The WorldSBK series may be on its summer hiatus, but there is still plenty of news going on. After the official announcement that Tom Sykes would not be back with the KRT Kawasaki team, it is the turn of the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK squad to make announcements. Today, the team issued a statement saying that current riders Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes will remain with the team for the 2019 season.
Pedrosa's MotoGP career may have been blessed with the HRC golden ticket, but racing, regulations and broken bones have (mostly) conspired against him
Dani Pedrosa was once king of the Sachsenring. He won the 250 race in 2004 and 2005, then a hat-trick of MotoGP victories in 2010, 2011 and 2012, before Marc Márquez came along.
But that’s another story. Today we are talking about Pedrosa, MotoGP’s pint-sized perennial performer who, last Thursday, announced his retirement.
Pedrosa has broken a few records and many more bones during a long career during which he’s never quite lifted the MotoGP crown. But if you think he’s just been unlucky, you don’t know the half of it.
It is a truism in MotoGP that though they hand out the trophies on Sunday, the race is often won on Friday and Saturday. Practice is when riders and teams can find the setup tweaks they need to go faster, evaluate tire choices, and plan a strategy. Which tires offer the most potential? Which area of the track can we gain most while sacrificing the least in other points? Is there more to be gained by pushing hard early and trying to manage, or by being patient in the first half of the race, hoping to have an advantage in the second half?
The wide range of tires offered by Michelin make practice even more important. Michelin's remit from Dorna is to produce three front tires and three rear tires that can all be used during the race. That requires a certain amount of compromise: labeling tires soft, medium, and hard does not mean that Michelin make three tires with an equal step in between the three different tires. It is more like an indicator of how well the French tire make expects each tire to cope with the heat and stress of a race, and the trade off in terms of grip. So a soft and a medium tire may use the same rubber on one side of the tire, or on opposite sides of the tire. Or they may use the same compounds with a stiffer carcass, to reduce flex and therefore the amount of heat being generated.
Understanding how all these factors work together, and what that will mean for the race, is what the teams spend their time doing in practice. The team and rider that does this best on Friday and Saturday gets to spend Sunday evening celebrating their victory during the race. If all goes to plan, of course.
Betting on Marc Márquez to take pole and win the race at the Sachsenring looks like the safest bet imaginable. From 2010 until 2017, Marc Márquez has started the race on pole and gone on to take victory in all three of the Grand Prix classes he has raced in. Márquez is truly the King of the Sachsenring.
Friday seemed to merely underline the Repsol Honda rider's dominance at the Sachsenring. Though he didn't top the timesheets in either FP1 or FP2, that was only because he hadn't bothered putting in a soft tire in pursuit of a quick time. Take a look at underlying race rhythm, and Márquez was head and shoulders above the rest of the field.
That pace continued into Saturday morning. Once again, Márquez was not the fastest – he finished sixth in FP3 – but in terms of pace, he had half a step on everyone else. But it was only that: half a step. Others were starting to catch the Spaniard. Could he really be in trouble for the race?
As if anyone needed reminding of just how close the MotoGP field is at the moment, you have to go a very long way down the standings to find the first rider more than a second slower than Jorge Lorenzo, the fastest man on the first day of practice at the Sachsenring. Eighteen riders are within a fraction over nine tenths of a second of each other, with Scott Redding the first over a second away.
It's even closer than that, once you discount Lorenzo's time. The Factory Ducati rider put in a searing lap at the end of FP2 to go fastest, and was over a quarter of a second quicker than second-place man Danilo Petrucci. The gap between Petrucci in second and Johann Zarco in eighteenth was 0.645 seconds. Or approximately two blinks of an eye.
That makes it hard to judge riders by position. A tenth of a second would move you up three or four places; three tenths is the difference between eighteenth and eighth. A small mistake in a single corner could be the difference between being comfortably through to Q2, and going to sleep on Friday night worrying about posting a fast enough time on Saturday morning in FP3. "I needed to make a perfect lap," Red Bull KTM's Pol Espargaro bemoaned his twelfth place, before joking, "or my rivals needed to not make a perfect lap!"
Franco Morbidelli has been forced to withdraw from the German GP at the Sachsenring. The Marc VDS rider was suffering too much pain in his left hand, which he broke in a crash during practice at Assen.
Morbidelli had been hopeful he would be able to ride when he spoke to the media on Thursday evening. "The fracture is recovering pretty well so I decided to come and try to race," he said. "It is a left-hand circuit. but what gave me confidence is that it’s a track when you spend a lot of time on the edge, so you don’t have to make a lot of changes in direction."
