A drying track turned the first session of free practice for the MotoGP riders into a confusing and thrilling chase for times, lap times tumbling throughout. On the damp track, it was the Ducatis of Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner that led the charts, with Marco Melandri and Andrea Dovizioso constantly close. Around the halfway mark the track began to dry properly, and the top spot started swapping hands at a pace almost too fast to follow. At one point even MotoGP rookie Gabor Talmacsi took over 2nd spot, before the rest of the field started catching up.
Once the track was fully dry - with the exception of a small stream running across the track around Turn 1 - it was Casey Stoner who set the fastest time, smashing the existing lap record in the process by over three tenths of a second. The 2nd spot went to Dani Pedrosa, who had been in and out of the top ten all day, but snatched 2nd in the dying seconds, forcing Valentino Rossi down into 3rd. All of the Yamaha men started the day off slowly, languishing in the bottom half of the timesheets, but as the track dried, all four Yamahas improved.
Randy de Puniet took 4th spot, ahead of a surprising Alex de Angelis, who has a history of good results here at the Sachsenring, while Colin Edwards was 6th fastest on the Tech 3 Yamaha. Toni Elias was 7th quickest, just ahead of Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso. But with just 0.2 seconds separating places 5 through 11, those positions were taken almost at random.
Hayden was unlucky to have been shuffled down into 8th, as the American put on a very strong show for most of the session, regularly topping the timesheets. Hayden has spoken of feeling more comfortable on the Ducati, and his results are starting to show it.
The weather played a dominant role in the 125cc session of free practice at the Sachsenring on Friday, the session starting out hot and steamy, before the black clouds which had been hovering over the forests of Saxony finally broke, submerging the track under a deluge. The rain meant that the timesheets only reflect the first 25 minutes or so of practice, as the riders who emerged after the worst of the storm had passed were lapping much more slowly round the wet track. In the dry, it had been Julian Simon who was fastest, as he has been all year, leading the way ahead of KTM's Marc Marquez and Bradley Smith. The weather is expected to wet on Saturday, with the first chance of a dry day being race day on Sunday.
Results of 125cc FP1 session:
The biggest blockage in the MotoGP rider market right now is Jorge Lorenzo. After a strong debut season, followed by an astounding start to 2009, the Spaniard is in great demand, and is carefully considering his choices. According to the Spanish sports paper AS.com, Lorenzo has offers from all four manufacturers in MotoGP, but his main focus continues to be signing for either Yamaha or Honda.
Despite being happy with Yamaha, he is keen to get what he believes is his market value from any deal. "I'm very happy with Yamaha, it's still a dream to be here, but we know what our value is, and that's what they will have to pay. At the moment, our value is more than what Yamaha is offering, so the negotiations are stalled," Lorenzo said.
Lorenzo's other option is believed to be Honda, and the prospect of Lorenzo sharing a garage with his arch rival Dani Pedrosa continues to occupy the Spanish press. So far, Pedrosa is displaying a distinct lack of concern, telling AS.com "For me, nothing will change. If Repsol and Honda want Lorenzo, they should sign him; I don't own the team and I don't make those sort of decisions. If they think that [signing Lorenzo] would be good for the team, I will look for the best option for me, independent of what anyone else does."
The Hungarian-based Team Toth has had a turbulent year so far. The team's pursuit of glory in the 250 class was boosted by the signing of the talented Italian Mattia Pasini, but signing Pasini meant obtaining top-flight equipment, and so the team obtained a factory-spec RSA 250 from Aprilia, a necessary prerequisite for any rider with title aspirations.
But factory-spec Aprilias don't come cheap. And finding the million euro lease fee is proving more difficult than Team Toth had at first thought. So far behind had the team fallen in their payments that at Assen, Aprilia withheld the ECUs from the team until an emergency funds transfer hit the Noale firm's bank account, leaving both Pasini and his team mate Imre Toth Jr sitting idly in the pits for half of the first session of free practice.
Pasini looked to be in similar difficulties at the Sachsenring, with early reports suggesting that Aprilia was once again withholding vital parts awaiting payment from the team. But this time, Team Toth got a payment of 100,000 euros to Aprilia on time, according to GPOne.com, and so both Pasini and Immi Jr will both be riding from the start of the weekend. But the payment will only cover the costs of the bikes for the Sachsenring, and so the entire soap opera looks set for a repeat at Donington.
