The Sachsenring is a key point on the MotoGP calendar. For the Moto2 and Moto3 riders, it is the last race before the summer break, while the MotoGP men have one more race, at Laguna Seca, before heading off for an all too brief summer hiatus. A good result in Moto2 and Moto3 is crucial, as it determines the momentum you carry into the summer: you either spend the next five weeks brooding over what could have been, or on a high and wishing the next race was the next weekend. Momentum is not quite such an issue for the MotoGP riders, but a bad result puts them on the back foot ahead of Laguna Seca, and their own summer break. As it is often also contract time, especially in MotoGP, the pressure is on to perform and secure a seat for next season. Good results and championship points are vital, as this race can help determine the course of the remainder of the season.
The significance of the Sachsenring was visible in all three races on Sunday, for wildly different reasons and with wildly differing outcomes. In Moto3, the top 3 riders merely underline once again that they are a cut above the rest - or at least the rest of those who are also riding a KTM. In Moto2, Pol Espargaro gained important momentum in his title challenge, but failed to drive home his advantage, swinging the balance of power slowly back his way, but not as fast or as powerfully as he had hoped, while Scott Redding struggled badly, salvaging points only thanks to Espargaro's finish. As for MotoGP, the absence of the two championship leaders has blown the title race wide open again, allowing Marc Marquez to take the lead, and both Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi got closer to being back in contention again.
The Moto3 race turned into a thriller, but the typical three-way thriller we see almost every week. Alex Rins, Luis Salom and Maverick Viñales are clearly the cream of the KTM crop, and have dominated at every race so far. Luis Salom has had the upper hand in recent encounters, the oldest of the three contenders - at nearly 22 years of age, he almost qualifies as an old man in Moto3 - using his experience and racecraft to gain the upper hand. At Mugello, Barcelona and Assen, Salom bided his time until the last few laps, before trying to pull the pin and break his opponents. It worked for three races in a row, but in Germany, Salom's run of luck faltered. Salom pulled the pin once again in the last few laps, but Alex Rins hunted him down and passed him at the bottom of the hill, going on to take his second win this season. With Viñales left in third, Salom's cushion became fractionally more comfortable, extending out to 14 points, while Rins got to within 30 points of the championship leader.
Waiting until the final laps and then mounting a charge was a strategy he tried every race, Salom said, and sometimes it worked, but this time it hadn't. Rins has been close to disrupting Salom's plans at a number of races, this time he attacked in time to do something about Salom.
The only blot on the leading trio's copybook is one left there by Honda (or KTM, depending upon your perspective). The Honda Moto3 engine is clearly massively underpowered, and yet they either cannot or will not do anything about it. Honda claim this is because KTM are breaching the spirit of the regulations, having built a factory-supported prototype racer, rather than the production racer which HRC has produced, while KTM say they are complying perfectly with the regulations as set out by the FIM. The Honda's lack of power just goes to underline even more what an outstanding job Jack Miller is doing on the FTR Honda, getting in among the KTMs until they blast him away with their superior power.
In Moto2, Scott Redding had a bad day which turned out to be not too bad, while Pol Espargaro had a good day which turned out to be not as good as he had hoped. Espargaro led the race for a long time, getting away off the line and soon pulling a gap, along with Jordi Torres and Simone Corsi. Espargaro seemed to be in complete control in the early stages, but as the race went on, it became more and more obvious that Torres would not be denied. The Mapfre Aspar rider was on a mission, and went on to claim his first ever victory in Moto2, which was also his first ever podium. Torres' description of his joy at the win brought out the poetry which a non-native speaker can sometimes accidentally produce, the Spaniard saying in press conference he was 'too much happy'.
Espargaro also let Simone Corsi get by on the last lap, as the Italian was starting to push hard. Espargaro's rear tire was completely shot - there may have been much complaining about the Bridgestone tires this weekend, but the Dunlops caused their fair share of accidents as well - and he had no choice but to cede the position. In the press conference, Espargaro let slip once again just how focused he was on his rival Scott Redding, saying the most important thing was that he had once again closed the gap to the British rider. After Mugello, Espargaro's deficit to Redding was 47 points. He has halved that now, to just 23 points.
Redding, for his part, suffered with the same tire problems which Espargaro had, and could only hang on to 7th. His problems were alleviated by Espargaro's, for while Redding himself had no chance of competing, by pacing himself and coming home in 7th, he at least salvaged 9 points. With Espargaro ending up in third, he lost on 7 points to the Spaniard. At the halfway stage, it looked like Redding might lose 16 points to Espargaro. The Moto2 championship is clearly still wide open. With nine rounds to go, there is everything to play for.
