoner 148
4. Dani Pedrosa 108
5. Colin Edwards 83
6. Marco Melandri 70
7. Andrea Dovizioso 69
8. Chris Vermeulen 64
9. Loris Capirossi 61
10. Randy de Puniet 58

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