In every form of competition requiring a track, the participants travel around the track in a counter-clockwise direction, making a sequence of left turns. In track cycling, athletics, flat track, speedway, greyhound racing, horse racing, NASCAR and a host of other forms of racing, the competitors just keep turning left. There have been many theories advanced for just why this should be - this was the way the Greeks raced; right-handed people prefer to turn left, as they have more strength in their right leg than their left; even the Coriolis effect, which also causes water to go down a plughole counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere - but none have ever proved satisfactory.
The puzzling exception to this rule are road race circuits. The vast majority of racetracks around the globe buck the counter-clockwise trend, going against almost every other form of racing. Of the 17 tracks on this season's MotoGP calendar, 12 run clockwise, and just 5 run counter-clockwise, containing a majority of left handers. The MotoGP circus has just come from one of them - Laguna Seca - and now heads into the next, the tight and tortuous Sachsenring circuit.
As if to compensate for the excess of right-handers which the MotoGP circus faces, the Sachsenring crams a whole raft of lefts into its short 3.67 kilometer length. Just three right handers - the sharp right Coca Cola Kurve of Turn 1, the endless right of the Omega Kurve, as it rounds the tree-crested hump at its heart, then a single, blisteringly fast kink at the crest of the hill which runs down to towards the final two corners. That one right hander makes up for a lot, though. Nicky Hayden described it as one of the best corners the MotoGP circus visits, fast, blind, downhill, 5th or 6th gear; It is a corner to test the mettle of any rider.
Left Turn, Clyde
Joining those three right handers are a long sequence of lefts that start at the exit of the Omega Kurve and make their way over a crest, then up the hill again to that one fast right, before plummeting back down towards the final two lefts, the Sachsenkurve and Quickenburgkurve. The last two corners are the most crucial part of the track, the place where most of the passing gets done.
The Sachsenkurve is the most obvious candidate for a pass, as it offers the longest braking zone on the circuit. But it is also a risky move, the plunge down the hill leaving a lot of weight on the front wheel, and little room left to absorb the extra load of outbraking an opponent. Beyond the corner lies a large gravel trap, manned by a lot of tired marshals whose weekend consists of extracting the bikes of overoptimistic riders who have just discovered where the limit was.
But even if you get past at the Sachsenkurve, there's one more corner to go. And a pass underneath at the Sachsenkurve leaves you on the outside for the Quickenburgkurve, and open in turn to attack. The corner is tight and steeply uphill, and any drive you lose from a pass at the Sachsenkurve kills your speed through the Quickenburgkurve. More than one rider has got past at the first of those two left handers only to find themselves trailing out of the second, and considering a desperate attempt into the tight first right-hand turn.
The abundance of left handers favors riders with a history of turning left. And few have more history in that art than the former flat tracker and son of a flat tracker, Nicky Hayden. Hayden has had something of a resurgence of form over the past few races, his results improving until he scored an impressive 5th place finish at Laguna Seca. Prior to the Sachsenring race, Hayden said that he was finally starting to feel comfortable with the Ducati, after getting off to a terrible start, and regularly struggling just to score points.
At the pre-race press conference for the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring, Nicky Hayden spoke about the progress he'd been making on the Ducati, after a difficult start to the season. Speaking to a packed press room, under questioning from MotoGP.com's official commentator Nick Harris, the American revealed how the hard work put in by him and the team were starting to pay off. Below is a transcript of part of Hayden's interview:
Your 5th place at Laguna must have given you a great boost.
Last couple of races we've been 10th, 8th, 5th, we've made a lot of progress. That makes me happy that we're moving in the right direction, and we've found a way with the team. I'm enjoying riding the bike more. It's pretty good, and we need to keep going. But now I know that to stick my nose in the next group is when it's going to get real hard. That's the big step, that final group up front. We're going in the right way, just keep our head down and there's a lot of racing left to go.
What made the difference or did it just start to click? You've changed personnel, you've all been working very hard to make it work?
