So the MotoGP season leader at the turn, with over a month off to prepare for the demanding back nine of the calendar, will be decided at The (cramped, irritating) Sachsenring. Home of short straights and slow turns, not much fun compared to Assen’s short straights and fast turns. If the eastern German circuit is no one’s favorite today, it could become someone’s by Sunday night. Someone like, oh, I don’t know… maybe Marc Marquez???

Never in recent memory has the championship been this tight this late in the season, with four legitimate threats and several capable pretenders. Personally, I refuse to pull for any particular rider; folks who get paid to cover this stuff can’t play favorites. So, I don’t really give a rip who wins the race on Sunday. I’m stoked that there are three legitimate manufacturers and four riders who stand within easy reach of the title at the halfway point of the season.

Here’s hoping this weekend’s race will be as exciting as last week’s nail-biter in the Netherlands.

As we’ve seen this year, a clear difference-maker has been manufacturer vs. circuit (“Honda-friendly,” “Yamaha-friendly,” etc.) matchups. Austin, for example, defines “Honda-friendly,” or perhaps “Marquez-friendly.” Some might argue that the Ducati GP17 was designed to win at Mugello. Some riders find it almost impossible to heat their tires in damp, cold conditions. Come August, we will take a look at the prospects for the four Aliens over the second half.

Did Andrea Dovizioso just get a promotion? And why isn’t The Sachsenring Marc Marquez’ favorite circuit?

Recent History in Saxony

The Sachsenring is a wonderful example of a Honda-friendly layout.

There were more bikes in pit lane than lining up on the grid to start the 2014 race.

The 2014 fiasco started memorably with nine bikes on the grid and 14 in pit lane, the result of riders adapting to a rapidly drying track at the start. The race was won, unsurprisingly, by Marquez – his fifth consecutive win here from pole, across three classes – followed closely by Dani Pedrosa, with Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Andrea Iannone spread out over the next half mile.

The Repsol Honda duo of Marquez and Pedrosa were fast here in 2015. How fast? Marquez, back on the 2014 chassis he hauled out after Barcelona, led every practice session. As they had in 2014, he and Pedrosa qualified 1-2 and finished 1-2, relegating the factory Yamaha team of Rossi and Lorenzo to also-ran status. Rossi, however, extended his championship lead over Lorenzo to 13 points, and left for summer vacation in a celebratory mood.

Swapping bikes was a common sight in last year’s flag-to-flag race. Unlike Danillo Petrucci, however, most riders pitted to switch tires, not because their bike was catching on fire.

Last year was a straightforward flag-to-flag affair, going from wet to dry. Riders began pitting around Lap 7, exchanging their rain tires for Michelin’s “intermediate” (read: basically useless) tire. Except for our boy Marquez, who pitted early and came out on slicks, upon which he flogged the entire field in a great example of teamwork between rider and crew. In a race like this, the rider doesn’t know how his #2 bike will be fitted when he enters pit lane; that call is up to the crew chief. Credit Marquez’ team for having listened to him when he said, “For us, the intermediate tire does not exist.”

Marquez owns pretty much every record worth owning at The Sachsenring. Seven consecutive poles, seven consecutive wins. Fastest lap ever. Sure, teammate Pedrosa owns the same number of career wins here, but the most recent, coming in 2012, is receding into memory. It wouldn’t surprise me if Marquez leaves for summer vacation having gone eight-for-eight in Germany.

Marc Marquez has proven unstoppable at the Sachsenring, taking seven poles and race wins in as many rounds including the last four in the MotoGP class.

