MotoGP 2011 Sachsenring Preview

Bruce Allen
by Bruce Allen

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Sachsenrig round of the 2011 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the German Grand Prix.

MotoGP approaches the halfway point of the season this week in eastern Germany, returning for its annual beisammensein at the Sachsenring. Premier class racing is thoroughly capitalistic, as the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. It looks like the Japanese factory teams will have things their way this weekend, while the lower echelon outfits will continue to struggle. What this series needs is a good old–fashioned upset. Paging Mr. Simoncelli. Paging Mr. Rossi.

2008 would have been a good year to be here, as Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa crashed out early, allowing Rizla Suzuki pilot Chris Vermeulen to capture the third spot on the podium behind winner Casey Stoner and runner–up Valentino Rossi. Thus began a string of three straight podium finishes for the erstwhile Suzuki team, as Vermeulen podiumed again the following week at Laguna Seca, while teammate Loris Capirossi finished third the next time out at Brno. Things were looking up back then for the Boys in Turquoise; who knew that those three rostrums would be the last Suzuki would see until, well, maybe forever.

[Speaking of Capirossi, I can’t help but note that he bears an increasingly strong resemblance to the goofy young Michael J. Pollard in his Bonnie and Clyde days. Um, where was I?]

The Rizla Suzuki team hasn't done much relevant since ... since ... sorry, lost my train of thought there.

In 2009, it was Rossi’s turn, as he jammed Lorenzo by .099 seconds, followed by Pedrosa. That was the year the Rossi/Lorenzo rivalry was at its apex, with Rossi still the alpha male on the factory Fiat Yamaha team. In 2009, I began to notice how Randy de Puniet seemed to qualify well and race poorly. At the Sachsenring that year, he qualified sixth, and crashed out on the first lap of the race. Which was better than he fared in 2010, when he cracked both bones in his lower leg in a collision involving Alvaro Bautista and Aleix Espargaro. The crash resulted in the race being red–flagged midway through. On the restart, Dani Pedrosa went all Cape Canaveral and won easily, while Lorenzo secured second place. Casey Stoner, on board the Ducati, edged a convalescing Rossi for third place in Rossi’s return to action after his own broken leg.

The 2011 Plot Thickens

A month ago, it appeared Casey Stoner had the 2011 championship in the bag. Despite having been taken out by Rossi at Jerez, he had enjoyed a hat trick at Le Mans, Catalunya and Silverstone, and led defending champ Lorenzo by 18 points. Though he failed to win at Assen, he extended his lead over Lorenzo to 28 points. Lorenzo, though, is no quitter, as he showed at Mugello. Fighting through the double-team from Stoner and Dovizioso, he managed his second win of the season, and reeled Stoner back to within 19 points. In the process, he gave Team Yamaha two wins in a row for the first time this year, slowing down what seemed to be a runaway Repsol Honda team.

Jorge Lorenzo can't seem to go anywhere without at least one Honda rider nearby.

Despite all this, 2011 will be an uphill climb for the Mallorcan. Assuming Dani Pedrosa gets back up to speed reasonably soon, it will put Lorenzo in the unenviable position of having to fight off Repsol triple-teams at a number of circuits. Yamaha teammate Ben Spies, who seems to have gotten the hang of his factory M1, may be some help in this, but then there’s Simoncelli on another factory Honda. As we’ve observed here numerous times in the past, in this sport, just because a guy is your teammate doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy running him off into the gravel. Lorenzo’s main problem is that Stoner is a great talent, and the Hondas are quicker than the Yamahas this year.

Capirossi threatens to return; Elias faces ultimatum

Loris Capirossi, the non–French half of the woeful Pramac Racing Team, broke some ribs in Mugello, missed the race, and subsequently announced he would be unable to post for the German and U.S. Grands Prix. Enter former MotoGP backbencher Sylvain Guintoli, about whom Pramac was sufficiently stoked that they invited him to test the GP11 in Mugello. The results were, to put it kindly, gruesome. Guintoli’s best lap of the day was a 1:52.4, which compared to Stoner’s 1:47.3, Hiro Aoyama’s 1:49.4 (the slowest of the MotoGP regulars that day), and Mika Kallio’s 1:53.6 on board a friggin’ CRT bucket in the early stages of development for next year.

Loris Capirossi isn't 100% but he'll try to come back and race at Sachsenring.

Later in the week Capirossi surprisingly announced that, on second thought, he would make every effort to return to action in Germany. Whether it was his team, or Guintoli, urging him to heal quickly, we don’t know. Whatever the case, there’s nothing to cheer for in the Pramac garage these days, aside from their exquisite grid girls. And the sight of Andrea Iannone taking a few laps on the GP11, in another brief preview of 2012.

A second story making the rounds this week had The Powers That Be at LCR Honda giving Toni Elias l’embarrassment du choix, as it were. Fnd something – anything, really – in the RC212V in the next three rounds, or it’s au revoir, Toni. I must say I expected WAY more from Elias this year than he’s given us, based upon his brilliant season in Moto2, and the strides made last year by his satellite Honda team. In 2010 the LCR Honda was fast enough to start consistently from the front of the grid. This year, it’s been one huge disappointment after another. The French team, after all, has its pride. Little else, for sure, but enough is enough. Ça suffit, as they say in Toulouse.

Stoner AGAIN Says He’s Not Going to Motegi

This is starting to become an issue. Last week Stoner reiterated his intention to skip the Motegi round in October due to ongoing concerns about “the radiation problem.” He suggests/alleges that the Japanese government has not been forthcoming about the health hazards. This makes two or three pronouncements from the Australian, and flies in the face of the official line from Dorna that all is well in Japan, no worries, glowing in the dark not a problem etc.

Casey Stoner repeated his concerns about nuclear radiation in Japan, but the Motegi Round may prove to be important for the championship battle. Photo by GEPA pictures.

Whether Stoner or Lorenzo actually sticks to his guns is, I think, a matter of where the championship stands this fall. If the two of them are locked in a battle for the 2011 title, I can’t see either one punting the race and absorbing the fines and likely punishment that will undoubtedly follow such an action. Not to mention possibly conceding the championship. If either has a comfortable lead in the standings, I suppose it’s possible. It’s certainly possible that a number of the have-nots-Elias, Capirossi, de Puniet to name a few – could bail, citing health concerns, although they are more likely to harm themselves falling off their bikes than they are inhaling a few loose neutrinos or whatever. After all, it’s not like the MotoGP atmosphere, replete with exhaust fumes, powdered rubber and vaporized motor oil, is a spa.

Weather Worries Again this Week

Once again, it looks like the weather could be a factor in this weekend’s contest. The forecast for Friday through Sunday has temps only in the 60’s, with a chance of rain on Sunday. More cold tires. More early crashes. More strange results.

Sachsenring is a narrow, winding track. Nicky Hayden calls the track's Waterfall corner, a blind, downhill turn in fifth gear, one of the best on the entire calendar.

I don’t understand why Ezpeleta & Co. can’t figure this out. There are plenty of venues – Sepang, Indianapolis, Phillip Island – that are warm in the spring and early summer; have the early races there. Save the northern tier – Germany, Holland, England – for late summer, when there’s at least a chance of decent conditions. Regardless of the weather on Sunday, I expect to see the usual suspects – Lorenzo, Stoner and Dovizioso – on the podium. The rich getting richer, and all that.

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