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David Emmett

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Though empty seats are limited for the 2020 MotoGP season, in recent weeks there has been some movement to fill those vacancies.

The moves have mostly been unsurprising, but then with so few seats available, the chances of something unexpected happening are very slim.

Just before the Sachsenring, we saw Danilo Petrucci keeping his seat alongside Andrea Dovizioso in the factory Ducati team for the 2020 season, a fully expected move since the Italian’s victory at Mugello back in early June.

That leaves Jack Miller in the Pramac Ducati team for another year, though that deal is not yet signed.

A deal is close, however. “We’re fighting over pennies now,” Miller said on Sunday night in Germany. Miller will have a Ducati Desmosedici GP20 at his disposal, the same as his teammate Pecco Bagnaia, but there were still a few financial details to be ironed out.

“It more or less should be done, I got some information today. So hopefully we can get it done before we get back at Brno and put all that stuff behind us and just focus on riding.”

It has been a pretty brutal weekend for the MotoGP riders at the Sachsenring. With less than a week to recover after a punishing race in Assen, everyone is stiff, sore, and tired. But those who crashed in Assen or had a physical problem have it doubly tough, having to deal with the tight and tortuous layout of the Sachsenring circuit.

Such conditions inevitably create tales of motorcycling heroism. Taka Nakagami is one such, the LCR Honda rider still badly beaten up after his crash at Assen, where he was taken out by Valentino Rossi. Nakagami has a badly damaged left ankle, but is trying to ride anyway.

Having an injury on his left ankle is one of the worst possible injuries at the Sachsenring, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because is mostly left corners, meaning that the left ankle is bearing much of the load for a large part of the lap, riders leaning much of their weight on their inside leg through the corner. And secondly, because there is so much gear shifting to do, riders going up and down through the box through the tight and twisty circuit.

In FP4, Nakagami had to spend a lot of time in the garage having his ankle retaped, as he hadn’t been able to move his ankle sufficiently to actually shift gear. But once that was done, he put on a heroic display to post a blistering lap in Q1 and make it through to Q2 behind Valentino Rossi, displacing a despairing Andrea Dovizioso along the way.

How tough was the laps which Nakagami put in? He hobbled out to his bike on crutches to go out, and then had to be helped off the bike and onto crutches after he had come back in again.

What was the big surprise on Friday at the Sachsenring? The fact that there were no real surprises. The first day of practice played out pretty much as you might expect based on the first few MotoGP rounds of 2019. Marc Márquez put in a push on FP2 to wrap up top spot at the end of the first day, a third of a second clear of Alex Rins on the Suzuki.

Besides Márquez, Rins was quick, as were the Yamahas of Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, and even Valentino Rossi. Cal Crutchlow got into the top 6, just behind Pol Espargaro – the KTMs and the Hondas were the only bikes which could gain a chunk of time from using the soft rear tire – while the Ducatis are not far behind.

Fabio Quartararo felt he could have been quicker, if he hadn’t come across his teammate while he was chasing a fast lap. The Frenchman came up behind Franco Morbidelli, who was cruising around the tight interior section between Turns 2 and 3. For a few minutes, Quartararo was fuming, waving his arms in the air and gesticulating wildly.

Coming weekend, history will be made. For the first time, Grand Prix racing will welcome vehicles not powered by internal combustion engines, as the MotoE series makes its debut at the Sachsenring. It is the very first step on the long path toward a future where batteries replace burning hydrocarbons.

But the series got off to a rocky start, even before the first race. At the second test of the electric bike racing series, a fire started in the special tent containing all of the bikes, batteries, and chargers, destroying everything and wiping out the entire series in one fell swoop.

Since March, Nicolas Goubert, director of the MotoE series for Dorna, Energica, who build the spec electric bikes to be raced in the series, and Enel, who supply the charging technology to maintain the bikes, have worked at double speed to rebuild everything needed for the series, and get it ready for the inaugural race at the Sachsenring.

In Le Mans, I spoke at length to Goubert about the progress made in preparing the series, the challenges they had faced, and the lessons learned from the fire in Jerez. The fire highlighted some of the difficulties of an electric bike series, but just staging the series raises logistical and technical issues which nobody had foreseen.

Here is part 2 of the interview. If you want to read part 1, catch it here.

There are two things which any motorcycle racing fan needs to know about the Sachsenring circuit in the east of Germany.

The first is that the track has an awful lot of left-hand corners, which all flow together into one long turn, the bike spending a lot of time on its side.

The second is that Marc Márquez has started from pole position and won the race since 2010, nine years in a row, in 125s, Moto2, and MotoGP. These two facts are probably not unconnected.

Marc Márquez loves turning left, his win rate at anticlockwise circuits hovering around 70%. If a track goes left, there is a more than two in three chances that Márquez will come out victorious.

Márquez is especially good at the Sachsenring. The reigning champion starts every race as the man to beat, but the German Grand Prix is different.

Here, riders speak of how close they hope to finish to him, rather than how they are going to beat him. His name is penciled in on the winner’s trophy, the race almost, but not quite, a formality.

Even though the race is something of a foregone conclusion, the track itself is a fascinating circuit. On paper, it seems far too short and far too tight to be a MotoGP track, the bikes barely cracking sixth gear, and spending little time at full throttle. But that doesn’t mean the track isn’t a challenge.

The possible permutations in MotoGP rider line up for 2020 are limited, with almost everyone already under contract for next season. At the Sachsenring though, Danilo Petrucci was added to the ranks of confirmed riders, with Ducati extending his contract in the factory team for 2020.

