MotoGP 2009: Sachsenring Preview

Rossi, Lorenzo and Pedrosa look MARVELOUS


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Sachsenring round of the 2009 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the German Grand Prix.

Round 9 of the MotoGP season gets underway this weekend at Sachsenring, in God-knows-where eastern Germany. Nestled in between Leipzig and Dresden, Sachsenring is a small, tight technical circuit with a bunch of left hand turns, such that Bridgestone is bringing its asymmetric rears with them again this week. (You know, the way they should have at Laguna.)  The German circuit appears to set up well for the Yamaha and Honda teams and not so well for Team Ducati. There’s rain in the forecast. All in all, just another riDONKulous race weekend in the unpredictable 2009 MotoGP season.

The casual observer, glancing over the world championship standings after Laguna Seca, might infer that Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo or Casey Stoner would be favored in this weekend’s race, given their lead in the standings. But does anyone seriously think that Dani Pedrosa CAN’T win this one, or that Casey Stoner CAN?

The Sachsenring in Saxony, Germany, features an abundance of left turns.

Pedrosa ran away and hid from the field for most of the day at Laguna, while Stoner has faded in each of the last three races. Until Stoner’s anemia, or whatever it is, is officially sorted out, he is not going to compete for the top spot on any podium. And with the Repsol Honda team looking strong of late, the Australian can’t be considered a sure bet for the German podium at all.

Attrition, with a Capital A

A number of stories this week focused on the subject of “attrition” as it applies to MotoGP. Most of them were about what I think of as small-A attrition, the kind that puts riders like Kallio and Canepa out for a round or two. There’s no arguing with the fact that MotoGP is an unbelievably dangerous sport, and it’s a wonder that more riders aren’t more seriously hurt. The injuries to Pedrosa and Lorenzo have already had a real effect on the championship.

Casey Stoner won the wet 2008 German GP but is he well enough to do it in 2009?
Slowly but surely, Nicky Hayden has been improving on the Desmosedici.

I find myself thinking about capital-A attrition. The kind that is putting the torch to Dorna’s announced determination to fill a minimum of 18 spots on the grid. The big news this week was the formal and immediate withdrawal of the Grupo Francisco Hernando satellite Ducati team, which left veteran Sete Gibernau ride-less.

For a look at the big picture, start with 18 riders. Take away Takahashi and now Gibernau, add Talmacsi and you have 17.

It’s pretty much certain that Kawasaki/Hayate isn’t coming back next year, which takes it down to 16.

One or both of Elias and de Angelis is gone next year, to be replaced by Simoncelli. Call it 15 if a team like San Carlo Honda Gresini or Pramac goes from two bikes to one next year.

Kallio, Canepa and, famously, Lorenzo are coming off injuries, and Casey Stoner is just plain sick; the pressure on riders is enormous. The pressure on balance sheets has become so great that the sport’s flagship sponsors are purveyors of gambling, sex and drug paraphernalia. Rizla, bwin.com and Playboy – awesome. Riders engage with team owners in a good natured, but losing, game of corporate musical chairs in which each time the music stops, there is one fewer ride.

MotoGP wants to be a prime time sport, but the economics are working against it. Most of the events are in “small markets”, scattered around the planet. You think Milwaukee’s small, with a population of 600,000? The “city” of Misano, which hosts the round immediately following Indianapolis, has a population of 10,000!  There’s no real home field advantage anywhere, and the attendance figures, for a league with only 17 events, don’t work. MotoGP needs to figure out how to double and triple the size of its crowds in order to avoid becoming The Sin Circuit, a kind of ultra-high speed roller derby.

Laguna Seca winner Dani Pedrosa will have a new Honda engine at his disposal in Germany.Marginal teams like Scot, San Carlo, Pramac, and even Rizla must be having a hell of a time selling themselves to sponsors, and showing their executives ROI for their racing sponsorship dollar (or euro.) Take away the top four riders each week, and you’d have a highly competitive group of about ten riders. However, without the top four you’d no longer have a sport; you’d have little more than a working model for designing the next MotoGP video game.

The sport needs Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner and Pedrosa, and it would be best, perhaps, for all concerned if they would just stay with their current teams next year. Lorenzo leaving Fiat Yamaha wouldn’t be the end of the world for the factory team, and would open up an intriguing spot as Rossi’s understudy, as it appears the Italian is fully capable of dominating the sport for another four or five years. But what MotoGP needs now is stability, an influx of respectable sponsors, a few aggressive, well-heeled new teams, and higher quality TV broadcasts.

Footnotes

Nicky Hayden’s team is now starting to talk podium after a season-best fifth at Laguna Seca … for a second-rate rider, James Toseland gets a huge amount of press. His PR team is very active. Perhaps he can avoid a black flag in Germany … my money this round is on Rossi, followed by Pedrosa and Lorenzo, with Dovizioso back at his usual fourth, Stoner fifth, Hayden sixth and Melandri seventh if it rains … I don’t expect to see San Carlo Gresini Honda’s Alex de Angelis finishing fourth this year, the way he did last year, or Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen finishing third … team owner Fausto Gresini is leaning on Toni Elias in the media and, one suspects, in the garage … what is Jorge Lorenzo looking for that he can’t find with Fiat Yamaha? He’s considering going off and start a new one-ride Honda factory team for 2010? Interesting, but not smart …

Chris Vermeulen highsided with 15 minutes remaining in the free practice.

So, Moto2 is 600cc – it seems clear that the premier class WILL return to 990cc sooner rather than later. The fans get extra whacked on bigger engines, and the 990cc’s advocates believe that having more power gives riders, especially those weighing over 125 pounds, more tactical options on the track, more opportunities for passing, bigger crashes, more erections, and fewer processions. It wouldn’t surprise me, either, if the 125 class morphed into the 250 class once Moto2 gets established. Then they could leave the 125’s to the rookies. Speak of the devil.

Red Bull Rookies’ Cup

The teenagers return to action this week in Germany, making the turn in their season, and Norwegian Sturla Fagerhaug brings his big lead in the standings with him. Currently there’s a three-way fight for second place between Japanese rider Daijiro Hiura, Brit Danny Kent, and Czech native Jakub Kornfeil. 15 year-old Californian Jake Gagne leads the three Americans in the cup fight, sitting alone in eighth place.

Sachsenring's iconic Omega Kurve is one of the few right turns on the circuit.

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