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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.

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.

The Suzuka 8-Hours is around the corner. Testing is already underway for some of the leading riders, and it will only ramp up in the coming weeks.

Flying back and forth to Japan isn’t easy for anyone, but it is what is needed if you will be able to challenge at the great Japanese race.

The past weeks saw a host of announcements for rider lineups, with some interesting developments for what we will see on the last weekend of July.

The 8-Hours is the biggest race on the calendar for the Japanese manufacturers, and still the race that has the biggest impact on a rider’s fortunes with them. Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Honda have now all announced their top teams, but what does it mean?

If MotoGP has a home, it is in Barcelona. There are many other places which have a solid claim to that title, of course. The Grand Prix championship was born in the Isle of Man, the 1949 TT being the first event to count towards the motorcycle racing world championship.

Freddie Frith won the 350cc class race on 13th of June of that year, the race which kicked off the championship. (Dorna is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the start of the championship this week, so keep an eye out for that).

But the Isle of Man hasn’t been on the calendar since 1976, the circuit rightly ruled too dangerous to race a Grand Prix at, even by the standards of the 1970s.

If not the Isle of Man, is Britain the home of Grand Prix racing? The UK once provided the bulk of the riders in the championship, and many of the bikes.

But British influence has waned, and though the paddock is still full of Brits, especially in organizational capacities, there are just a handful of British riders in the championship, and the Moto2 engines of the British brand Triumph are actually produced in Thailand.

Italy certainly has a valid claim to be the spiritual home of racing. The two riders with the largest number of victories in Grand Prix racing, Giacomo Agostini and Valentino Rossi, hail from Italy, and both are widely touted as the greatest motorcycle racers in history.

There are two Italian factories in MotoGP, Ducati having been a mainstay of the premier class, while Aprilia formed the backbone of the smaller classes when they were still two strokes. And there is a generation of young Italian riders on the way up, brought on in large part by Valentino Rossi’s massive investment in Italian talent.

Japan, perhaps? Honda and Yamaha kept Grand Prix running from the dawn of the two stroke era up until the present day, while Suzuki did their part in the 1970s and ’80s, and are slowly looking to expand their support again, with a satellite squad likely to enter in 2021.

Japanese motorcycles have dominated the championship, and Japan has had its fair share of world champions, though predominantly in the lower classes. But though the championship would not exist without the efforts of the Japanese factories, often at considerable cost to themselves, Japan has never actively engaged in running the series, happy to settle for a role as chief supplier.

Bikes were finally back on track at the Isle of Man TT! A sigh of relief was heard around the island when the weather gods played ball for final practice before races get underway at TT 2019.

Last year’s Isle of TT was historic. The lap record was broken in every class and Peter Hickman became the first rider to smash through the 135mph barrier. It was a stunning TT, where riders enjoyed the fruits of an Indian Summer on the island.

With practice week in perfect conditions last year, they were able to get as many miles under their belts as they deemed enough to do. It was perfect. It was bliss. It was, unfortunately, too good to be true for 2019.

Once upon a time, every Mugello press release started with the same words: “Nestled in the Tuscan hills, Mugello is the jewel in the crown of MotoGP race tracks.”

After a few years, that cliche became too much even for the writers of press releases. And yet the basic statements in those press releases are as true today as they ever were. There is, after all, a reason cliches come about.

For Mugello is arguably the most beautiful race track on the MotoGP calendar. The circuit is wedged in a valley, the track snaking its way around one side up towards the head, then off along the other side, and down toward the dip between the Arrabbiatas, and the track entrance.

It is set against a backdrop of steep Tuscan hills, covered in a mixture of woodland and pasture. It is a bucolic setting for one of the greatest race tracks in the world.

What makes it truly great, of course, is the fact that it is large enough for the MotoGP machines to stretch their legs. The official top speed recorded at the track is 356.5 km/h last year, but the speed trap is at a point where the bikes are starting to brake.

Dorna don’t like people to talk about just how fast the bikes really go at Mugello, and Brembo are said to be reluctant to state the real speeds reached. There is good reason to believe they are hitting around 360 km/h already, and it could easily be even faster.

Le Mans is very much a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind of a weekend. The city of Le Mans is utterly charming and sedate, its historical center full of buildings reaching back to the 12th Century.

The Le Mans circuit (the shorter Bugatti Circuit used by MotoGP and motorcycle racing events, that is) is a run down affair beside an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city.

