The legendary Sachsenring Racing Circuit is located near the town of Chemnitz in Saxony, Germany. The circuit host’s many local events, including the ADAC GT Masters however for most diehard German motorcycle fans the Saxony circuit, known for its technically demanding twists and turns is the home of the German Motorcycle Grand Prix. For 2015 the Sachsenring played host to the 9th round of the FIM Motorcycle World Championship and as always the fans flocked to the circuit on their annual MotoGP pilgrimage. And why wouldn’t they? I mean, who could forget Assen that preceded this event where Rossi and Marquez squared off going into the last chicane? The gloves were now well and truly off and the fuse lit…it was time to watch the sparks fly!
Like the Macau Grand Prix the Sachsenring’s history (and success) can be traced back to a simple road race. The inaugural event was held in 1927 on a sprawling 8.7km public road layout that wound its way around and through the village of Hohenstein-Ernstthal. The event was hugely successful however like most road racing events of the day, growing concerns over safety meant that it was short lived – the event cancelled in only its second year due to several fatal racing accidents.
It wasn’t until 1934 that the Circuit reopened and the fans returned to once again witness the two-wheeled machines roar around the track. The course later became known as ‘Sachsenring’. Always a road circuit until the mid 90’s the venue has undergone significant changes and upgrades over the years. Today the anti-clockwise World Class Racing Circuit is 3,671 meters in length (the shortest on the GP calendar) has ten left hand and four right hand turns and only one real straight of any significance, the 800m front straight that incorporates the start/finish line.
Of interest again this year was going to be one of the most challenging corners in MotoGP, turn 11. Nicknamed the ‘Waterfall’ the corner is an off camber right at the crest of a steep downhill plunge. The fast right-hander is preceded by a series of left hand turns, causing the right side of the tyres to cool down before they are needed most. The turn traditionally catches out riders every year – Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone, Cal Crutchlow, Hector Barbera and Michael Laverty have all been victims of this corner in recent years.
This year however Bridgestone was providing the asymmetric front tyre choice, it’s first appearance of the 2015 season. In 2014 Bridgestone provided the asymmetric at both Phillip Island and Valencia. The tyre technology features different rubber compounds on each side and was specifically developed for the unbalanced Sachsenring layout. The tyre would feature medium compound rubber on the centre and left shoulder section and soft rubber on the right edge. Time would tell how well it would perform on the notoriously difficult section.
Of disappointment to the crowd would be Stefan Bradl’s inability to contest his home race, replaced by Claudio Corti following his crash in Assen, which resulted in a break to his right scaphoid bone. Bradl required surgery to reduce the facture and was advised by doctors not to rush the recovery or run the risk of jeopardizing the rest of the season. Other noticeable replacements for the weekend would be Michael Laverty who would return to Aprillia to replace (at least temporarily) the outgoing Michael Melandri and Hiroshi Aoyama who would replace the injured Karel Abraham on the AB Motoracing machine.
For me, I was fortunate enough to secure media accreditation for the event. First call of duty after checking into the press centre was to familiarize myself with the track. I had been on the ground in Germany for a week or so, experienced some wonderful German cities, ate too much, drank too much, travelled extensively at high speed on the Autobahn and even shot the ADAC GT Masters at the Lausitzring…it was now time to do what I had travelled all the way to Germany to do.
The new Sachsenring is a modern facility, perhaps now a far cry from its traditional historical roots which were more akin to the TT or if you live in Germany, the Frohburg road races. Don’t let that fool you, what the track lacks in size is more than compensated by its layout and undulating topography, the circuit appears to be cut into the hillside which provides stunning views from almost any vantage point on the track. The ‘Waterfall’ section is truly amazing. All in all the stage was set for what would be an enthralling battle between riders, machines and possibly tires. The season would head into the summer break after Sachsenring so for many it was time to make a stand.
Leading into the Sachsenring round it had been a difficult season for the three ‘reigning’ World Champions. Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez had only one race victory to his name (crashing out in three of the first seven races) aboard the 2015 incarnation of the RC213V. A return to form at Assen however had him gaining confidence aboard the ‘new’ hybrid bike featuring the 2014 frame and 2015 engine, swingarm and electronics. Marquez trailed Rossi by 74 points in the standings and most if not all pundits were predicting his race for the crown was all but over. Marquez was lining up for 6 wins in a row at Germany, had a fire in his belly and was riding at what was arguably the most Honda friendly track on the calendar. Time would tell whether or not Marquez could claw his way back into, or at least play a significant part in deciding this years MotoGP World Champion.
