Following the excitement of Catalunya the MotoGP paddock has now trekked north to Germany for the next round of the world championship – the Liqui Moly Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland at the iconic Sachsenring circuit.
Located near to Chemnitz in Saxony, Sachsenring is a 3,671m (2.281 miles) anti-clockwise circuit, which makes it the shortest track on the calendar. However, with 10 left and only 3 right turns, and a short 700m (0.435 miles) straight, this means that it is also one which places a lot of stress on the left-hand-side of the tyre. For the first time this season the entire allocation will be asymmetric, with all front and rear tyres having a harder left side of the tread, and the right side being a much softer compound to warm up quickly and provide grip when the riders need it in one of the three right turns. Being in the eastern part of the country not far from the cities of Dresden and Leipzig, and despite the race being staged in early summer, there is always the possibility for it to be cool and damp.
All of the Sachsenring MotoGP lap records were set in 2019 by Marc Marquez, with an all-time lap record time of 1m20.195s, while the circuit top speed record of 298.2 km/h was set by Andrea Dovizioso in the same year. With this year’s race taking place one month earlier, it will be interesting to see, with the potentially different weather conditions, if these are still standing after the 2021 race.
The tight and twisty venue is a different challenge from most, and traditionally there has been a single King of the Sachsenring: Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). With seven wins from seven in his time in MotoGP – and a few before that too – the number 93 has been almost unassailable at the track, but this time he arrives on the comeback from injury and the flashes of brilliance so far have been very much accompanied by some struggles for the eight-time World Champion. “Like the old Marc,” was his review of the laps he completed in Barcelona though, and on Monday in the post-race test he did more laps than anyone. So is it too soon to expect the King to return to the throne
“After the test day in Barcelona, the week between races went very well to recover. In this test we worked a lot and now we come to the Sachsenring where I have always enjoyed riding in the past. This year of course we arrive in a different position, but hopefully the layout should allow us to be more competitive from the physical side. Let’s see what the weekend brings.”
If he doesn’t, there’s a somewhat blank slate in his wake. Traditionally though, the next bike home after the winner has been a Yamaha in recent years. So will it be this time? Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) will be hoping so after a dramatic end to his race in Barcelona where race-winning pace translated into sixth in the final results after two penalties. He’ll want to gain that ground back, and team-mate Maverick Viñales will want to gain ground full stop – something also true of Petronas Yamaha SRT’s Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi as some tougher times continue in their garage.
“We have the positives from Friday and Saturday at Catalunya, and also from the test there, to take with us to Germany this weekend. I hope that we can use these and be stronger at Sachsenring, but of course we will have to see what happens when we get there. It’s a nice track, very tight in places, and I’m looking forward to being back there this weekend. In fact, I remember the first time that I rode here in Moto2. I didn’t know the circuit and I was fighting for the podium in the race! I’m looking to face these next two races before the summer break in the best way possible.”
“We had a good test at Catalunya; we tried some settings that we wanted to look at and my pace was good. I was in the top-ten and the feeling was positive. I hope we can continue this in Germany and have a good weekend, where our race goes like we expect. It’s a very different track to the others, with a lot of the corners on the left and this makes it quite a tricky circuit, it can be very difficult sometimes – but I have had some great battles in the past there, especially in 2009! I’m looking forward to returning there after we could not race there last year.”
Also traditionally, another Honda has sometimes joined Marc Marquez on the podium. The top rider for the marque as it stands is Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and he’ll want that good form for the bike at the track to translate into a kinder weekend in Germany after a dip recently. He has, after all, already taken a fourth place in 2021, as difficult as the year has been at times. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) and Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) will likewise look to the past performance of the machine to give themselves a boost, too. And what did HRC find in the post-Catalan GP test?
