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.
Now, the Kentucky Kid believes he has turned a corner. Hayden will be looking to make the next step, from watching the Fantastic Four disappear into the distance to running with them and eventually even challenging for the podium. Despite Hayden's history of third places here at the Sachsenring, it's probably a little bit too early for the Ducati man to be making it this weekend.
The Ducati Desmosedici GP9 may hold no secrets for his team mate, but Casey Stoner's own body is currently posing more problems for the Australian. After three races in which the effort of giving his all for 45 minutes has completely drained Stoner, and robbed him of any chances of competitiveness, the Ducati rider has finally chased down what ails him. After a battery of tests in the US, the diagnosis came in as a case of mild gastritis coupled with anemia. Now that he has a concrete diagnosis, he can at least follow a course of treatment and hope that he starts to recover soon. But the Sachsenring is really a little too early for the former World Champion.
Stoner's biggest problem is the resounding form that Fiat Yamaha rider and reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi is displaying. The 2009 Yamaha M1 MotoGP bike is clearly the best bike on the grid, having accumulated 5 wins and a total of 14 podiums from just 8 races. In addition, Rossi is happier and more competitive than he has ever been, having three riders chasing him forcing him to step up his game further than he has ever needed to. Fully fit and full of fight, Valentino Rossi is a threat at any track on any Sunday.
The same could be said for his team mate, were it not for Jorge Lorenzo's relapse into the nasty habit of highsiding and hurting himself. The Spaniard will be racing with his collarbone still recovering from being dislocated during qualifying at Laguna Seca, Lorenzo crashing twice at the US track. The Fiat Yamaha rider claimed he could have won Laguna Seca if he had been fully fit, but despite receiving injections, Lorenzo will still have to cope with riding in pain. The only comfort is that the race looks like being either wet, or at least damp, making it just that little bit easier conditions to race under while injured.
The final of the Fantastic Four is now well on the road to recovery from his injuries, as his victory at Laguna Seca demonstrated. Dani Pedrosa is not yet fully fit, but is at least racing without pain. What's more, the Spaniard will have a new engine to try out at Laguna Seca, in addition to the new - well, revised 2008 - chassis he has had since Catalunya. Pedrosa is back to being a force to contend with, and at a track he has often done well at - though his huge off here last year, when he fractured his wrist in the pouring rain and threw away a gaping race lead - he will be chasing another victory, having not yet quenched the thirst he built up in over twelve winless months.
The most interesting prospect for Honda is not Dani Pedrosa receiving the new RC212V engine, aimed at improving power delivery. Andrea Dovizioso has been complaining all year that the Honda power plant is too aggressive, making the bike spin up too easily exiting corners. With the new engine promising smoother delivery, Dovizioso might finally be able to get that elusive podium he's been chasing since the start of the season. He's been fourth so many times this year that he must be regretting selecting #4 as his racing number.
Road To Redemption
Unlike the factory Hondas, Toni Elias won't be receiving the new engine upgrade. But Elias is just happy to have the new chassis, which has already seen him leap up the standings and start to compete in the upper reaches of the top 10. Elias was virtually ordered to run the harder of the two available compounds at the Sachsenring by team boss Fausto Gresini, but will be getting a slight reprieve if the Saxon weather should turn as capricious as the weather forecasters have promised. Elias is embarking on a campaign to save his MotoGP career, and needs to string results together to impress team managers with his ability. The Sachsenring is as good a place as any to start.
Elias' team mate has a similar quest, Alex de Angelis being as predictable as the German weather. The man from San Marino is either close to the top 5 or struggling just to score points, with little in between it seems. But with rumors that de Angelis has signed a contract with Pramac for next year, he should be freed of at least one concern in that regard. Whether that translates to a good result at the Sachsenring remains to be seen.
Like the factory Honda riders, the Suzukis have also been receiving new parts recently. And slowly but surely, the bikes have been showing some improvement, a trend they will hope to build on in Germany. Last year, Chris Vermeulen slashed through the field in the pouring rain to end the day on the podium, after starting from way down on the grid. With this year's downpour expected on Saturday during qualifying, the Australian rain master should end up closer to the front of the grid, but the question remains just how well he will do if the race is dry, as expected.
