Less than a week after a sensational race in Assen, where Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) returned to winning ways after pipping Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) to the line, the MotoGP class were at the Sachsenring preparing for the German GP.
Kalio to make a wildcard in Germany
Racing has taken place in Germany since 1959 and for the last 20 years at the Sachsenring. Joining the elite class, Mika Kalio was running an extra seat for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team.
The sessions were extended so that the riders could complete some trials with a new hard compound tyre that had been brought by French tyre supplier, Michelin. There are two variations and riders were required to complete at least five laps on each. Sessions were also exyended to allow for extra dry practice as rain was expected.
Rain threatened the opening day at the Sachsenring
It was overcast and rain threatened by the time their opening session of Free Practice began at the short circuit. Within a few minutes of the sessions getting underway, Petrucci ran on at turn one, a corner that was to prove notorious throughout the day. After avoiding a crash, he was able to guide himself out of the gravel.
Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) made a great start initially taking to the top of the timesheets before Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and 2016 MotoGP champion, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) took over for a while.
Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Kalio nearly had a coming together on track. Zarco had taken an inside line that fortunately didn’t end up resulting in anything worse than some spoiled momentum.
Technical issue for Rossi
Then, Rossi found himself struggling with some technical issue with the bike. He was forced to pull off the track and tried to find a way to exit the circuit. But with some of his many fans spotting him, he was left behind the barrier like a fish in an aquarium being watched by lucky onlookers.
There was no reviving the bike, and as there were no Marshalls were he was located, or a way of getting back, he decided to try and return to the pits track side and coasted downhill to another spot where he was evenutally picked up and able to return to the pits.
Rabat caught out at notorious turn eight
Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia o,o Marc VDS), who is at risk of losing his place in the MotoGP place as contract agreements have been made with other riders that will see Franco Morbidelli move up to the top class with his team, then suffered misfortune. At turn eight he had run on but not crashed until he ran through the gravel, accelerated to return to the track and spun the rear on the grass which caused him to fall.
On track, a lot of rubber was being laid down by Marquez in the form of a black line. He was spotted spinning the rear, especially at the likes of turn 10. Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha), who is determined to return to his more successful form at the beginning of the season, went quickest temporarily before Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) took over again at the top.
Turn one also proving difficult for some
There were more incidents for some riders as Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was sent up and out of his seat at turn 1 after coming into contact with the kerb. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) ran on at turn one, and was seen teetering through the gravel hoping trying desperately to avoid another injury after he has just returned with a healing wrist.
Big crash for Iannone
Then Andrea Iannone had a big crash at turn 11 where he came off his Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR. The front tucked at the fast turn that is at the top of a hill and both he and the bike rolled down through the gravel trap. The bike tumbled so much, it landed upside down and a Marshall had to kick it over before they could begin recovering it. Iannone’s leathers did the trick preventing injury but he still looked angry coming down the hell having had complained about no front end feel with the Suzuki.
The competition for the top spot was on
With eight minutes of the opening session remaining, Marquez went top but he was knocked down a spot by Vinales and another by Dovizioso. On Marquez’s final attempt, his lap time was spoiled as Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing) came off at the fast turn 11 after losing the front end and was thrown through the gravel but he landed on his feet. Marquez narrowly missed becoming involved in the incident.
Dovizioso’s fastest lap time came in the last two minutes of the session with a time of 1:21.599. Vinales was second and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) snuck into third ahead of Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who was running incredibly well on his bike at the German track. Alvaro Bautista (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) was fifth ahead of Marquez, Zarco, Petrucci, Jack Miller (Estrella Galivia 0,0 Marcs VDS) and Redding who completed the top 10.
Rain mixed up FP2 results
It lashed it down during Free Practice 2 which completely messed up the results and highlighted certain riders strength in the conditions; the forecast although wet and showers was predicted for day two was expected to be cool but dry on race day.
The likes of Hector Barbera (Reale Avintia Ducati), Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Marquez initially occupied the top spot until heavy rain again began to fall. Several riders had a slight ‘moment’; Rossi was forced to use the run-off area and Barbera was shook whilst on track. Most riders resorted to the pits for the shower which was followed by bright sunshine and the Sachsenring dries quickly.
Drying track meant faster times
There was still surface water, however as they began the final 10 minutes, Petrucci highlighted that the track was once again faster than previous in the session, when he complete a low 1:29 minute lap. He was soon beaten by Barbera and Aleix Espargaro and Marquez.