“We arrive here in Germany after a good day of testing in Spain. It has been a hard few races so it is important to keep our focus and do what we can this weekend. The Honda has been strong here in the past and with what we found in the test I hope that we can make some steps forward. Everything in MotoGP is so close so even a small improvement will help a lot, especially on Saturdays. We now have two races before the summer break, we want to head into the break on a positive.”
The more unknown quantities, in terms of track records, go for the rest. Ducati, to start with the factory equal on points with Yamaha at the top of the Constructors’ Championship, have seemed to edge closer and closer to the front in Germany as their bike has been crafted to turn better and better. And this season, it’s seemingly better than ever. Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) praised the machine after his podium in Catalunya and offered a quick “we’ll see” regarding the Sachsenring, but 2021 so far says there’s more to be optimistic about than ever before. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) will have a few eyes on him too, with the Italian’s riding style and corner speed a key talking point earlier in the year, but his Barcelona weekend a little more muted.
“After almost two years, we’re back racing in Germany, at the Sachsenring. It’s a very peculiar track, and it’s also one of the shortest on the calendar. Ducati isn’t one of the favourites at this circuit, but this year we’ve managed to be competitive even on tracks that should have been difficult for us. We’ve had another good weekend at Catalunya, and my feeling with the Desmosedici GP continues to be very good, so I’m confident that I can fight for another good result at this Grand Prix”.
“We’re at the eighth round of the season and the penultimate race before the summer break. It’s a crucial moment for the Championship, and it will be crucial to get a good result this weekend. Sachsenring is definitely not one of the best tracks for our bike’s specifications, but I am confident that we can do well this year. As always, it will be important to be competitive right from the start of the weekend! I can’t wait to get right back to work with my team”.
Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing), however, got the better of both last time out. The Frenchman was top Independent Team rider and top Ducati – as he is in the standings, although Miller especially is gaining some traction – and cut his gap to the top quite a bit after Quartararo’s two penalties. What can he do? He had a tougher time of it at the track on the Yamaha, or more so in 2017 compared to then-teammate Jonas Folger’s heroics, but Zarco won the Moto2 race at the track in 2016 and was only 0.083 off doing the same the year before. So he knows his way around… can he hook it up in the premier class?
Ahead of all the Borgo Panigale machinery in Barcelona, however, was Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). The Portuguese rider put in an outstanding push on Sunday – and a smart one – to leave the Catalan GP with his first victory in factory colours, and he’s another with some good stats in his past at the track, just 0.066 off the win in Moto2 in 2017 behind only Morbidelli. Teammate Brad Binder won the Moto2 race the year after. As this is a track where the Austrian factory have no 2020 data and a best result outside the top ten given the sheer speed of their ascendancy, will it be more of an uphill struggle at this particular – and in some ways peculiar – venue? Or are the riders, mileage so far and updates to the RC16 ready to carry on where they left off?
Hervé Poncharal – Tech3 KTM Team Manager
“Fresh from a week off the Tech3 KTM Factory Racing Team is now heading to Germany, where we didn’t race in 2020 due to the Covid19 situation. It will be for sure very interesting to see and understand how our KTM RC16 is behaving on that very particular circuit. We are happy to have had the chance to have a full day of test on Monday following the Catalunya GP, where both Danilo and Iker managed to test the new chassis and a few settings. That is going to not only improve the performance on track, but is also a moral boost for our two riders. We are now entering in the final straight of the first part of the season and clearly, the two upcoming back to back races prior to the summer break area going to be very important as we know the whole grid is preparing its 2022 line up. We are happy to be back in Germany. Sachsenring is always a very special event where we will for sure have fun, but clearly, we are going to miss the fans that were so many and that were so passionate about MotoGP. It will be strange to have empty grandstands when you remember how warm and noisy the German fans have been. Yet, we can’t wait to start Friday’s FP1 on that great Sachsenring circuit and hopefully we will be able to be closer to the Factory riders, Miguel and Brad, which is always our target. I have to repeat, that it was a great emotion to see Miguel winning the Catalan GP aboard his KTM RC16, so let’s try to be close to him. That’s our mission!”
