MotoGP: 2010 Sachsenring Preview

With everyone else talking, Lorenzo let’s his racing speak for itself


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Sachsenring round of the 2010 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the German Grand Prix.

Until the race for the world championship heats up again – and that might not be until 2011 – MotoGP fans will have to content themselves with the sideshows. Fortunately, there’s plenty of ’em. Such as Casey Stoner defecting to Honda next season. Such as Valentino Rossi’s impending return to racing after only a long month on the sidelines, and his seemingly inevitable move to Team Ducati for next season. I’m lovin’ the contrast, too, between Old World Bavaria this week and Monterey Pop the next. Then there are the increasingly likely returns of both Toni Elias and Alex de Angelis to the premier class. The only things missing from this circus are a dancing bear and the bearded lady.

As usual, Rossi is the lead story. His decision to basically rush his return to the track took many folks by surprise, given the fact that he can’t win the championship this season. His ultra-competitive nature – he would want to kick your butt at tiddlywinks – made it impossible for him to take a more deliberate path back. Plus, watching teammate and ϋber-rival Jorge Lorenzo winning everything in sight must be galling to the Italian rock star. Now that the FIM doctors have given the OK, we can expect to see #46 in the top ten (five?) this week and back battling for podiums in the second half of the season, beginning at Brno. I’m wondering how all of this is affecting the timing of the announcement of his impending affiliation with Ducati.

The Doctor had to get the doctor's approval before being allowed to race this weekend.

On the other hand, Stoner taking his act to Honda beginning next year surprised no one. His brilliant debut season for Ducati in 2007 had some people expecting him to run the table for the next ten years. It was his misfortune (shared by Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa) to be racing during The Rossi Years, and his decline to second in 2008, and then fourth last year, was a bitter pill for many of his fans and for Ducati fans around the world. His unexpectedly slow start to the current season, combined with the rumors of his departure that started last year, made his leaving not so much of a defection as an imperative. One hopes he will win a few races yet this season, so people don’t start grumbling about his having quit on his team. Going out on a high note would clearly be in his best long-term interests.

With Honda trying to keep Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso with the incoming Casey Stoner, we could see the MotoGP version of Three's Company next year. Repsol Team Manager Toshiyuki Yamaji will play the role of Mr. Roper.

The dynamics of a three bike factory Honda team are unclear. Dani Pedrosa occupies the top seat for the team today, but appears vulnerable to a challenge from Andrea Dovizioso, the way Rossi appeared vulnerable to Lorenzo at times last year. Pedrosa’s sheer brilliance in the 125 and 250 classes has not been borne out in the premier class. He followed up a sensational second place finish in 2007 with thirds in both 2008 and 2009, and is on track for another second again this year. Yet, he’s never had more than two wins in any premier class season. My primary concern about Pedrosa is that he hasn’t even captured the hearts of his own countrymen. At Jerez this year, Spanish fans were thrilled when Lorenzo passed him on the last lap to steal a win he appeared to have in the bag. He comes off as sullen and combative, and he doesn’t like to mix it up in traffic. As soon as either Dovi or Stoner supplants him as the #1 Honda rider, I expect him to be shown the door. Unlike barstools, three man teams are inherently unstable.

Let’s Not Forget The Sachsenring

We're begging you, Alex, PLEASE bring back the rainbow helmet!This week’s tilt is shaping up as another Lorenzo-Pedrosa-Dovizioso-Stoner affair. Last year Rossi and Lorenzo slugged it out, with Rossi eventually winning by a nose and Pedrosa finishing a competitive third. Casey Stoner finished well back in fourth, trailed by one Alex de Angelis, whose return this week to the premier class in place of this injured Hiroshi Aoyama, for however long it lasts, is welcomed by many, including myself. (I’m hoping he brings back his DayGlo helmet from the San Carlo days, too.)

Unfortunately for Alex, his return to the big bikes has been made possible only by the complete wreckage of his Moto2 season. Former San Carlo teammate Toni Elias, on the other hand, is leading the standings in Moto2 and seems assured of a full-time return to MotoGP riding for someone. He’ll just have to wait until next year to do it.

Visible Layers in the Standings

The world championship standings approaching the halfway mark of the season are clearly divided between those who have it all going on, those with somethin’ going on, and those with nothin’ going on. Jorge Lorenzo is cruising in clean air, with nothing between him and his first world championship but himself. Teammate Rossi will probably try to get inside the Mallorcan’s head during the second half of the season, but with a 100 point lead over Rossi, Lorenzo will likely withstand those efforts. Pedrosa and Dovizioso complete the top layer, and I expect the Italian to finish the season in second place.

In Valentino Rossi's absence, Jorge Lorenzo has taken a stranglehold on the 2010 MotoGP Championship.

The second layer, those within smelling distance of the podium each round, includes Ducati’s Nicky Hayden and Stoner, top privateer Randy de Puniet, and probable rookie of the year Ben Spies. Rossi, too, sits among this group for now, although everyone expects him to return to the top tranche by September.

Layer three, riders for whom Hope Springs Eternal, includes the Dueling Marcos of San Carlo Honda and the rapidly aging Colin Edwards, all of whom have 39 points to their credit. With Melandri recovering from injuries and Edwards past his prime, Simoncelli appears most likely of any of these three to steal a podium at some point this season. And, by “most likely”, I mean “not very likely at all.”

Layer four includes the improving Hector Barbera, the enigmatic Aleix Espargaro, and the unfortunate Alvaro Bautista. I expected more from Espargaro than he’s shown so far this year, and less from Barbera, who is making fine progress on his yellow Ducati. Bautista, fighting a slow ride and a host of injuries, must be thrilled anytime he finishes in the top ten.

Alvaro Bautista and Loris Capirossi both made a rare appearance in the top seven at Catalunya. We hope they do it again so we'll have an excuse to run more pictures of the Rizla Suzuki girls.

Bringing up the rear are the no longer ageless Loris Capirossi, soon to be ex-Pramac rider Mika Kallio, and the sore-bottomed Hiroshi Aoyama. Kallio has been a mystery this year, and appears to be working himself out of a job. Capirossi needs to get while the gettin’s good, as dad used to say, while Aoyama is likely to hold onto his ride for next season.

The Weekend Forecast for Greater Bavaria…

…starts out hot and dry on Friday, with cooling temps and a chance of rain Saturday and again Sunday. I, for one, would enjoy seeing another of those “flag to flag” contests we saw a few times last season, with the riders hopping off one bike in mid-race and taking off on a second. If conditions are poor, the odds improve for the likes of Hayden and Melandri. However, if the track is dry, look for Lorenzo, Stoner and one of the Repsol boys on the podium Sunday afternoon.

Sachsenring offers a combination of tight twisting curves and long straights.

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