After the most unpredictable of MotoGP™ races at Assen – but one that was a boon for Aussie Jack Miller – the championship hits Sachsenring in Germany to mark the halfway point of yet another enthralling season.
Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda) is still on a high after his heroics at Assen when he took the wet conditions by the scruff of the neck to win his first MotoGP™ race and become the 10th youngest rider in the premier class to do so. He also became the 12th Australian 500cc/MotoGP winner, joining Mick Doohan, Casey Stoner, Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie, Jack Findlay, Garry McCoy, Jack Ahearn, Troy Bayliss, Ken Kavanagh, Kevin Magee and Chris Vermeulen.
Understandably, post-race Assen celebrations for Miller were epic, but after a two-week break there's a sense that normality will return to the paddock at Sachsenring – but Miller still wants to take the next step and become a more competitive force in dry conditions.
"Assen was like a dream come true for me but we know we have to focus on being as competitive as possible this weekend in Germany," Miller said. "It is not going to be an easy weekend but it is a track I like and I’ve had some success on in the past. The encouraging thing for us as well is the Honda seems to work well at this track, so we have good reason to be optimistic.
"I’ve definitely got a little bit of extra confidence after the win in Assen and I’m sure we can be strong again. We’ve made a lot of progress over the last four races, and with my leg getting better day-by-day, it has made a difficult job a little bit easier for me.
"Since Assen I’ve been able to get back on a motocross bike for the first time since I injured my leg in January and it felt good. The strength is not an issue but I still need to get a bit more motion back.
"That lack of movement is because I’ve still got a fair amount of metal in my leg, but I was happy with how it went. Now I’ll continue working hard with my crew like always so hopefully we can experience a feeling like Assen again soon.”
Miller made his Grand Prix debut at the tight and twisty German track in the 125cc category back in 2011, and he won the Moto3™ race from pole position there in 2014.
One rider who feels right at home on the demanding 3.67km Sachsenring circuit is championship leader Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda), who has won his last six races: 125cc in 2010, Moto2 in 2011-2012, and MotoGP from 2013-2015. In those MotoGP™ wins, he's also taken pole position and set the fastest lap – last year's one a new record – so his raging hot favouritism for this weekend is justified.
“We’re going to the German GP aiming for a podium position and of course possibly to fight for the win," said Marquez. "The Sachsenring is normally a very good track for me that I like very much – maybe because it has so many left-hand corners, a bit like a dirt track!
"On the other hand, it’s another one on the calendar where the weather has sometimes played a crucial role in the past, so we’ll see how it goes there. We’ve learned from the past and we’re approaching this season race by race, trying to be ready and make the most of what we have and what the situation requires.
"In any case I’m happy we’ll be back in action shortly and I’ll do my best to get another positive result before the summer break.”
After his measured second place at Assen, as well as a DNF for Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) and a lowly 10th place finish for world champion Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha), Marquez now has a handy 24pt (145 to 121) lead in the championship. Lorenzo is second, and then Rossi is a further 18pts back on 103, followed by Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda, 86), Maverick Vinales (Ecstar Suzuki, 79) and Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 72).
After a recent lean patch (once when Andrea Iannone took him out), Lorenzo will certainly be focussed on returning to the pointy end of the pack at Sachsenring, which has one of the most spectacular corners in MotoGP™ racing – 'Waterfall', a fast, blind, downhill off-camber which has got the better of many riders over the years.
Because of that turn and the general abrasive and technical nature of the circuit, Michelin will be supplying asymmetric front tyres for the first time this season.
Pedrosa, like his teammate, is also a six-time winner in Germany in the MotoGP and 250cc ranks, while the tireless Rossi has some work to do if he is to become the first rider since Doohan in 1998 to win a premier class title after three DNFs.
Meanwhile, Ducati Team riders Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso have a point to prove after crashing in Assen. Iannone would go on to take fifth while Dovizioso failed to finish after a promising start. Ducati heads to Germany looking for its 100th podium in the premier class.
The only German in the field, Stefan Bradl (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), will be looking forward to performing in front of his home crowd after missing the 2015 event with injury.
There's still no clear favourite in the Moto2™ title, with world champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) tied on points with Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40), while Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) is a further 5pts behind in third.
Japan's Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) raced to his first win at Assen, and he remains in the championship hunt in fifth, behind Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten).
The last three rounds have seen Zarco emerge as the strongest rider with two wins and a second. The French rider has twice finished second at the Sachsenring, first in 2011 in the 125cc class and again in 2015 on his way to the Moto2 title.
Rins was third in the 2015 Moto2™ race at Sachsenring, won by surprise man Xavier Simeon (QMMF Racing Team) – his only Moto2™ win. Jordi Torres (2013) and current rider Dominique Aegerter (CarXpert Interwetten) are also one-time Moto2 winners thanks to the German circuit.
History was made at Assen as Francesco Bagnaia took Mahindra’s maiden world championship victory, kickstarting a day of firsts completed by Takaaki Nakagami and Jack Miller. In the process, the Indian manufacturer broke the domination of Honda and KTM in the Moto3™ class.
Championship leader Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is keener than anyone to get out on track after a disastrous, by his standards, race in Assen. The South African was punted off track and failed to finish on the podium for the first time in 2016. His championship lead remains more than stable at 48pts. Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda), his closest championship rival, will be trying to play catch up after missing Assen due to a broken leg.
The Sachsenring holds a special place in Binder’s heart, as it is where he stepped onto the podium for the first time way back in 2014.
With Navarro’s title challenge fading, KTM rider Romano Fenati (SKY Racing Team VR46) stands as one of the few people able to stop Binder. The Italian lost out in the last lap madness of Assen, crossing the line in fourth but clawing back a few points on the South African.
World number three Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing Moto3) was third at Sachsenring in 2015, with the riders ahead of him (Danny Kent and Efren Vazquez) now in Moto2™.
The three world championship races at Sachsenring will be held over the following distances and times:
- MotoGP™: 30 laps, 110.1km, starting at 2:00pm local time (10:00pm AEST)
- Moto2™: 29 laps, 106.5km, starting a 12:20pm local time (8:20pm AEST)
- Moto3™: 27 laps, 99.1km, starting at 11:00am local time (7:00pm AEST)
Image courtesty of MotoGP.com