Kenan Sofuoglu made strong progress during the second day of testing for the World Supersport field, to finish the test on top of the timesheets. Sofuoglo took over 2 seconds off his time from Wednesday to just edge out Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow. Crutchlow's main title rival, Eugene Laverty, closed the gap with Crutchlow from the first day to just under two tenths of a second.
Overall times after two days of testing:
The second day of testing saw more drama than had been hoped, with Max Neukirchner highsiding off during practice and suffering fractured vertebrae. But it also saw surprises in the timesheets as well. At the end of the day, it was not Michel Fabrizio who was fastest, as on the first day, but Jonathon Rea, the Ten Kate Honda rider getting faster throughout the session, taking over the lead as the end of the test approached. Rea's resurgence saw Fabrizio forced into second place, ahead of the Texan title rival Ben Spies. But Spies had to rely on his time from Wednesday for his standing in the times, as the Yamaha rider had been unable to improve on his time from the first day of testing.
Spies was beaten on Thursday by Lorenzo Lanzi, the Italian who has taken over the DFX Corse Ducati of Regis Laconi who was seriously injured in a crash at Kyalami, but Lanzi's time on Thursday was not good enough to edge out Spies' faster time from Wednesday.
John Hopkins finished the day sixth fastest, but the American was in some trouble. A near highsider on Wednesday afternoon left the American in pain during the night, and after riding in pain during the Thursday morning session, Hopkins decided to have an X ray done to see if he had caused any more damage to his leg. The X ray revealed that calcium was not building up correctly around the bones injured in his hip, and his doctors in the US diagnosed osteoporosis after receiving the X rays by email. The injury leaves Hopkins in doubt for next weekend's Brno round of World Superbikes: If Hopkins decides to ride and crashes, the consequences of a crash could be much more severe.
Overal times from both days of testing:
Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso will have a new engine to test at the Sachsenring. The Spaniard told the press conference at the German track that Honda had built a new engine to tame the power delivery of the RC212V. "We have one new engine. It is to improve the delivery of the power, because our engine is always very peaky and we have a lot of spinning in low gears. We want to try and avoid this and get better drive out of the corners," Pedrosa said. Both Pedrosa and especially team mate Andrea Dovizioso have complained all year that the Honda was too peaky, with Dovizioso being most vocal of the power delivery, labeling it as "too aggressive."
The new engine comes in addition to the revised chassis the Repsol Honda riders and Toni Elias have been using recently, Pedrosa and Dovizioso since Barcelona, Elias since Assen. All three of them have lauded the greatly improved corner entry of the new chassis, Dovizioso doing so despite having crashed out of the last two races. Dani Pedrosa demonstrating how successful the improvements had been by using the new chassis to win the previous Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.
Pedrosa also revealed that more parts are in the pipeline, but he felt it was too early to tell whether the changes would pan out in the long term. "It's not easy to say if we are going in a good direction or not," Pedrosa said. "You cannot base all of your comments on one race or one track. You have to keep on trying to see if it's good."
Max Neukirchner started the 2009 World Superbike season full of hope, and widely tipped as a potential title candidate. But 2009 has been uncommonly cruel to the Alstare Suzuki rider, and his season has been plagued by injury. A horrific first-corner pile up at the Monza round in May saw the German break bones all the way down his leg, and after a lengthy recovery, Neukirchner made a return to riding at the official Imola World Superbike test this week.
His return was not to be long-lived. Neukirchner crashed heavily on just the second day of testing, losing control of his Brux Alstare Suzuki as he exited the Tamburello corner and highsiding on to his back. Neukirchner was examined at the Clinica Mobile, then taken off to a local hospital for further examination. At first he thought he had escaped relatively uninjured, saying "that was a proper crash, but nothing like Monza." But X-rays revealed fractured vertebrae, further endangering his season.
According to the UK's Motorcycle News, Neukirchner's injuries mean that he will be out for either a month or for the rest of the year, depending on the treatment. Given that Neukirchner has already missed over half the season, it may make more sense for the German to have surgery to correct the problem fully, without risking further injury. But riders being riders, he is more likely to want to return to racing as soon as possible, and get back into racing rhythm.