A contract extension for Petrucci had been on the cards for some while, the Italian’s victory at Mugello making it an inevitability. Ducati is very pleased with Petrucci’s performance, and the way that he and Andrea Dovizioso have worked together.

Coming weekend, history will be made. For the first time, Grand Prix racing will welcome vehicles not powered by internal combustion engines, as the MotoE series makes its debut at the Sachsenring. It is the very first step on the long path toward a future where batteries replace burning hydrocarbons.

But the series got off to a rocky start, even before the first race. At the second test of the electric bike racing series, a fire started in the special tent containing all of the bikes, batteries, and chargers, destroying everything and wiping out the entire series in one fell swoop.

Since March, Nicolas Goubert, director of the MotoE series for Dorna; Energica, who build the spec electric bikes to be raced in the series; and Enel, who supply the charging technology to maintain the bikes, have worked at double speed to rebuild everything needed for the series, and get it ready for the inaugural race at the Sachsenring.

In Le Mans, I spoke at length to Goubert about the progress made in preparing the series, the challenges they had faced, and the lessons learned from the fire in Jerez.

The fire highlighted some of the difficulties of an electric bike series, but just staging the series raises logistical and technical issues which nobody had foreseen.

Here is part 1 of the interview. Part 2 will follow tomorrow:

Is there still such a thing as a Honda track, a Yamaha track, or a Ducati track (or even a Suzuki track)? Once upon a time, it seemed like there was. MotoGP would go to Indianapolis, and you knew that a Honda would win. Go to Mugello, and chances are, a Yamaha would emerge victorious.

In the press room, we would spend hours trying to decipher why one bike or another would win at a particular track. Was it temperature which counted? We suspected that, but then a Yamaha or a Honda would win at a cold track one week, and a hot track the next. Was it the layout or the type of corner that mattered?

Hondas dominated the stop-and-go layout of Motegi, and then got destroyed by the Yamahas at the stop-and-go layout of Le Mans. In the end, we figured it all came down to grip: in low grip conditions, the Hondas were quick; when there was plenty of grip, the Yamahas were unbeatable.

That disappeared in recent years, killed by the technical developments which led up to the switch to Michelin tires. 1000cc engines, spec electronics, and the regulations which have seen the bikes grow ever closer in performance.

With the differences between the machines so small, other factors had a greater impact on results than just the character of the bike. No longer can you predict a winner based on which bike they are on.

It has been a bad few weeks for Jorge Lorenzo. During the Barcelona race, he lost the front and wiped out three of his rivals (or rather, three of Marc Márquez’ rivals), Maverick Viñales, Andrea Dovizioso, and Valentino Rossi.

The next day at the test, on an out lap, he launched the bike at Turn 9, suffering a huge crash and causing himself a lot of pain.

Eleven days later, and a relatively normal crash in Assen saw him bang himself up very badly. Lorenzo lost the front going into the fast left at Ruskenhoek during FP1, not an uncommon occurrence.

The problem was he was doing over 200 km/h, so when he hit the gravel he started to tumble, not quite ragdolling through the stones, banging his chest and his back as he went.

The consequence of the crash is severe. So severe, it forced Repsol Honda team manager Alberto Puig to have to talk to the media, something Puig tries to avoid as much as possible (and being team manager means he can avoid it an awful lot).

“Basically I am here to explain about his condition,” Puig said. “Normally I am never here. So I am just here to tell you the situation…and probably you already know. So I will re-confirm.”

Four weeks after press releases full of rolling Tuscan hills, the cliché machine is running out release after release containing the phrase “The Cathedral of Speed”.

There are of course good reasons to employ a cliché (and press releases usually benefit from trite language, as their objective is to promote the team and its sponsors, rather than the literary skills of press officers), but to call Assen the Cathedral of Speed is to raise the question of whether it still really deserves that moniker.

Much has changed since the first ever Dutch TT in 1925. The first thing that changed was the very next year, in 1926. The first circuit ran over public roads between the villages of Rolde, Borger, and Schoonloo, but the council in Borger refused to pave one of the sand roads on the original course.

So in 1926, the race was moved to Assen, run between the villages of De Haar, Hooghalen, and Laaghalerveen to the south of the city of Assen.

Since then, the track has been reduced and reshaped a number of times over the years, losing a little bit of its glory each time it was shortened. The last time it was cut was in 2006, when the North Loop was excised to allow the land to be sold to fortify the circuit’s coffers.

That, perhaps, was a cut too far. The North Loop section was stunning: fast, flowing, challenging, immensely rewarding if you got it right, punishing if you got it wrong.

What replaced it is a tight little hook, a sequence of right-handers leading on towards the sharp Strubben hairpin. A shadow of its former self.

Luck has always played a role in racing. Sometimes the rain falls just after you set pole position. Sometimes your main rival has a technical problem at a track where you knew they would beat you.

Sometimes the rider ahead makes the smallest mistake and opens up the perfect gap for you to aim through. Things happen over which you have no control, and you have to hope the dice will roll in your favor.

Perhaps you can load the dice a little, sometimes. Bear in mind the saying attributed to golfing legend Gary Player: “the more I practice, the luckier I get.” Luck can be made, on occasion, opportunity recognized and seized. If you tackle the conditions you find, rather than the conditions you wish you had, you at least have a chance.

Conditions at Barcelona put everyone on the back foot. Temperatures rose from relatively cool to typically scorching, after a week of heavy rain. That rain brought down the dust and sand blown north from the Sahara by the Sirocco winds, leaving the track dirty and green.

No grip and constantly changing conditions made consistency an illusion. Finding the right race tire was more guesswork than science, Sunday morning warm up being critical. The Barcelona race looked to be a lottery.