At least the nature of the Sachsenring track suits the Suzuki. The tight German track reduces the role that horsepower has to play, leveling the playing field for both Vermeulen and team mate Loris Capirossi. So far this year, it has been the Italian veteran who has had the better results from the Suzuki, even leading his home race during the wet-and-dry Mugello round of MotoGP. With the weather expected to start moving in Saturday, maybe the wily old fox could spring a surprise on the field.
Tech Trois Tornado
To the embarrassment of the factory Rizla Suzuki squad, they have the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha team breathing down their necks. Colin Edwards' run of strong results has demonstrated just how strong the Yamaha M1 has been this year, but the Texan has also benefited from the switch to Bridgestones, the Japanese tire maker's legendary sticky front tire perfectly complementing Edwards' strong front-end style. Like Andrea Dovizioso, Edwards has been chasing his first podium of the year, and it seems unimaginable that he should not succeed before the year is out. His record at the Sachsenring suggests, however, that it's not going to be this weekend.
The same is undoubtedly true of his team mate. James Toseland continues to struggle with set up issues, though his fate has been greatly improved after receiving help from Fiat Yamaha team boss Masahiko Nakajima over the past couple of races. Sadly, though, Toseland has failed to build on his success from last year, though his results from Assen were extremely encouraging. If Toseland is to remain in MotoGP, he too needs to start finishing in the top 6 for the rest of the season.
Marco Melandri's future in MotoGP seems secure, with the Italian almost certain to sign for the Gresini Honda squad for next year. Meanwhile, he continues to squeeze every last drop of performance out of the Hayate Kawasaki, while paying the price for the lack of development of the machine. Melandri will be one of many riders hoping for rain on Sunday, to give him a chance of competing with the front runners, as he did at Le Mans and Mugello.
Randy de Puniet has had no such problems. The Frenchman has been both steady and a reliable points scorer all year, in stark contrast to his former reputation as a crasher. A change of personal coach has had a huge change, and De Puniet looks secure in his LCR Honda seat for next season.
Gabor Talmacsi also looks like being a good bet to remain at Scot Honda, despite only just having ousted Yuki Takahashi from the team. The Hungarian brings both money and interest from his native country, two quantities which are in short supply in MotoGP over the past year or so. After his sudden ascendancy to the MotoGP class, just a few short months after leaving the 125s, Talmacsi is starting to find his feet - and the limits - of the premier class machinery. The Hungarian is improving with every race, and looks like being another top 10 regular in the not too distant future.
The fates of the Pramac riders are as diverse as the cool-blooded Mika Kallio and the much more lively Niccolo Canepa. Kallio has impressed many observers with his ability to ride the Ducati GP9, a bike thought almost untameable. The Finn is almost certain to find a seat somewhere in the paddock, but the question is where. He may end up staying right where he is, if he continues to book the strong results he took in the early part of the season.
Team mate Canepa's days look to be numbered in MotoGP. The former Superstock 1000 Cup champion has never been able to make much of an impression when racing, despite his strong performance as a test rider for Ducati. Earlier rumors that Canepa would be ditched in favor of Pasini after the summer break have faded away, but almost the entire paddock would be shocked if he were to return to MotoGP next season.
The swooping, tight Sachsenring circuit helps keep the riders together, and has generated a host of thrilling races over the past few years. The combination of the tight track and Eastern Germany's fickle weather could turn out another fascinating race. The first day of practice is expected to be hot, humid and exhausting, while Saturday's practice and qualifying sessions are forecast to be run in the cold and rain of a Saxon downpour.
With Sunday's weather completely up in the air - reasonable temperatures, overcast, and a chance of rain, though no one knows when and if it will arrive - practice will provide few clues as to race setup and what it will take to win the race. The Saxon weather could throw up some genuine surprises on Sunday, and maybe even some new faces on the podium. The German Grand Prix on Sunday could turn into a magical mystery tour for the MotoGP field.