The Sachsenring is a unique circuit, and a unique place. We say that about almost every racetrack we go to, but it is much more true of the Sachsenring than of anywhere else. No track is as tight, yet deeply challenging as the tightly-coiled circuit in Hohenstein-Ernstthal, and the atmosphere among the fans is electric.
Normally here, I would give a brief description or history of the circuit at which MotoGP is due to race. But Mat Oxley has already done that much better than I would have, so I suggest you read his article on the Motor Sport Magazine website. There is a very good chance that this is the last race here at the Sachsenring, as Oxley lays out in the article. But all hope is not yet lost: regional politics may yet solve the problem, though it will be done with taxpayers' money.
Given the huge attendance at the circuit – Sunday numbers often well over 90,000, and over 100,000 on occasion – the race generates a huge amount of revenue for the surrounding area. Hotels are full, restaurants are heaving, supermarkets stock extra food and drink (especially drink). All that generates more revenue for local government through taxes. But will that be enough to justify spending on keeping the race here?
Press release previews from some of the MotoGP teams:
Repsol Honda look forward to another exciting race at Sachsenring
The epic battle in the Dutch TT at Assen resulted in the first 15 riders crossing the line just 16.043” apart, marking the closest ever top-15 finish of all time. Will the tight, twisty Sachsenring favour more close racing next Sunday?
After weeks of speculation, Dani Pedrosa has announced that he will end his active racing career at the end of the 2018 season. The Spaniard had been mulling his future for some time, after it had become clear that there was no place for him left in the Repsol Honda MotoGP team, and after discussions with other teams throughout the first part of the year, Pedrosa made his decision some time after Assen, and announced it at a special press conference held ahead of the German round of MotoGP at the Sachsenring.
"Next year, I will not compete in the championship, this means I will finish my career this season in MotoGP," Pedrosa told a packed press conference room at the Sachsenring. "This is a decision I've been thinking about for a long time, and it's a very hard decision because this is the sport I love. But despite having good opportunities to keep racing, I feel like I don’t live racing with such an intensity as before and I now have different priorities in my life."
"I would like to express how fortunate I feel to have had this opportunity," he said. "It's been an amazing life to be racing for such an important team and in front of all the fans. So I can say I achieved way more than I expected and I'm very proud of everything I've done in the sport. I fulfilled my dream of becoming a racer and this is something I didn't expect as a kid watching on TV." It was an emotional press conference, the normally taciturn Pedrosa fighting to control his emotions.
Gilles Bigot, the French crew chief of Marc VDS MotoGP rider Tom Lüthi, has been in MotoGP a long time. In that time, he has seen a lot of riders come and go, and learned an awful lot about racing. At Jerez, I spoke to the Frenchman about the process of adapting to MotoGP. What started out as an attempt to get to the bottom of the problems Tom Lüthi faces in his switch to MotoGP after spending so many years in Moto2 became something much deeper, and much more interesting. We ended up speaking for half an hour, all of which was fascinating.
In the first part of the interview, Bigot talks about his involvement in three key transitions. First, the switch from two strokes to four strokes, when the MotoGP machines replaced the 500cc bikes, and how Valentino Rossi made that jump faster and more easily than anyone else. Next, the introduction of the Moto2 class, when he was crew chief to Shoya Tomizawa, and how the Japanese youngster adapted to four strokes. And finally, why Kenan Sofuoglu, who eventually took over Tomizawa's seat after the tragic death of the Japanese rider, never really adapted to Moto2, and ended up going back to World Supersport.
Bigot had been crew chief to Alex Crivillé in 1999, when the Spaniard won his, and Spain's, first premier class title. After Crivillé retired at the end of 2001, Bigot embarked on a new project, working with the Tech3 team, who were at that point considering entering MotoGP. For the first part of the 2002 season, the year in which the four stroke 990cc MotoGP bikes made their first appearance, Bigot spent his time at the side of the track, watching the bikes and learning to understand the difference between the old two strokes and the new four strokes.
Gilles Bigot: I spent one year with the Tech3 team. I was in Grand Prix but at that time they wanted to set up a team for Sylvain Guintoli, with Gauloises and Yamaha. That was the idea from Hervé. Then at the end we did it. We did a couple of tests and we did one Grand Prix in Brno. So meanwhile I was doing this, some testing, and of course I was also going to the races. I was doing basically, not sight-seeing, but I was spotting some areas. It was the year of the transition with the 500 and MotoGP, so that was very interesting to watch. I witnessed a few things that were at that time very interesting.
Q: Such as?