In a déjà vu of Assen two weeks ago, chaos reigned at the start of the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring. Hard rain was quickly giving way to clearing skies, and crews were rolling the dice on tire choices. After the sighting lap, 14 bikes started from pit lane after changing from wets to slicks, including all four of the factory Honda and Yamaha machines. At the end of the day, though, it was Marc Marquez leading a Honda 1-2, joined on the podium by Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
In what appeared at the time to be a combined stroke of genius and gonads, Stefan Bradl, who had qualified third, took to the damp track on slicks, joined by plodders Karel Abraham and Hiro Aoyama, with nothing at stake on customer Hondas. Six other open class bikes, on wet tires, formed up on the grid, producing one of the strangest images in the history of MotoGP – a nine-bike grid, with 14 machines crowded into pit lane like Walmart shoppers on Black Friday. At the end of Lap 1, your race leaders were Bradl, Michael Laverty and Danilo Petrucci. The joy in the LCR Honda, PBM and Ioda garages would prove extremely short-lived.
Bradl, despite a 10-12 second advantage at the start, was a victim of his crew today. Although they managed to switch his tires as he sat on the grid, they were unable to change the suspension settings from wet to dry. By Lap 2, the German was giving up two seconds per lap to the factory Hondas; by Lap 7, both Marquez and Pedrosa had passed him. Figuratively stuck in fourth gear all day, Bradl would finish 16th in what his countrymen prayed would not be a preview of the World Cup final match versus Argentina later that evening.
A quarter of the way through the race, the Repsol Honda duo was running in clean air out front, while the Bruise Brothers of the factory Yamaha team, Valentino Rossi and Lorenzo, were still slicing their way through the field toward their rightful places in the top four. Lorenzo, bouncing back strongly from his deplorable effort in Assen, claimed only his third podium of the year, while Rossi finished eight seconds farther back for his second consecutive off-the-podium finish after four rostrums in succession. Today’s race marked the third Repsol 1-2 finish of the year, joining Austin and Argentina; let there be no argument that The Sachsenring is a Honda-friendly circuit. Movistar Yamaha’s 3-4 finish today was probably as good as they could have hoped for, especially given the disorder at the start.
As regards the Marquez-Pedrosa duel from Lap 7 on, it was interesting, but fell short of compelling. Pedrosa, pedaling as hard as he could, was unable to get within half a second of his young teammate; the expression “close, but no cigar” comes to mind. HRC announced this past week that Dani had signed another two-year contract on the factory Honda, thus having earned the right to stare at Marquez’s tailpipes through the 2016 season. For a man of Pedrosa’s ability and pride, the prospect of playing second fiddle to the 21 year-old Catalan phenom for another 2½ years must come as a very mixed blessing.
Elsewhere on the Grid
One of the best performances today came from Pramac Racing tough guy Andrea Iannone, who wrestled his Ducati Desmosedici from a pit lane start to a fifth place finish. It is common knowledge that the Ducati performs best in wet conditions, and today was no exception, as the over-engineered and under-steering Italian machine claimed three of the top ten spots. That Iannone on the junior Pramac team would thump the factory duo of Andrea Dovizioso (8th) and Cal Crutchlow (10th) says something about his skill and motivation. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the aggressive young Italian doesn’t end up with a seat on the factory team next year. He’s earned it.
The Espargaro brothers, elder Aleix and junior Pol, engaged in another of their typical duels today, spending the bulk of the day seemingly miles apart only to finish separated by mere seconds. Once again, Aleix dominated the practice sessions leading up to the race and qualified fourth. Once again, he ran up front with the second group most of the day. And once again, little brother moved up late in the day to join him in the top ten. At the end of Lap 10, Aleix was running 7th, while Pol was lollygagging back in 16th place. My pre-season fantasy of seeing Aleix on a podium, his best chances having been here and Assen, is officially flushed. Both brothers, however, have bright futures in the premier class.
One rider for whom The Sachsenring is perhaps his least favorite track has to be Pol’s Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Bradley Smith. After crashing four separate times in practice, Smith managed a fifth crash today on Lap 4, rejoined the race for some unknown reason, and finished 19th. This was one of those weekends in which he inflicted somewhere around €300,000 worth of damage to his various bikes. At least he didn’t do a “Zarco,” a term which came into existence during today’s Moto2 race in which Johann Zarco, on the Caterham Suter, crashed out midway through the race and had to stand, helplessly, in the gravel, watching his once-gorgeous motorcycle explode in a fireball of gasoline and fiberglass, eventually to be removed from the run-off area in a large wheelbarrow.
The Customer Honda Race
Each round, it seems the four non-prototype Hondas end the day in a small, tight wad of mediocrity, as if they’re having their own little private race-within-a-race. Nicky Hayden, who made it through Q1 on Saturday, looked to have the best chance today to win the Taller Than Danny DeVito award, but his wrist, apparently permanently damaged, could not hold up over 30 laps. At the finish, it was Gresini’s Scott Redding (one of The 14), Aspar’s Aoyama, Cardion’s Abraham and Aspar #2 Hayden (another 14er) filling positions 11-14. HRC, having shamelessly oversold the merits of the RCV1000R prior to the start of the season, owes these guys one.
Making the Turn on the Way to the Back Nine
If this were golf, the riders would be cooling off in the clubhouse, grabbing a beer, and chatting up the pretty young women selling hats and sweaters. Instead, most will be heading to Brno, the Czech city in desperate need of a couple of vowels, for two days of testing on Tuesday and Wednesday. Racing returns the second weekend of August at Indianapolis, yet another Honda-friendly track. Dorna has informed Motorcycle.com that, since we are unwilling to disclose the birth weight of our managing editor’s mother, they will not be issuing press credentials to our erstwhile correspondent. So, rather than lugging my laptop to the IMS media center, I’ll report on Round 10 from my kitchen table, as Marc Marquez continues his assault on every grand prix motorcycle racing record known to man. Aloha.
|2014 MotoGP Sachsenring Top Ten Results|
|1||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||–|
|2||Dani Pedrosa||Repsol Honda||+1.466|
|3||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||+10.317|
|4||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+19.194|
|5||Andrea Iannone||Pramac Ducati||+23.509|
|6||Aleix Espargaro||NGM Forward Yamaha||+27.809|
|7||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||+33.253|
|8||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+33.868|
|9||Alvaro Bautista||GO&FUN Honda Gresini||+34.231|
|10||Cal Crutchlow||Ducati Corse||+34.676|
|2014 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 9 Rounds|
|6||Aleix Espargaro||Forward Yamaha*||77|
|* indicates an Open Option entry.|