The MotoGP race may not have provided the sheer entertainment of the Moto3 and, to a lesser extent, Moto2 races, there was still plenty of tension. The absence of both Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo helped. Lorenzo's pace looked crushing on Friday, right up to the moment when he crashed, and Pedrosa, as the rider who had won the last three races at the Sachsenring, was favorite to take victory at the track.
The other three-time winner made it four in a row on Sunday, Marc Marquez riding a stunning race to take four consecutive victories in three different classes. The Spaniard had made up ground after an indifferent start, first edging an impressive Aleix Espargaro aside to take over third, and then hunting down both Valentino Rossi and Stefan Bradl. Two identical maneuvers, barging past at the final corner, saw the Italian and the German dispatched, and Marquez in the lead and off to the races.
He could not relax, however. After a poor start - which Cal Crutchlow jokingly put down to Marquez, having forced him wide at the first corner and caused him to lose several places - the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha worked his way forward to start to chase Marquez. He arrived in second position on lap 16, but by then, Marquez had a nearly three second advantage. Though Crutchlow was closing, he wasn't closing fast enough, and Marquez could manage the gap to the Tech 3 man. "Crutchlow is quite strong at the end of the race," Marquez told reporters,"I didn't want a repeat of Assen, so I tried to push for a fast five laps and manage the gap, and then manage the distance."
Two wins, seven podium spots in total, three pole positions, five times setter of the fastest race lap, and championship leader, all in his first eight races. Marquez' talent is now totally beyond dispute. The myth that Marquez was winning in Moto2 only because of the bike he was on has now been thoroughly dispelled. Coming in to MotoGP and being immediately competitive is the mark of just how good the Spaniard is.
If Marquez has been fast from the off, Cal Crutchlow has taken a different path, but ended up in more or less the same place. Crutchlow had a mediocre first year in MotoGP, a strong second year in the class, and is now clearly just as fast as anyone in the series. He closed in on Marquez at the end of the race, but was never close enough to actually challenge.
Where Crutchlow has struggled in previous races has been at the start, the Englishman complaining that he couldn't brake properly with a full tank of fuel. That situation had now be resolved, he said after the race, leaving him able to brake where everyone else brakes and follow their line. If it hadn't been for that kid Marquez - Crutchlow was clearly joking when he said that - who had pulled across Crutchlow's line at the start, forcing him wide and losing a number of places, the race could have had a lot more battle in it than it ended up having. "I really believe we made a step in this area," Crutchlow told the press. If that is true, then Crutchlow becomes a permanent podium threat, and a candidate for victory.
That Crutchlow was even racing was testament to his mental and physical fortitude. After his big crash on Friday, Crutchlow had woken up on Saturday feeling sick with the pain. "If you had asked me, or especially Lucy, on Saturday morning, I definitely wouldn't be racing," Crutchlow said after taking 2nd position. His decision to rough it out paid off very handsomely.
The most high-profile loser in all of this is Valentino Rossi, despite being back on the podium again this week. He and his team had tried something on Sunday morning to help him go faster, but that tweak had not worked out. Rossi lost some of his feeling in braking, leaving him struggling a little bit more than usual. This poor set up had Rossi distracted, the Italian mumbling to himself during the press conference. Despite his cheery demeanor - and Rossi knows how to put on a show, joking quite a lot in the podium press conference - he was clearly angry at either himself or his crew for giving him a set up which would not work. The front end tweak made by Yamaha has paid off for Rossi, and Yamaha both.
But perhaps the biggest loser of the day was Stefan Bradl. After a fantastic start to the race, leading for several laps, to the delight of the crowd, Bradl was soon passed by Rossi. No dishonor in that, but behind Rossi came Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow, leaving Bradl to circulate on his own. A fourth place is the German's best finish, matching his position at the Italian grand prix at Mugello. Whether that means Bradl could be out of favor with HRC, and therefore out of a job at the end of the year remains to be seen. Honda have an option to allow him a second year at Lucio Cecchinello's LCR Honda team, but they have not yet exercised it. A podium would have cemented the deal for him, but unfortunately, he fell just short.
The support classes are all packed up and are ready to be shipped to Indianapolis, ready for the next round. The MotoGP teams had their work cut out for them, packing up as quickly as possible on Sunday night in order to be ready to be flown to Laguna Seca. One more week of frantic dash, before everyone gets to breathe a sigh of relief.