#GermanGP Sachsenring, weekend preview: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
Nine in a row is how Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) arrives into one of his best venues: the Sachsenring. A region that has a long racing history, it’s been reigned by Marquez in every class he’s competed in since 2010, with his success there often a pivotal part of his own history. Leading ahead of the summer break is a good prize and, although Marquez can’t cede the lead in the HJC Helmets Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland, he can extend it and head into the break with a firmer hold on the top.
One venue earlier this season had hosted Marquez supremacy before 2019, however…and then everything went wrong. The Circuit of the Americas and Marquez’ crash out the lead show he’s not infallible, although the factors contributing to that crash, he says, are understood and overcome. So can it happen again? Or can he be beaten?
Two of the key challengers last season could prove true again. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) arrives flying high from his stunning win at the TT Circuit Assen, and the Sachsenring saw him take a podium last year. Yamaha have also come closest to deposing Marquez recently when Jonas Folger also took the fight to the reigning Champion in an incredible rookie ride in 2017. And Viñales’ teammate Valentino Rossi beat him to second in 2018 and has winning form there, as he does everywhere. Despite a recent tough run for the ‘Doctor’, it was a sublime roll of form earlier in the year and everything can switch again in an instant.
That’s certainly proved true for Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) since his heartbreak in Jerez, and the French rookie now has two premier class podiums to his name despite still recovering from arm pump surgery. Teammate Franco Morbidelli has also been impressing and took a top five in Assen, splitting the Ducati Team duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, who had a more difficult weekend seemingly exacerbated by the heat. The field is so tight, those needing to gain points on Marquez or put in some solid damage control face far more than an easy ride to the podium.
Dovizioso is that man more than any other as it stands, as he remains the man closest to Marquez in the Championship. In the Dutch TT, however, the gap increased once again as he missed out on the podium. Can Germany see him close in a little? Traditionally it’s a tougher track for the red machines, but anything can happen in such close racing…and the weather can throw up some surprises too, traditionally a strong point for both ‘DesmoDovi’ AND Petrucci.
One man who could be a very interesting question mark is Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar). Qualifying woes were nowhere to be found at Assen, and the Spaniard got a great start to lead the way…and then crashed. But before the blip Rins’ points scoring run has been impeccable and previously it was Germany last season the Suzuki rider last failed to score. What does that mean? It means we don’t have a good reference for his speed at the track, which has sky-rocketed everywhere in 2019 anyway, and that combined with the sweet-handling Suzuki could make an interesting addition to the stakes at one of the tightest and twistiest venues of the year. Rookie Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) got back on form at Assen too, and although he trails Quartararo by a margin in the fight for Rookie of the Year, he joined the Frenchman in leading a premier class race for the first time, albeit briefly.
There’s another interesting addition in the battle in Germany, too. Jorge Lorenzo remains sadly sidelined at the Repsol Honda Team, and it’s a home hero taking his place: test rider Stefan Bradl. The German has podium form in the premier class and even in wildcard appearances since, he’s impressed to bother the tight fight for Q2 and the big points finishes. What can he do on home turf?
KTM, meanwhile, will be eager to move forward. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) suffered with some pain from a crash in the Barcelona test last time out so he’ll be hoping to be back up to full speed, and teammate Johann Zarco also suffered in Assen. They’ll be hoping for more in Germany.
The fight for top Independent Team rider is also tight. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) leads the way despite a tougher Assen, but Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) isn’t far behind. His teammate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) had some awful luck last time out as Rossi collided with him, but he’s been on some serious form and has beaten Crutchlow a few times. And Aprilia Racing Team Gresini could also make some bigger steps forward in Germany, with Aleix Espargaro having a few more days to recover and Andrea Iannone making some solid progress for his first top ten of the season in the Netherlands.
After another dramatic Moto2™ race, there’s another new Championship leader as Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) takes over atop the table in the intermediate class. It wasn’t a podium this time, but after a crash for Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) just ahead that the Swiss rider couldn’t avoid, his fourth place at Assen – only tenths off the box – was an impressive feat and a valuable haul of points. A master of consistency, he’s shown it most definitely pays off…so now, can he build on that before we head into the summer break?
Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) will probably be the most motivated rider on the grid – with the possible exception of the home heroes – to get in his way. It’s now twice he’s been sent sliding out of a race this season so the fact he’s only six points off the top is testament to the form he’s in, which showed no sign of having disappeared at Assen despite the number 73 not escaping at the front. Patiently staking out the lead group until pulling the pin to chase down Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) when the South African threatened to bolt, when it was go-time, the tenths seem to get chipped away effortlessly. Marquez seems to remain, on race day, the man walking out to the Jaws theme.
Bad luck can strike anyone, however, and the clash was probably even more expensive for its instigator, Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40), who is now gunning for a quick turnaround of fortune in Germany. A fourth DNF in eight races means he’s slipped below teammate Augusto Fernandez in the standings and he needs a solid haul of points to try and reel Lüthi and Marquez back in. The Italian has pace, now he needs to temper it with some caution to convert more of it into points. The maths mean Baldassarri can’t take the lead in Germany, but he can certainly get himself back at the sharp end.
Then there’s Brad Binder. The South African is a known quantity who, in many ways, simply got back where he belongs in the Dutch TT, but he was impressive on every day of track action and a serious contender throughout. Could it be a solid turning point for KTM after a more difficult first half of the season for the Austrian factory? Whilst quite a stretch from the top, Binder could make life for the likes of Marquez, Lüthi and Baldassarri pretty difficult. And he won the German GP last year…
The man who just won Assen and got himself right in the fight is a little more left field, however. Before the season began, few people would have put money on Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) winning his first Grand Prix by summer, but he’s been one of the most impressive performers of the year so far. A first podium in Jerez – still recovering from injury – prefaced a first pole at Catalunya and a win seemed ever-closer, but turning possibility into reality is never easy. Fernandez did just that, however, and the Spaniard just keeps hammering his quality home. A win under his belt starts him down the path of a permanent upgrade from dark horse to consistent frontrunner. Title challenger? A few more races should give us a clue.
If all that sounds like some serious hurdles for Lüthi in his mission to retain the lead, there’s more. Jorge Navarro (Beta Tools Speed Up) had a blip at Assen and can’t be counted out, Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) took another podium, Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) was on pole, Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) was on fire…and then there are some fast home heroes to consider. Lüthi’s teammate Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) had a difficult Dutch TT but he’s been on pole and podium before and will be looking for much more on home turf, meanwhile Jonas Folger (Petronas Sprinta Racing), who will again replace Khairul Idham Pawi, had a high profile trip to the rostrum in MotoGP™ at the Sachsenring when he blew almost everyone out the water. A mistake and trip across the gravel at Assen cost him the chance to show some of his improvements.
Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) had a more under-the-radar weekend in Assen, and as key rival Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) fought for the win and only missed out on it by a whisker, the gap at the top is down to just seven points. Not quite enough to mean the win could swing everything, but enough to change the colour of the fight at the front. If Canet wanted breathing space, Assen didn’t go quite to plan.
It didn’t quite go to plan for Dalla Porta either though. Once again the Italian was the bridesmaid, and again by such a tiny margin: 0.045 this time. In addition, it was compatriot Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers) who pipped him to the post, as he did in Mugello. But the 20 points are valuable regardless, and Dalla Porta is already a Grand Prix winner…just not this season. Will getting closer to the top make him more conservative in Germany? Or will it be full attack mode for the final win before the summer break?
Arbolino has certainly been the man in full attack mode of late, and he’s how homing in on compatriot Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) in the standings, too. Both will want some good points in Germany as a minimum to try and cut down a bit of their deficit, but for them it’s more of a now or never. There’s no lead to protect, nothing too big to throw away and as the races reel on, that could prove important.
Something else that could prove important is the Sachsenring itself, which could play a key role in the standings going into the break. Moto3™ is often a freight train fighting it out and the slipstream can make and break many a heart in the lightweight class, but Germany has sometimes thrown up some breakaway wins – as it even did last year. Jorge Martin won comfortably then, and in 2015 Danny Kent obliterated the opposition. In between? The rain made the challenge quite a different one. And that can often be one of the cruxes of the Sachsenring too.