PEDROSA EAGER TO EXTEND SLIM TITLE ADVANTAGE2008-07-09 08:27
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) arrives in Germany with a four-point lead over Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) and Ducati rider Casey Stoner 25 points behind Rossi. With just two races to go before the summer break — here and at Laguna Seca, USA — this Grand Prix is of immense import.
Title impetus is key over this 18-race series and the man of the moment is Stoner. With two consecutive pole-to-flag wins to his credit, the Aussie World Champion is on a roll and he'll be going all out for a three in a row 'hat trick'. But he'll encounter two Repsol Honda riders who are strong performers here.
Both Dani and his team-mate Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V) were on the rostrum last year, Dani on the top step and Nicky in third. Hayden has finished third four times here and Dani has won twice in his 250cc days. And with both men in strong form this season, they will be a tough prospect to beat this weekend.
This strong pairing is highly motivated at this stage of the stage of the season — Dani via his title aspirations and Nicky spearheading the development of the latest pneumatic-valve engine. They are also under pressure from the massively encouraging performances of the new crop of Honda MotoGP riders.
And the most consistent of these has been the former World 125cc Champion Andrea Dovizioso (JiR Scot Honda RC212V). 'Dovi' has arrived in the premier class with a bang and the 'rookie' rider has scored seven top ten finishes in nine races including two fourth places.
Alex de Angelis (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) has not been as consistent, but the San Marinese rider sped to a fighting fourth place at Mugello and that ride marked him out as a man who might well figure more strongly as the season wears on.
Randy de Puniet (LCR Honda RC212V) has qualified strongly, with his greater experience of extra-grippy qualifying tyres, but he has been unfortunate in the races with some undeserved DNFs and others through over-exuberance.
Shinya Nakano (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V) looks to have discovered improved mid-season form after figuring high up the leader-board in Holland before fading to eighth at the flag. He scored a podium finish on a 250 in 2000 and a podium on a 500cc machine in 2001.
De Angelis is serial podium finisher here too. He scored three second-places and three third places over the last six years. The Honda attack looks very strong here and it needs to be if Stoner is to be denied a third win on the spin.
All riders will need their considerable talents to tame this track. Set in the rolling heartlands of German motorcycle sport in the Hohenstein-Ernstthal region, this 3.671km former public roads circuit is close to the MZ motorcycle factory and huge crowds of up to 250,000 attended the event in its heyday.
The tight twisting nature of the track demands acceleration rather than outright speed, six left-hand turns in succession put great stress on tyre edge-grip and a steep downhill plunge followed by an uphill section to the start/finish straight requires utter precision from riders and dependable stability from machines.
A crowd of more than 200,000 attended last year's race over the three days of action and that figure is sure to be matched or exceeded if the weather is set fair for the weekend. Either way the racing will be red-hot and the title chase will likely crystallize into a three-way fight between Dani, Rossi and Stoner.
Dani said: "We are working very hard at the moment, trying to improve our performance. We will do our best to repeat my 2007 German GP win but we know it won't be easy. Sachsenring is quite a slow track, most of the corners aren't so fast. My favourite section is the final, faster part. There is always a good atmosphere at this race with a lot of fans and overflowing grandstands. The track was resurfaced for last year's race which made it a lot better because before it was very bumpy. Set-up is always difficult at Sachsenring because it's a long race, so you need a harder-than-normal compound on the left side of the tyres. You use quite a static riding style here, riding more gently and making fewer movements than usual on the bike."
Nicky said: "The bike is working good, the engine is running plenty good. I'm a dirt tracker so I like going left! The first bit is quite technical, then you've got that fifth-gear drop-off round the back which is really good, definitely one of the best. The key for going down that hill is getting the bike so you're confident in the front. The next right-hander (Turn 12) is a big one, it's blind and it's downhill, so you can't go tip-toeing through there if you want a good lap, you've got to be committed and charge it. Last year the track had a new surface because tyre wear had been a big issue there."
Dovizioso said: "My starting point for the Sachsenring is that I am confident we can get another good result, although it has never been a favourite circuit of mine. It's slow and twisty and it's almost like a minimoto track. I've felt this already with 250cc bike, where you need to commit to every corner, so with the heavier MotoGP machine, I think this feeling will be even more pronounced."
De Puniet said: "The track is very strange: the first part is very slow then the second one becomes faster but I like this track. Last year I was fourth on the grid and made a good race till the last lap when the engine broke. In 250cc class I gained good results so I can easily say this track is suits to my riding style. In the last three races we made a big step forward and the bike set-up is almost perfect. In Assen I was fast both in the wet and in the dry but the crash with Valentino ruined my plan to end the race in the top-five."
De Angelis said: "The German Grand Prix is definitely one of my favourites. I've a lot of affection for the Sachsenring because I took my first pole here and I've been on the podium every year since 2002. The track is very technical without any long straights so it's important to have a good chassis set-up, more than a powerful engine. I'm expecting a lot from this race because despite some poor results in the last few races we've been in good form and produced some excellent performances in practice."
His team-mate Nakano said: "At Assen I managed to improve on my best position of the season with eighth place, although to be honest it could have been better because I got a good start and held on to fourth place for a number of laps. In any case, I feel confident about the German Grand Prix because I showed I can be more aggressive during the first half of the race in Holland and I will be trying a similar approach here to try and break into the top six, which is still our objective."
This class is proving to be an intriguing see-saw of a struggle with current series leader Mika Kallio (KTM) enduring damaging fluctuations in results resulting in his rivals clawing back points and making an engaging season of it.
Kallio has 140 points to Gilera rider Marco Simoncelli's 139 with the consistent Ales Debon (Aprilia) on 114 and the rapid but unpredictable Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia) with 102. But five different riders have won so far this season and here at the twisty Sachsenring it could even be the turn of a sixth — Yuki Takahashi (JiR Scot Honda RS250RW).
Takahashi said: "I want to finish the race with a good result, as I did in 2006, when I won. Unfortunately last year was influenced by the aftermath of my big accident. The track itself I like, but it's very difficult, with a series of tight curves where you need to make some very quick changes in direction, then a faster final stretch with two straights, a downhill section and an uphill section towards the start finish straight. Overall the track should be well suited to our Honda."
Ratthapark Wilairot (Thai Honda PTT SAG RS250RW) said: "I didn't have to go to Thailand in the break this time, so I could train fully and come to Sachsenring fit and ready. I couldn't race in good conditions here last year because of a crash in practice, but I like this circuit and I'm sure we can do a good job this weekend."
Former Honda rider Mike di Meglio (Derbi) heads the points standings going into this Grand Prix with 141 to the 125 of second-placed Simone Corsi (Aprilia) with rookie Honda rider Louis Rossi (FFM Racing Honda RS125R) unlikely to trouble them. But Rossi is proving a quick learner and he rides in his tenth Grand Prix as eager as ever to improve.
Rossi said: "Another chance to build on what I've learned form my team so far. Now I've improved on my braking and corner exits I can work on other aspects of my riding and show them how a fast learner can be a fast rider. I'm really looking forward to this weekend."
Source: Honda Pro Image
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