It was also going to be an interesting weekend for the defending Moto2 Champ, Tito Rabat on board the Marc VDS machine. Rabat, who trailed Championship Leader Jonathon Zarco by 45 points heading into the race weekend had suffered a fractured collarbone as a result of a training accident at the Almeria Circuit in Spain and underwent surgery only days before to insert a titanium plate to stabilize the fracture. Rabat, like Marqez was also going to need to pull a ‘rabbit’ out of his hat if he was going to hunt down the hard charging Zarco for the 2015 crown.
Of course Rabat’s 2015 teammate was also a World Champion, albeit from the Moto3 class. Alex Marqez had made the jump to Moto2 however he had struggled in the first part of the season to come to terms with his Kalex machine. This was in stark contrast to his former team mate Alex Rins who had amassed 130 points and was fourth in the championship, compared to the former Moto3 champ who had earned himself just 30 points and sat in 18th place in his rookie Moto2 campaign.
So in the end, how did things turn out for the main contenders? Well let’s start with the MotoGP grid where all the pre-race talk centered on those Bridgestone front tires. It seemed that most would be running the blue banded asymmetric front except the Hondas of Marc Marquez, Danni Pedrosa, Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding as well as the Ducati of Yonny Hernandez, it was believed that all had chosen the medium option however when the tire warmers came off the RC213V machines of Marquez and Pedrosa were sporting the red-striped hard option. A brave choice on a track where Rossi had earlier declared that the front tire would be a key for the race…that made 19 of the 25 starters on the new asymmetric. Who was going to be proved right and who would end up being off the podium?
Well I guess in this instance history shows that Marquez and Pedrosa completed a one, two finish for the Repsol Honda Team and that they ‘got it right’ on race day. Marquez was absolutely dominant over the weekend where he made a meal of all of the circuit records. He set a new Circuit Best Lap record of 1’20.336 in qualifying, a new Circuit Record Lap of 1,21.530 on lap 10 of the race and a new overall race record of 41’01.087. Not bad for a bloke who had struggled for the best part of the season.
In the end however the greater picture regarding tires was that Bridgestone managed to deliver a new front tire choice that was not only safer but was well received by the riders. Despite the harsh conditions on race day it proved to work well even when the track temperatures increased. “We had a lot of good feedback from this specification of tyre so our decision to bring this tyre to Sachsenring was definitely justified” said Bridgestones Motor Sport Development Manager, Shinji Aoki. It will be interesting to see what the team from Michelen can offer for next years race.
Moving on to Moto2 it was a tough and disappointing end for the reigning World Champion Tito Rabat. Whilst the Sachsenring is physically demanding, there are only a few hard braking areas that Rabat would be tested with his broken collarbone. Rabat fought bravely throughout the race and looked to have third place sewn up behind eventual winner Xavier Simeon after overtaking Franco Morbidelli through turn 12 on the final lap, only to have Morbidelli ‘take him out’ on the final corner of the race. Morbidelli was too hot into 13, lost the front and in the process sent himself and a blameless Rabat into the gravel. Both riders were un-injured in the crash however Rabat was in obvious discomfort and visited the medical centre for checks on to his previously injured collarbone.
After the dust had settled and with Championship Leader Johann Zarco securing a second place podium finish, Rabat slipped further behind in the standings with the gap widening to 65 points. As for Aleix Marquez, he finished a disappointing 18th again outgunned by ex teammate Alex Rinns who secured a third place podium finish courtesy of Rabat’s final corner incident.
As for Moto3, it was a one rider runaway affair with Championship Leader Danny Kent putting on another dominant display. Kent crossed the line 7.5sec ahead of second place finisher and teammate Efren Vaquez and extended his lead in the Championship to 66 points.
When it comes to atmosphere, Sachsenring could best be described as part county fair, part rock festival and definitely a melting pot of bikers and motorcycle racing enthusiast’s who make the pilgrimage to enjoy one of MotoGP’s truly great weekends. In the end 211,588 people passed through the gates to see the 2015 GoPro Motorrad German Grand Prix. The racing was amazing and the experience unforgettable. If you ever plan a trip to Germany, do yourself a favour and make sure the German Grand Prix is on your agenda.