Thursday Summary at Sachsenring: On Rossi’s Return, Pedrosa’s Invincibility, & Riding Injured

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The big question, of course, is can he do it again? After taking his first win in two-and-a-half years and 45 races (after Assen, there were a lot of tortuous calculations being made trying to squeeze the number ’46’ in somewhere) since his previous one, the question is, was it just a one-off or is Valentino Rossi capable of fighting for the win every weekend from now on?

It’s a tough call to make, but on the evidence so far, things are looking good for the Italian. Rossi’s braking problem appears to have been solved, allowing him to ride in the way he wants to. The front end tweaks which his crew chief Jeremy Burgess found at Aragon seem to have worked, and given Rossi confidence in braking again.

Just what those changes were? Matt Birt, writing over on the MCN website, has a full explanation of the changes made by Burgess, but the short version is that they found a solution to cope with the softer construction front Bridgestone tires introduced last year.

Revised fork innards, including changed shims, has made the first part of the fork travel a stiff enough to compensate for the softer tire construction, allowing him to brake harder, yet still turn the bike. Now able to enter corners as he wishes, he should be able to at least fight with the front runners from the start.

Being competitive and winning at the Sachsenring are two different things, however. While the Sachsenring is a track where Rossi has always done well – not like Mugello, perhaps, but still good enough – there is the small matter of Dani Pedrosa to deal with.

The Repsol Honda man has won the race for the last three years, and would have won a couple more with a little more luck. The man himself has no real explanation for why he is so fast around the circuit, other than remarking that he enjoys the corners around the track, but the fact remains that Pedrosa is nigh-on invincible around the Sachsenring.

Or is he? Asked if he thought Pedrosa was invincible at the Sachsenring, Marc Marquez joked, “no… why?” Pedrosa isn’t the only Repsol Honda rider to have won three in a row in Germany. Marquez himself won the 125cc race in 2010, then followed it up with wins in 2011 and 2012 in Moto2.

Asked if Honda had a problem having two men who have dominated at the track for the last two years, Marquez quipped “A problem? Maybe it’s a positive thing for Honda to have both of us be fast!”

Riding a MotoGP bike around the Sachsenring is not as easy as it seems, Marquez said. He thought the track was already pretty tight on a Moto2 machine, that will only get worse on a bike with twice the horsepower. He will once again be starting the weekend on the setting used by Casey Stoner, as his style most resembles that of the now-retired Australian. He has been studying the lines of Stoner, to see what he needs to do to be fast in Germany.

At least the finger he injured at Assen is now much improved. In Holland, Marquez had been forced to brake with just one finger, and had suffered arm pump as a result. His fingers were now much better, and he did not expect to suffer any problems with them. The only question is, can Marquez be fast enough at the Sachsenring? Given the exponential rate at which Marquez learns, the answer must surely be yes.

The other big question is just how fast Jorge Lorenzo can be, after breaking his collarbone at Assen two weeks’ ago. Lorenzo himself is confident, saying in the press conference that he had surprised himself both with the strength of his collarbone during the Assen race, and the speed at which he was recovering.

He is currently working with two physiotherapists every day to help speed his recovery, and despite how recent his injury was, he is confident of being better at the Sachsenring than he was at Assen. He described his collarbone as ‘not feeling perfect, but still feeling good’, and despite the many left handers around the German circuit, he hopes to be fast.

Lorenzo’s team manager Wilco Zeelenberg explained the difference between the two tracks, and their effect on an injured collarbone. ‘Everything below 200 km/h you do with your hips, everything above 200 km/h you do with your upper body,” Zeelenberg said.

Assen is a track with a lot of fast changes of direction – for example the Ramshoek, which you approach at over 270 km/h and then turn into at well over 200 km/h – which places a lot of strain on the upper body. The Sachsenring is all tight corners and slow speeds meaning you ride the bike more technically maneuvering the bike with your hips.

Assen and Mugello are terrible tracks to race with a newly-operated collarbone, The Sachsenring and Laguna Seca are much less of a problem.

Even if he was 100% fit, Lorenzo would have his work cut out for him. The factory Yamaha man has had nothing for the Hondas in the last three outings in Germany, and it is hard to see how Lorenzo could break that cycle.

Only if he was fully fit and at the peak of his performance could he possibly find a way to halt the Hondas, but with a problematic collarbone, he faces a serious challenge. Pedrosa’s lead is only likely to grow at the German circuit.

There was much discussion in the press conference about the role of injuries in the sport. Jorge Lorenzo was adamant that he should not serve as an example to other riders, and that they should not look at what he did, and believe they could or should do the same.

“Other riders should not take my race at Assen as an example, they should take their bodies as an example,” he said. Listen to what your body is saying, was the message he wanted to put across, and make the decision based on that.

Cal Crutchlow pointed out that whether he wanted it or not, Lorenzo would be serving as an example anyway. Any time a rider is injured, and forced to undergo a medical examination by a circuit doctor, riders would point to the example of Jorge Lorenzo and say ‘if he was allowed to ride at Assen, why can’t I?’ Crutchlow explained.

Arguments are almost certain to ensue at some point, and if a championship contender is involved, it could get very ugly indeed. What if Pedrosa were injured and prevented from riding? Crutchlow opined. The matter was surely likely to end in the law courts at some point, and that is not good for anyone.

The problem is that it is almost impossible to come up with a consistent guideline. Each injury is different, and so each injury has to be assessed individually, on a case-by-case basis. Any attempt at making a hard-and-fast rule is doomed to failure, beyond the existing restrictions that riders should not be allowed to ride within 24 hours of undergoing a general anesthetic.

Veteran journalist Dennis Noyes suggested in the press conference that the points system return to that used in 1991, and before that up until 1977, in which a rider would be allowed to discount two or more of their worst results. The idea, Noyes explained, was that allowing riders to skip a race without penalty would give them the chance to make more sensible decisions on riding while injured.

Sensible decisions are not in most riders’ vocabulary, unfortunately. Jorge Lorenzo’s immediate reaction was that riders were likely to end up crashing more, as they would take more risks knowing that a DNF would not be counted against them. That might make for more exciting last lap battles, Valentino Rossi commented, but it would not make the racing any safer.

Most of all, however, the riders agreed on one thing: a championship is 18 races long, and the measure of a champion is his ability to score strong results all season long. All races should count, as all races are equally important. ‘A championship is a championship,’ Crutchlow said. It is not the best 16 of 18, it is every single race.

Photo: Yamaha Racing

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.