More Tranching Around

After Round 7:

Tranche 1: Viñales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
Tranche 2: Zarco, Lorenzo, Folger, Bautista↑, Pedrosa
Tranche 3: Petrucci↓, Crutchlow↓, Redding, Barbera↑, Iannone
Tranche 4: Miller↓, Baz↓, A Espargaro, Abraham, Rabat
Tranche 5: P Espargaro↓, Smith, Lowes, (Rins)

After Round 8:

Tranche 1: Vinales, Marquez, Dovizioso, Rossi
Tranche 2: Zarco, Petrucci↑, Folger, Bautista, Pedrosa, Crutchlow↑
Tranche 3: Lorenzo↓, Redding, Barbera, Iannone, Miller↑
Tranche 4: Baz, A. Espargaro, Abraham, Rabat
Tranche 5: P. Espargaro, Smith, Lowes, Rins

Danilo Petrucci has two podiums in the last four rounds. Of course, he also has as many DNFs.

Either this is getting easier or I’m losing interest, but there weren’t many changes in my “thinking” from last time out. I look at these as representative of the riders’ private expectations for the season. Other than my shabby treatment of Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci and Cal Crutchlow – down one week, up the next – I’m loving this. As for those of you with a psychic dog in this fight, I look forward to your constructive criticisms.

Morbidelli Promoted from Triple-A

Franco Morbidelli signed a two-year contract (with an option for the third year) to race for Marc VDS in MotoGP starting next season. In his last 19 races, Morbidelli has appeared on the podium 13 times, five times on the top step. All five wins have come the first eight rounds of this season.

Italian heartthrob and Moto2 series leader Franco Morbidelli has received a contract extension that will have him riding for the Marc VDS team in MotoGP beginning next season. Young enough (23 in December) to qualify for potential Alien status, he will be starting his MotoGP career with a relatively weak satellite team. The Marc VDS’ Moto2 performance has been formidable again this year, the MotoGP program not so much. It should not be viewed as a foregone conclusion that he will be sharing the garage with Miller, who is disenchanted with Honda and is said to be seeking a deal elsewhere.

Gone are the days when the grid was full of grizzled veterans – Loris Capirossi and Colin Edwards immediately leap to mind – whose best days were behind them and whose responsibilities included mentoring the hot young teammates earning promotions from Moto2, Moto3 and elsewhere. The mentoring didn’t work, for a number of reasons. One, the young guns were generally faster than the mentors, increasing the likelihood that their wisdom and advice would go unheard. Two, well, there are probably a lot more.

These days, it is young premier class underachievers (i.e., Tito Rabat, Scott Redding, Sam Lowes, etc.) whose jobs are jeopardized by the plethora of fast movers coming up, most of whom seem to be Italian. Rossi, by nationality and age, is an outlier. But the epoch of Spanish domination of MotoGP appears to be drawing to a close. While it is easy to envision Marc Marquez and Maverick Viñales splitting the next ten titles, young men with names like Morbidelli, Fenati, Bagnaia, Di Giannantonio, Migno, and Bulega see themselves on the top steps, along with the money, the women, and the fame that come with being a grand prix motorcycle rock star in Europe.

Valentino Rossi and his VR46 race team has helped the development of Italian talent like Andrea Migno and young Steven Tyler look-alike Nicolo Bulega.

Your Weekend Forecast

Here’s a stunner – the long-range forecast for the weekend calls for cloudy skies and temps mostly in the upper 60s, with the best chance of rain on Sunday. Go figure. Marc Marquez is probably licking his chops. Maverick Viñales has a crummy record here. Jorge Lorenzo must be praying his beads, memories of wet leathers, broken bones and titanium plates fresh in his mind. The rest of the Ducati GP17 contingent, Dovizioso, and Petrux, can be hopeful heading into the weekend, as Ducs occupied four of the top nine spots last year.

The wildcard this weekend has to be Rossi, who found the new chassis for his M1 very much to his liking at Assen. The Sachsenring is not a circuit that presents a lot of advantages for the Yamaha, but Rossi, being Rossi, will likely find his way to the front. Whether he has enough juice to counteract Marquez’ remarkable German juju – why, that’s the reason they run these things.

We’ll have results and analysis right here on Sunday.