Sachsenring Preview From Honda

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
MotoGP dominators Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) and TohruUkawa (Repsol Honda Team RC211V) may face their toughest challenge of the2002 World Championship at Sachsenring this weekend. Series leader Rossiadmits to disliking the ever-so tight circuit, while Ukawa is battling tobe fit following his massive crash during practice for last week's BritishGrand Prix.

So far this year the two RCV V5 riders have ruled in MotoGP, Rossi winningseven of the eight races, Ukawa the only man to have beaten his youngteam-mate. The pair have also scored lap records at all eight GPs, whileRossi has taken pole at seven of the eight events. But since Sunday'sGerman Grand Prix is followed by GP racing's usual four-week midseasonrecess, it's important that the Italian and Japanese stars have a goodweekend before kicking back for their summer holidays...

Rossi is already looking forward to a few weeks off from his hecticschedule. As the most popular rider in GP history, he works much harderthan most of his rivals off the track. "I'm keen to get to Germany, thenget on with the summer holidays, we all need to recharge our batteries!" hesmiles.

Rossi ruled at Donington last Sunday despite a crunching practice crashthat left him with a cracked left thumb and concussion. His impressive racevictory was his fifth GP success at the British venue and his 46th from acareer total of 100 GP starts, giving him an amazing 46 per cent win rate,a modern-era record. But he's only won once at the Sachsenring, taking 250victory in 1999.

"Sachsenring has never been one of my favorite tracks," he explains. "Idon't really like the balance of the layout, it's too tight and slow for mystyle. For sure, there will be another big fight between the four-strokesand the two-strokes, with the four-strokes having the usual advantage onacceleration, while the lighter two-strokes should have a handling advantage."

Ukawa's main concern at the moment is his fitness. He tumbled at200kmh/125mph as he attacked one of Donington^Òs more treacherous corners,leaving him badly battered and bruised, and nursing a broken toe on hisright foot. "It was my Donington curse again," says the man who's never hadmuch luck at the British track. "I'm feeling much better now, though I'mstill pretty sore. I've now got a small cast on the foot and if I continuemy recovery at the current rate, I should be okay for the GP. I'll meet themedical team at Sachsenring and then we'll make a decision."

If both Rossi and Ukawa have their doubts about the German GP, the manwho'll be aiming to make the most of their uncertainties will be AlexBarros (West Honda Pons NSR500). The Brazilian veteran pushed Rossi hard atlast month's Dutch TT, while only a poor start at Donington prevented himfrom running at the front again. And he reckons his NSR500 could be justthe tool for the tight and twisting 'Ring, where he won two years ago.

"I think Sachsenring could be good for us two-stroke riders," says Barros,the fastest 500 rider in MotoGP. "The track isn't so fast, what you reallyneed is good turning and the 500s turn well, because they're lighter thanthe four-strokes. The first section is very tight and I think we'll havethe advantage there, and also through the long, fast lefts that follow,because the 500s can hold a line better than the four-strokes, againbecause they're lighter.

Barros will have young German Alex Hofmann (West Honda Pons NSR500) as histeam-mate for the second race this weekend. Hofmann is subbing for LorisCapirossi (West Honda Pons NSR500) who broke a forearm at Assen, and islooking forward to performing in front of his home fans after agetting-to-know-you outing on Capirossi's NSRs at Donington.

"I'm taking my time to get my confidence on the Honda," said the former 250rider who had stood in for injured Yamaha rider Garry McCoy at the Catalanand Dutch rounds. "The Honda is all-over stiffer and more aggressive thanthe Yamaha the engine, the chassis and the Michelin tires, which I'venever used before. Most of all though, I'm just happy to be here and gladto have had one race to get used to the package before the Sachsenring."

Daijiro Kato (Fortuna Honda Gresini NSR500) is steadily returning to formafter a difficult few races. He scored his best result in five races atDonington, despite racing with a broken bone in his right hand. "I'm nowfeeling more comfortable on the bike and I think my hand should be muchbetter in Germany," says Kato who was beaten at the last turn of lastyear's 250 German GP. "This year I aim to concentrate all the way to theflag!"

Things are also looking up for fellow NSR men Tetsuya Harada (Pramac HondaNSR500) and Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Kanemoto Racing Honda NSR500). Bothmen performed superbly in British GP qualifying, Harada taking his firstfront-row start of the year, van den Goorbergh just a fraction off row two.

"We showed what we're capable of during Donington qualifying," says Harada."Now we need to sustain our speed over race distance. Germany should alsobe good for us, the track should work well for the two-strokes, though wewon't really know till we get there."

Van den Goorbergh benefited from much-improved Bridgestone tires inBritain. "I don't know if we'll have anything else new for Germany and thatwill have a large bearing on how I perform," he says. "Overall we're makinggood progress with the tires and I hope we can continue that work thisweekend."

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