Barbera tried to challenge once more and was successful at the end of the session lapping quickest with a time of 1:28.115 which in turn beat Marquez’ time by 0.063 and pushing him down to second. Pedrosa was third quickest during FP2 and finished ahead of Petrucci, Aleix Espargaro, Crutchlow, Dovizioso, Folger, Lowes and Lorenzo.
Dovizioso quickest at the end of day one
Combining the times from the two sessions however the times from Free Practice 2 did not come close to those set during Free Practice 1 understandably because of the weather and so overall Dovizioso was quickest at the end of day one at the Sachsenring.
Riders to complete test or receive penalty
Now as mentioned earlier, because some of the riders had not completed the test of the two variations of hard option tyres on day one of the meeting, they had their practice sessions extended on day two or receive a penalty.
Rossi breaks down again
When the ever significant Free Practice 3 got underway Rossi once again experienced problems with his M1. He broke down with what had to have been a similar fault (suspected fuel pump) and this time almost crashed when the machine cut out mid turn. He was this time able to quickly return to a secure area with Marshalls and returned to the pits quickly to collect his second bike after providing feedback to his team.
Lowes crashes out
Lowes had his first crash at the day within 10 minutes of the session beginning. He came off at turn 13, the last turn of the track but was immediately up to his feet and able to return to the pits conveniently.
Zarco got caught out, running on at turn eight after missing the braking point at the left hander. This was to occur with several riders during the day, including Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and during Free Practice 3.
Folger running well on home turf
At his home track Folger went quickest early on in the session. He remained on top when he was the only one able to improve enough on his own time. Many were faster in the two opening sectors but would lose time from sectors three onwards; Rossi kept plugging away and eventually went from 18th to second on the timesheets with just under 20 minutes to go.
Pedrosa had a spill crashing out at turn one of the circuit when the front folded. He was unhurt although his leathers were scuffed and he returned to the pits after recovering his bike. Karel Abraham (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) then crashed out at turn 11 early on in the turn when the front folded. He appeared unhurt after sliding into the gravel, thankfully he had not appeared to have agitated his ankle injury from earlier on in the season.
Aleix Espargaro goes top
Aleix Espargaro continued with his strong form progressing up to second with 10 minutes to go. On his next lap he helped to secure his place in the top 10 when he went quickest so far with a time of 1:21.209.
Further crashes saw Petrucci and Zarco fall off in the closing stages of the vital session at turns 13 and 11 respectively. The front folded on both of their machines and they slid out. Zarco’s was a much faster crash but fortunately they were both OK as it seems.
Marquez quickest during Free Practice 3
The last few minutes is always a panic in the third practice session and Crutchlow was able to make the leap up to second on the timesheets. There was plenty of movement as they all challenged to remain in the top 10 and a last minute lap from Marquez with a time of 1:20.745 was the quickest so far of the weekend and left him top once again.
All of the riders managed to improve during that session bar Lowes and Abraham because of their crashes. So, when times were combined, all other times from the previous sessions could technically be scrapped as they all made progress.
Vinales was second overall (the only rider to lap within 1:20 minutes) ahead of the highest independent team rider, local rookie, Folger in third. Aleix Espargaro was fourth ahead of Crutchlow, Rossi, Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Bautista, who by finishing in the top 10 essentially secured a place on the front four rows of the grid as they would automatically progress through to Qualifying 2.
Just outside the top 10 was Rabat and Petrucci who were essentially favourites to lap quickest during Q1 and progress onto the final Qualifying session.
Wet final Free Practice session
Free Practice 4 is the opportunity to confirm settings ahead of the Qualifying sessions. Bautista, Aleix Espargaro, Rins, Pedrosa and Marquez took turns to occupy the top spot with Crutchlow and Aleix Espargaro standing out once again as they oozed potential in Sachsenring.
Marquez lapped at 1:21.822 almost matching the previous pace which again placed him top. Aleix Espargaro experienced a tank slapper as he passed through turn 11 that he was able to overcome and Folger got caught out at turn eight but just managed to slow up enough in time to avoid the wall.
The weather changed for the worse
Dark clouds rolled in above the Sachsenring and it was not long before a rain shower hit. Riders retreated to the pits but after the shower, some (including Pedrosa, Folger, Dovizioso, Iannone, Rabat, Rins and Aleix Espargaro) went out to probably now confirm wet setting; still they remained almost 10 seconds off the pace. There was a lot of surface water and so no-one was obviously able to improve leaving Marquez once again to dominate.
A heavy rain shower meant that there was a lot of standing water on track as the riders rolled out for the first 15 minute Qualifying session. There is no possibility of remaining in the pits and waiting for conditions to improve during this time as there is so little of it.