MotoGPMatters.com is here at a hot and humid Sachsenring and at full strength. Both David Emmett and Scott Jones will be chasing round the paddock looking for great stories and fantastic photos, so be sure to check back regularly. Right now, the sun is out and it's pretty warm, but it looks like being a weekend of three seasons in three days. Friday is expected to be very hot and muggy, with thunderstorms expected to arrive in the evening. The thunderstorms will mark a change in the weather, with the heat disappearing and temperatures dropping from a hot 29°C to a positively chilly 13°C on Saturday, bringing with them a healthy portion of rain. On Sunday, we move from autumnal chill to a spring-like 18°C, with clouds but no rain.
The weather is going to make finding a setup very difficult, as the lessons learned in the heat of Friday will be lost in the cool of the rest of the weekend. Added to that the likelihood of Saturday's two practice sessions being wet while the race is dry means that the 17-man MotoGP field will be very busy on Sunday morning trying to find a setup for the race.
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The Team Toth saga seems set to run and run. Three weeks ago, disaster was averted at Assen by an urgent transfer of funds from Mattia Pasini's Team Toth to Aprilia, who then released the ECUs required to operate the factory-spec RSA 250s Pasini is racing halfway through the first session of free practice. Now, that scenario looks set to be repeated, as according to both GPOne.com and the Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport, Aprilia are once again holding on to the ECUs to be used by Team Toth, waiting for another payment to be made before allowing Pasini and team mate Imre Toth Jr to race.
The signs of financial trouble have been on the wall for a while: At Mugello, Pasini sported a garish pink livery, promoting a special Ladies' Night offer at a local Rimini night club. Entertaining it might be, but single-race deals with night clubs are unlikely to cover the million euro lease price for a factory-spec Aprilia 250. If the situation continues as is, Team Toth may be forced to withdraw entirely.
Pasini, it appears, may already have that situation covered. The Italian is said to be in talks with the Pramac Ducati team as a replacement for Niccolo Canepa, who has had a deeply disappointing season since entering the MotoGP class. The former FIM Superstock 1000 champion has struggled to get to grips with the Ducati Desmosedici, with only the arrival of Gabor Talmacsi granting Canepa a temporary reprieve from the ignominy of running around in last. Canepa is said to have been given until the Donington round of MotoGP to start improving his results, or face replacement.
Cal Crutchlow continued his dominance of the World Supersport class in the searing heat of the Imola test. The Yamaha rider set a time over 6/10ths faster than the second fastest man, Ten Kate Honda's Kenan Sofuoglu. Crutchlow's main title rival, Eugene Laverty was a tenth behind Sofuoglu, and another tenth ahead of Crutchlow's Yamaha team mate Fabien Foret.
Testing continues tomorrow.
Michel Fabrizio topped the timesheets after the first day of testing for the World Superbike field at Imola, edging out Yamaha's Ben Spies in the final laps. Fabrizio and Spies were followed by a brace of Hondas bracketing a BMW, Johnny Rea finishing the day ahead of BMW's Ruben Xaus, who was in turn just a few thousandths faster than Rea's Ten Kate Honda team mate Carlos Checa.
The test took place in searing conditions, as the typical summer heat of the lower Po valley took its toll on men, machinery and the tires which Pirelli have brought along for testing. Slightly cooler conditions are expected for tomorrow, for which the Superbike riders will be most grateful.
One of the most hotly debated subjects of the past month has been Casey Stoner's mystery illness. The Australian first showed the symptoms at the Catalunya Grand Prix, where he crossed the line in third position completely drained and without any strength in his body. Despite pronouncing himself recovered, Stoner suffered exactly the same fate at Assen during the Dutch TT, and at Laguna Seca, a less optimistic Stoner slipped off the podium to take 4th place, once again completely drained and vomiting, the physical demands of the tough Laguna Seca track taking its toll on the Ducati rider.
Fortunately for the Australian, the doctors in the US, working with the staff of the Clinica Mobile, believe they have tracked down the cause of Stoner's illness. According to the latest Ducati press release, Stoner has been diagnosed with a case of "slight gastritis and mild anemia" and is currently undergoing treatment to deal with the problem. As both gastritis and anemia have a number of causes, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what caused the disease, but gastrits and anemia are occasionally linked. The gastritis causes the stomach cramps, and anemia is a common cause of fatigue and general weakness, a symptom made worse by exercise. With treatment now underway, recovery should just be a matter of weeks, according to the Ducati press release.