In the evenings, the central square in Le Mans has peaceful and civilized air, where people gather to eat and drink. A few miles further south, inside the circuit and at the campsites which surround it, mayhem is unleashed, a bawdy, rowdy riot of drink, fire, and noise.

The atmosphere during the day is the opposite, almost, a friendly, lively, and especially passionate crowd roam the wooded areas around the track, enjoying some of the richest entertainment you will find at a race track anywhere around the world.

In the evenings? Well, best leave the track before the sun goes down. Though the entertainment goes on all night – a ploy forced on the organizers to keep the bike fans out of the town in the evening – the atmosphere turns from joyful to wild and chaotic. At night, things can get a little unruly.

And so MotoGP returns to terra cognita. At Qatar, the sand and dust conspire with temperature and moisture to make for unpredictable conditions. Termas De Rio Hondo, despite its magnificent layout, barely gets used, meaning conditions change from session to session.

And the shifting substrate below the Circuit of the Americas means bumps come and go, and shift around from year to year in Austin. Furthermore, MotoGP visits Argentina and Austin just once a year, meaning the teams have very limited data for the track, making setup just that little bit more complicated.

How very different is Jerez. There cannot be a rider on the MotoGP paddock who does not have thousands, if not tens of thousands of laps around the Circuito de Jerez in Andalusia, Spain. If they raced in the Spanish CEV championship (now the FIM CEV championship), they raced there once or twice a year.

When they got to 125s or Moto3, they tested there two or three times a year. Same again in 250s or Moto2. Even in MotoGP they test there regularly, both private tests and now at the official IRTA test in November. Each and every one of them could post a lap of the track blindfolded.

Yet there are still some unknowns at Jerez this year. Though the entire field tested here in November last year, the track has been resurfaced since then. The worst corners, where the asphalt had cracked and holes started to form, torn up and given a brand new layer of asphalt. The bumps are gone, the track has grip, and things are very different now.

After a display of utter domination by Marc Márquez in Argentina, MotoGP heads 7000km north to Austin where if history is to be the judge, we are in for a repeat performance. Marc Márquez has never been beaten at Austin, and indeed, has not been beaten on US soil since he moved up to Moto2 in 2011. It seems foolish to bet against him at the Circuit of the Americas.

Yet the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit and the Circuit of the Americas are two very different beasts indeed. Termas flows, with only a couple of points where the brakes are challenged, and is a track where corner speed and the ability to ride the bike on the rear is paramount. COTA is more a collection of corners than a flowing race track.

Three tight corners where the brakes are taken to the limit – Turn 12 being the toughest, braking from nearly 340 km/h to just under 65 km/h – a dizzying extended esses section from Turn 2 to Turn 9, a tight infield section and a big sweeping right hander.

If there is a section where the track sort of flows, it is from the top of the hill. The first corner is one of the most difficult on the calendar. The riders charge uphill hard on the gas, then slam on the brakes compressing the suspension harder than at any point on the calendar.

At the top of the hill they release the brakes and try to turn in, managing rebounding suspension with a corner which rises, crests, and then falls away down towards Turn 2.

It is tempting before each season to say that this is going to be the best season ever. It is a phrase that oscillates somewhere between hope and expectation, though more often than not, it is hope which has the upper hand. The 2019 MotoGP season promises to swing the balance back toward expectation, as the sport goes from strength to strength.

The reason MotoGP went from having 17 bikes on the grid in 2010 and the races decided virtually by qualifying position is simple. Thanks to a mixture of coaxing and cajoling, bribing and bullying, Dorna managed to get most of the rule changes they wanted.

First, a switch back to 1000cc, bore limited to impose a theoretical rev limit (which has remained theoretical, as revs soar back above 18,000). Next, the adoption of spec electronics, forced through with the threat of CRT bikes, along with a promise by the factories to supply bikes at an affordable price.

Then the introduction of the more user-friendly Michelin tires. The concession system, whereby successful factories have engine designs frozen, giving less successful factories a chance to catch up. And finally, an influx of talent to fill a field of closely competitive bikes.

Kawasaki has ushered in a new era for its WorldSBK program, as the Japanese brand continues to be the team to beat.

For 2019, the Provec Racing run operation has cut ties with Tom Sykes and brought Leon Haslam back to the world stage to partner Jonathan Rea.

After four years of tension spilling over in the garage between two world champions, there is a hope that Haslam – the reigning British Superbike champion – can finally bring harmony between both sides of the garage.