This weekend MotoGP returns to Sachsenring for the first time since July 2019, following the cancellation of last year’s German Grand Prix due to the global pandemic.
Although fans won’t be admitted to Sachsenring there are signs that Europe is slowly returning to normal: more than 20,000 were allowed into the recent Catalan GP, 11,000 tickets per day are available for next week’s Dutch TT and there will be full fan attendance for August’s Styrian and Austrian GPs.
The return of spectators to the grandstands is wonderful news for MotoGP riders and their teams, who revel in the atmosphere created by a hundred thousand or more fans enjoying the sport they love.
With no fans this weekend, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) will do everything in his power to entertain the hundreds of thousands watching from home. The 28-year-old Spaniard is still in recovery mode, following a nine-month layoff through injury, but has been gathering strength at recent races.
Following the Catalan GP two weeks ago he joined the rest of the MotoGP grid in a one-day test at the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit, where he evaluated upgrade parts designed to improve the performance of the RC213V, the machine that has won seven of the last nine MotoGP Constructors World Championships.
During that day Marquez rode more laps than anyone, indicating that week by week he is regaining strength in his injured right arm. However, the muscles in the arm aren’t yet at 100% and his aggressive riding technique requires immense upper-body strength.
Inevitably his below-par right arm is causing him issues in right-handed corners. The five tracks that he’s ridden since his April comeback – Portimao, Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello and Catalunya – are all clockwise circuits, dominated by right-handers.
However, Sachsenring runs anticlockwise, with ten left-handers and only three right-handers. This will reduce the Marquez’s current handicap and at a track where he has always excelled. The six-times MotoGP World Champion hasn’t been beaten at Sachsenring across three categories – 125cc, Moto2 and MotoGP – since 2009! This is a unique achievement in the history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) hopes that his team-mate’s Sachsenring record is a good omen for his own performance this weekend. The former Moto2 World Champion celebrated his 30th-birthday three days after the Catalunya tests and can’t wait to get back to work in Germany.
The recent tests allowed Espargaro to get to know the RC213V better and try various solutions to improve his pace on the machine. Espargaro joined Honda for 2021, so he didn’t get much pre-season testing with the RC213V, due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore another day on the bike – without the usual pressure to produce ultimate lap times – was like gold to him and he ended the day sixth fastest.
Espargaro has yet to stand on the MotoGP podium at Sachsenring, but he finished third in the Honda-powered Moto2 race in 2013, on his way to that year’s title.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu Honda RC213V), contesting his fourth MotoGP season aboard an RC213V, got the chance to push for some super-fast laps during the post-Catalan GP. At the same time he tried new aerodynamics and engine-mapping, which allowed him to end the outing an impressive third quickest, just three tenths of a second behind the fastest time.
This weekend the 29-year-old from Chiba will be aiming to better his best 2021 result so far – a fourth place at May’s Spanish GP, when he finished less than a second away from a podium result. Nakagami – twice a race winner in the Moto2 World Championship – is still chasing his first top three in the premier class.
Team-mate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol Honda RC213V) is looking to boost his confidence during Friday, Saturday and Sunday, after a challenging start to his second season in the premier class. The 2019 Moto2 World Champion had a promising rookie campaign last year – with two second-place results – but so far this season he has struggled to recreate that speed.
Thus the one-day test at Barcelona-Catalunya was a vital chance to test various new parts and settings designed to improve his feeling with his RC213V. The 25-year-old Spaniard felt like he had made some small steps forward at the close of the day, taking him to Sachsenring – where he won the Moto2 race in 2019 – with renewed confidence.
Sachsenring has a rich history of motorcycle racing, going all the way back to the 1920s, when racing took place around an 8km/5-mile street circuit. From 1961 to 1972 the venue hosted the East German Grand Prix, which regularly attracted crowds in excess of a quarter of a million people.
In the 1990s a safer, modern Sachsenring was built. This track hosted the German Grand Prix for the first time in 1998. The current circuit is one of MotoGP’s slower venues, but the layout, on undulating hillsides outside the town of Hohenstein-Ernstthal, is anything but easy.
Riders engineers search for grip and stability, plus excellent braking performance for the downhill entry to the penultimate corner, where many races are won and lost.
Honda riders have won 16 of the 22 premier-class races staged at the modern Sachsenring: Mick Doohan (Honda NSR500) in 1998, Alex Barros (Honda NSR500) in 2000, Valentino Rossi (Honda RC211V) in 2002, Sete Gibernau (Honda RC211V) in 2003, Max Biaggi (Honda RC211V) in 2004, Dani Pedrosa ((Honda RC212V) in 2007, 2010 and 2011 and (Honda RC213V) in 2012 and Marquez (Honda RC213V) in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.