In every form of competition requiring a track, the participants travel around the track in a counter-clockwise direction, making a sequence of left turns. In track cycling, athletics, flat track, speedway, greyhound racing, horse racing, NASCAR and a host of other forms of racing, the competitors just keep turning left. There have been many theories advanced for just why this should be - this was the way the Greeks raced; right-handed people prefer to turn left, as they have more strength in their right leg than their left; even the Coriolis effect, which also causes water to go down a plughole counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere - but none have ever proved satisfactory.
The puzzling exception to this rule are road race circuits. The vast majority of racetracks around the globe buck the counter-clockwise trend, going against almost every other form of racing. Of the 17 tracks on this season's MotoGP calendar, 12 run clockwise, and just 5 run counter-clockwise, containing a majority of left handers. The MotoGP circus has just come from one of them - Laguna Seca - and now heads into the next, the tight and tortuous Sachsenring circuit.
As if to compensate for the excess of right-handers which the MotoGP circus faces, the Sachsenring crams a whole raft of lefts into its short 3.67 kilometer length. Just three right handers - the sharp right Coca Cola Kurve of Turn 1, the endless right of the Omega Kurve, as it rounds the tree-crested hump at its heart, then a single, blisteringly fast kink at the crest of the hill which runs down to towards the final two corners. That one right hander makes up for a lot, though. Nicky Hayden described it as one of the best corners the MotoGP circus visits, fast, blind, downhill, 5th or 6th gear; It is a corner to test the mettle of any rider.
Left Turn, Clyde
Joining those three right handers are a long sequence of lefts that start at the exit of the Omega Kurve and make their way over a crest, then up the hill again to that one fast right, before plummeting back down towards the final two lefts, the Sachsenkurve and Quickenburgkurve. The last two corners are the most crucial part of the track, the place where most of the passing gets done.
The Sachsenkurve is the most obvious candidate for a pass, as it offers the longest braking zone on the circuit. But it is also a risky move, the plunge down the hill leaving a lot of weight on the front wheel, and little room left to absorb the extra load of outbraking an opponent. Beyond the corner lies a large gravel trap, manned by a lot of tired marshals whose weekend consists of extracting the bikes of overoptimistic riders who have just discovered where the limit was.
But even if you get past at the Sachsenkurve, there's one more corner to go. And a pass underneath at the Sachsenkurve leaves you on the outside for the Quickenburgkurve, and open in turn to attack. The corner is tight and steeply uphill, and any drive you lose from a pass at the Sachsenkurve kills your speed through the Quickenburgkurve. More than one rider has got past at the first of those two left handers only to find themselves trailing out of the second, and considering a desperate attempt into the tight first right-hand turn.
The abundance of left handers favors riders with a history of turning left. And few have more history in that art than the former flat tracker and son of a flat tracker, Nicky Hayden. Hayden has had something of a resurgence of form over the past few races, his results improving until he scored an impressive 5th place finish at Laguna Seca. Prior to the Sachsenring race, Hayden said that he was finally starting to feel comfortable with the Ducati, after getting off to a terrible start, and regularly struggling just to score points.