2009 Sachsenring MotoGP Qualifying Practice Report

Leaden skies over the Sachsenring

Qualifying at the Sachsenring was a thoroughly wet affair. The track had been soaked all afternoon and rain continuing to fall throughout the session, coming and going in intensity. And so everyone set about finding a wet setup, given the entirely plausible prospect of rain spoiling the race tomorrow. Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi swapped the lead in the early part of the session, the times edging towards the 1'34 marker, but with just 19 minutes of the session gone, Gresini's Alex de Angelis confirmed his strong form at the German track by taking the top spot.

De Angelis soon had another Honda take the lead from him, Randy de Puniet taking provisional pole, but only for the briefest possible time. De Angelis was following de Puniet round the track, and was straight back on pole.

A couple of minutes later, Casey Stoner got involved once again, and after briefly ceding pole to Jorge Lorenzo, the Australian cracked into the 1'33s, taking provisional pole with a lap of 1'33.759. His time would stand until the halfway mark, when Lorenzo started showing an interest once again, the Spaniard putting in a string of fast laps. At first, Lorenzo merely chipped away at the Australian's time, but within a couple of laps Lorenzo was faster, then taking a big chunk out of Stoner with a lap of 1'33.355.

With a quarter of the session left, a couple of remarkable things started to happen. The first was that Valentino Rossi took over pole from his team mate, slicing 5/100ths off Lorenzo's time. The second was that the rain was starting to make the track treacherous, and riders were starting to tumble like flies. 

A stream had started to form across the track just before Turn 8, and the sudden extra water on the track was catching riders out left, right and center. Randy de Puniet went down there early, as did Niccolo Canepa, but as the three quarter mark approached, the marshals were almost overwhelmed by crashers. Marco Melandri crashed, then Toni Elias had a strange semi-highside, almost catching it before finally falling off the back of his Gresini Honda, leaving the RC212V to spear across the gravel and into the air fence, drenching the track workers standing behind the fence. 

What was even stranger was that 10 minutes later, Elias' Gresini Honda team mate had an almost identical crash, tossed off the bike and the RC212V firing once again straight into the air fence, giving even more work for the busy marshals. But their work was not yet at an end. If the Elias and De Angelis crashes had been strange, something even more bizarre was about to occur: Nicky Hayden, on a hot lap, had been catching Niccolo Canepa, and as Hayden went to take the inside line to dive ahead of the Italian, he got the throttle just a fraction off, and was highsided off his Marlboro Ducati.

What made the incident so bizarre was not the highside, but the fact that instead of landing in front of Canepa, as Hayden feared might happen, he landed fully on Canepa's back and head, in a weird upside down body slam, knocking Canepa off his bike and onto the ground. As soon as Hayden had finished tumbling through the gravel, he rushed over to Canepa to apologize, the Italian being stretchered off for further examination at the Clinica Mobile. Fortunately for both men, neither was seriously injured, Canepa recovering after lying down for 20 minutes, more shocked and shaken up than physically hurt.

On the track, pole was still not settled, and Rossi's marginal lead would not stand for long. With 7 minutes to go, Lorenzo was flying, and crossed the line another couple of hundredths faster than his Italian team mate. Three laps later, Lorenzo reinforced his lead, taking another tenth off his best time.

Rossi was not done though. After a couple of runs at a fast lap, the Italian grabbed the final opportunity, putting together everything he had learned over the past few laps to shatter Lorenzo's pole time, setting a time of 1'32.520, over 6/10ths faster than his team mate. Lorenzo was left to start in 2nd, and clearly smarting despite putting on a brave face about it, while Casey Stoner held on to 3rd spot. Stoner had retired to the garage early, choosing to save his strength for race day, still suffering from the anemia and gastritis which has been troubling him for the past three races.

Nicky Hayden heads up the second row, his best starting position of the year, ahead of the Hondas of Alex de Angelis and Randy de Puniet. Colin Edwards is the first of the Tech 3 Yamahas, ahead of Dani Pedrosa, disappointing on the Repsol Honda, and Loris Capirossi on the Rizla Suzuki. Mika Kallio on the Pramac Ducati rounds out the top 10.

Though the riders spent a lot of time on rain tires, they will still have a lot of work to do during the morning warm up. The weather is forecast to be dry, but cool and overcast, with a slight possibility of a few spots of rain. It's been a strange weekend, with a strange session of qualifying just emphasizing how weird it has been. Expect a strange race just to top the weekend off.

Results of Qualifying for the MotoGP class

Rossi fans at the Sachsenring

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This qualifying session reminded me of the WSBK race at the other German ring in 1999 when Fogerty kept leaning it over and powering through the corner everyone else was falling in. It almost seemed like that's what Rossi did today.