Suzuki, meanwhile, have a couple of highlights that lend themselves to optimism – in addition to a bike that handles exceedingly well. First is a fourth place for Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) on the grid in 2019, the last time we raced at the Sachsenring, although he didn’t finish the race and arrives fighting to be fit after a cycling accident ahead of Barcelona. But the other is his team-mate – and the reigning Champion – Joan Mir’s seventh place in 2019. Looking back at the Majorcan’s record at the track in his short, sharp ascent to the top of the MotoGP world, it goes from Moto3 win on the way to the title to best Moto2 result at the time in 2018, a second place.
“It will be good to ride in Germany again, I was here in my rookie season in MotoGP and I did well, but obviously we missed out on coming here last year. It’s a circuit I like, it’s quite technical with a lot of ups and downs and blind corners. There are far more left turns that right, so it’s important to make up the difference in the lefts. Tyre management is important, and you have to be very precise with your lines. There are not many good overtaking spots, but there’s the first corner and also just after the waterfall section, although in general it’s a hard track to pass at. I’m looking forward to trying for a strong result.”
“I went to see Doctor Mir for some checks and I feel quite well. He took out the stitches and the bone seems almost fixed. I have some pain when moving my wrist, so I will keep working on my recovery during these days. In any case, I will try to give it my all. We didn’t race in Sachsenring last year, so I’m really looking forward to getting back on track here in Germany. I’m very pleased to be back with the team; I can’t wait to see them all and return to racing with my GSX-RR.”
Finally, for Aprilia the fight for the top five continues and will continue in Germany. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) has been close to it but ended up equalling their best result in the MotoGP era, sixth, which speaks to an impressive season but one that remains fixed on a firm goal: the top five, and the podium. Aleix Espargaro sat out the post-Catalan GP test after crashing out of the race but did get his arm, following arm pump surgery previously, checked out. All is ok, and the number 41 will be gunning for more glory in Germany… can he crack that top five this time around?
2021 is going pretty well for Red Bull KTM Ajo. In Moto2, it’s a masterclass so far for both Championship leader Remy Gardner and his rookie sensation of a teammate Raul Fernandez, who remains a close second in the standings. The number 25 also been Gardner’s closest challenger on track as the two stamp some serious authority on the season: a 1-2 in the last three races, the latter two with Gardner out front, and the only single race in which neither have been on the podium is Jerez. That’s quite a record, and as we head into the Liqui Moly Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland the Jaws music has likely already started a faint crescendo for their rivals.
In terms of track records, Gardner has scored points on Moto2’s last four visits to Saxony, a solid CV even for a rider in the form of his life as everything comes together, so there’s no reason to expect he’ll suddenly lose any speed. There is one added challenge for Raul Fernandez though: a little less experience. That didn’t make much difference at Mugello, however, and on his Moto3 debut at the Sachsenring in 2018 as an injury replacement, the Spaniard very much showed he knew his way around. So who could challenge the duo?
So far this season it’s been a tale of five riders with the edge on the rest and the Red Bull KTM Ajo duo with a little more than that. Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) have both had wins marred by a few mistakes, so can they hit back? It’s starting to get more and more vital as the summer break approaches, with both seeing big points go begging of late but both already having taken to the top step.
The opposite is true of Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46), who has lacked the raw pace to take him to a first win of the season so far but put together an impeccable campaign of consistency in third overall. That’s paying dividends as he now enjoys a nice 26-point cushion ahead of Lowes on the chase. With the metronomic excellence of the Red Bull KTM Ajo duo ahead though, “points make prizes” will soon not be enough. Can the Italian find that step forward in Germany? And can Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing), who denied Bezzecchi the third step in Barcelona, keep his renewed form rolling?
Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) was back on song in Barcelona too, and he took a solid sixth last time Moto2 raced in Germany. Bo Bendseyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) impressed last time out to beat Lowes to sixth at Catalunya as well. On German turf though, a few eyes will also be on Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) as he starts to rebuild some speed after a tougher start to 2021. The Bavarian has a good record at the Sachsenring too, including a podium the last time we raced there in 2019…
Finally, Fermin Aldeguer (+Ego Speed Up) could be one to watch for those keen on catching a rider on the ascent. The Spaniard, who has taken five wins from five in the Moto2 European Championship, including an almost offensively quick double in Barcelona on the Sunday ahead of the Sachsenring, will be in on injury replacement for Yari Montella once again. First time out on the Triumph 765, the 16-year-old took 12th and was just half a tenth off top Boscocuro Aron Canet (Aspar Team Moto2). And this was at Mugello, where he’d never raced before. Can he make some more magic in Saxony?
Moto2 Championship top five:
Fabio DI GIANNANTONIO
Consistency has been hard to come by in the 2021 Moto3 season. At first, rookie sensation – and still very much Championship leader – Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo) had it as those around him faltered, but now the momentum has moved once again and he’s been scoring good points, but not on the podium. Instead, it’s Sergio Garcia (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) who’s scored 57 points in the last three races, two of which he’s won to emerge as the closest challenger. One in the wet, one in the dry… and now we head to a venue where a few of his rivals lack some experience. And Garcia was in the lead group last time we raced in Germany.
First things first, Acosta has ridden the Sachsenring in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, and won a race. But will that experience count for a lot? He’ll hope so, with at least some track knowledge to help him on his quest to stem the tide of points. But Garcia isn’t the only rider looking to claw back some more ground…
Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo), who was just bumped off the podium in Barcelona by a track limits infraction, will be out for some revenge, and the likes of Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing) and Gabriel Rodrigo (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) will want to keep finishing ahead of Acosta as they did at Catalunya. Romano Fenati (Steilgarda Max Racing Team) remains fourth overall too and of those returning to race Moto3™at the Sachsenring this year, the veteran Italian was also the top finisher in 2019 as he took fourth.
Experience is also a question for Catalan GP podium finishers Jeremy Alcoba (Indonesian Racing Gresini Moto3) and Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech3). Rookies in 2020 and therefore not racing the venue in Moto3 yet, can they stay at the front? Alcoba hasn’t had any experience of the track and will be up against the clock to get up to speed, but Öncü has an impressive record at the place in the Rookies. He took his first victory in the Cup at the track in 2017, and in 2018 he took another win and a second place. Will that, plus the added confidence from an emotional first podium in Barcelona, translate into race day pace in 2021?
While the ASBK is racing in Darwin this weekend, one of the Northern Territory’s brightest young starts will be in Germany to stand in for the injured Maximilian Kofler in the CIP-GREEN POWER team. Joel Kelso has been competing in the FIM Moto3 Junior World Championship and his best result in the class is a ninth place. The CIP-GREEN POWER team is pleased to give to another young rider the opportunity to race in Moto3, as Daniel Holgado did recently at the Catalan Grand Prix.
Alain Bronec (CIP-GREEN POWER Team Owner)
“Obviously, I wish Maximilian a speedy recovery, as he still needs to rest before coming back with us. For the next two races, we will rely on Joel Kelso, a promising young Australian. He will be discovering the Sachsenring and Assen, but we are very confident that he will improve throughout the two weekends. Once again, it is an Australian rider who will fly our colours after Remy Gardner who raced in the team before moving up to Moto2. Welcome Joel!”
The tight, twisty Sachsenring may deliver a slightly different Moto3 showdown to that of many tracks so far, and it’s a new challenge for a few key faces in the field, not just Joel.
MCNEWS.COM.AU is a specialist on-line resource that provides motorcycle news for motorcyclists. MCNews covers all areas of interest for the motorcycling public including news, reviews and comprehensive racing coverage.