The battle for the top two spots was on
Initially it was the likes of Pol Espargaro, Baz and Rins battling for positions one and two so that they could go through to Qualifying 2. After the opening laps, Miller and Petrucci joined in with the battle.
It was Petrucci, Iannone and Miller who ended up battling it out throughout the session as although others challenged, they did not come close enough to contend with those three. They displayed red sectors for the most of the lap; it was just a matter of who would improve the most when they crossed the line. Petrucci appeared to be the most consistent potentially claiming P1 on several more occasions with more improvements.
Big crash for Lowes
Unfortunately for Lowes he crashed once again. It was a big crash at the seventh turn of the track which left the bike in a heap by the tyre wall. Lowes appeared to be OK but a second crash was the last thing he needed.
It was intense in the final stages, especially as Pol Espargaro brought himself into the mix with a shock lap. He shot up to third but his lap time was cancelled due to exceeding the track limits. Outside of the top three, Iannone was practically out of contention as he ran into the gravel at turn on and had no time to get back to the start finish line to begin another lap before the flag.
Petrucci and Pol Espargaro finish top two and progress
Pol Espargaro kept pushing and even shot up the inside of Barbera as he pushed for success. His commitment paid off and after the flag and all the lap times tallied in, it was Petrucci (1:27.668) and Pol Espargaro in second (1:27.695) that finished top two and who would return to the track for the final session for the class of the day; that extra 15 minutes was to work to their advantage too.
Wet Qualifying 2
The track was still wet as rain showers had continued to fall and there was plenty of standing water meaning the riders remained with a full wet set-up for Qualifying 2. Initially Lorenzo preliminary had pole but his time was soon to be distinguished when Petrucci used the previous session to his advantage and found his pace quicker and lapped at 1:28.671; Pedrosa pulled him up to second.
Pol Espargaro was next to again impress shooting up to second on the new machinery. But Pedrosa quickly found his form and knocked him back down a position. Folger again shot to the top and improved on his own time, was the rookie going to secure pole on home turf?
His success was only to last briefly as Pedrosa first improved and then Petrucci did moments later. There was still plenty of time and potential should they continue on the way they were going.
Trouble on track between two Spaniards
There was a bit of a dispute on track between Spaniards, Vinales and Marquez. Marquez was ahead of Vinales on track, and Vinales who was quicker, undertook Marquez on the inside of a left hand turn. Marquez was not happy and so retaliated immediately on a right hand turn, stuffing it up the inside of Vinales and spoiling his lap in return.
The two then pulled up and ran round at a slower pace and continued to let each other know that were not happy with what happened. When the flag went out and the riders pulled up to complete their practice starts to two continued to dispute the incident; Marquez was first to pull away.
Final challenges for pole in Sachsenring
It became more intense as despite the wet, riders continued to challenge for the front row of the grid in Sachsenring. Marquez provisionally held pole with a low time of 1:27.443. Pedrosa and Pol Espargaro were flying as a dry line began to form, but the two were close together on track and essentially holding each other up.
Rossi’s final attempt saw him displaying red on the first sector. He slipped back to a personal best time on the second sector, and so if he wanted to challenge for the pole position he would have to do something extraordinary.
Marquez claims his eighth German pole
Marquez has had seven pole positions, and won seven times at the Sachsenring; four of them have been since he joined the MotoGP class. His record was safe by the end of the session, he improved on his own time and claimed his eighth pole, (fifth in the MotoGP) with a time of 1:27.302; does this man he would again go on to win?
Marquez is to be joined on the front row by Petrucci who claimed second as the filling in a Repsol Honda sandwich as Pedrosa qualified third. Crutchlow leads row two in fourth making it four Hondas in the top three. Rookie Folger, and Lorenzo who normally isn’t content or confident in the wet, were fifth and sixth completing row two.
Pol Espargaro got an extraordinary grid position on the machine that is new to the class qualified in seventh at the front of row three. His brother, Aleix joins him in eighth, and Rossi is the second highest placed Yamaha in ninth.
Back-to-back winner of the last two rounds, Dovizioso is 10th ahead of Vinales and Bautista who completed the list of riders in qualifying in that session. Having just missed out in Q1, Miller will start from 13th on the fifth row with Baz and Smith. Iannone is 16th ahead of wildcard rider, Kaliio in 17th and Barbera in 18th. Zarco is in one of his lowest MotoGP grid positions so far in 19th alongside Abraham and Lowes. Redding and Rabat make up the last row.