For eighteen years MotoGP has been dipping and weaving around the Sachsenring. The twirling circuit is the slowest on the calendar but only since the modern version of the track was inaugurated for Grand Prix in ’98. Back in 1961 ‘Sachsenring’ meant an epic and speedy trawl through public roads, through woodland and across a course almost 9km in length.
Last weekend’s ninth round of the current MotoGP season saw LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow fight through changeable and difficult conditions as the rain coated the track and then quickly evaporated through summer temperatures. The dowsing and drying of the tarmac only made the track more complicated, especially when tackling the fearsome downhill off-camber Turn 11 – dubbed ‘The Waterfall’ – that claimed Jorge Lorenzo for the first of three crashes that meant a busy weekend of repair for his Movistar Yamaha technicians.
The multitude of left hand turns (only two right-handed curves) and one of the shortest start straights in MotoGP means a relentless and technical test for the world’s fastest motorcycle racers. “We all know it is a bit of a go-kart circuit for us,” opines Crutchlow. “Everyone reckons that you just go ‘left, left, left and left’ but there is some tight stuff. There is no rest and you have wheelie everywhere. You don't have any time on the straight to think about your braking zone or anything.”
“It is tight – especially the first part – and is the only place where you stay twenty-five seconds on the left!” described Valentino Rossi, who was in contention for a podium place last Sunday but fell foul of a late-race bike swap to intermediate tyres instead of the slicks that Crutchlow used to push up to second spot. “Physically it is very demanding to do this; it is difficult. The track is short so you have to do thirty-laps. I like it here but it is scary to go left, left, left…right! Every lap. It is hard to get in the rhythm.”
“There are not many places to overtake so it is important to be at the front on the main straight,” voiced Monster Tech3 Yamaha’s Pol Espargaro who crashed out in the wet first stage of the thirty-lap GP sprint.
World Champion Jorge Lorenzo was baffled at the Sachsenring. The Movistar Yamaha ace is still trying to find his customary rapier speed and confidence with the Michelin tyres in the damp. The falls through Friday and Saturday meant he had neither the speed nor the ‘feeling’ to be in contention for a trophy. “More than being difficult it is just very different, very ‘special’,” he said of the track. “It is narrow, especially in Turns 1 and 2 that are the slowest corners on the calendar. You also do a lot of laps. The last section is really fast, particularly in the drop [Turn 11] and you have to careful as you’ve done a lot of turns to the left and then change to the right.”
The swap of the bike to the right after Turn 10 brings the riders to The Waterfall and one of the devilishly difficult corners in the series. “If you flick it too hard there then you will go down,” says Monster Tech3 Yamaha’s Bradley Smith. “Turn 11 is one of the fastest corners in the championship with the off-camber and after so many corners on the left side,” adds Lorenzo. “I went 20kmphs slower than last year and with less lean angle but I still crashed. You need to be very careful.”
Most of the riders seem to like the peculiarity of Sachsenring; it certainly brings some diversity to MotoGP and is a variation on the wide, flat and new-build racetracks. “I really enjoy this place and the different nature of it,” says the articulate Smith. “Maybe it is like going from ‘Outdoors’ [motocross] to Supercross; it is really narrow and you have to be hitting your marks everywhere. You cannot make a mistake or get in deep anywhere or you are you off the track. And then Turn 11 is just one of those turns that you unfortunately have to be careful with all weekend.”
“The bike spins a lot and it moves a lot and you have to be inch perfect because you have little space and I enjoy that aspect,” he adds.
And the difficulty of the circuit? Where does it rate with the seventeen other venues on the MotoGP trail? “I think Assen is harder because it is bigger and faster,” opines Rossi.
“It is quite ‘up there’ [as one of the most difficult on the calendar],” believes Crutchlow.
“Tracks like Mugello and Silverstone and Brno where you have a lot of braking and changing from left to right and up and down; they are always the hardest ones to get right,” offers Smith.
MotoGP will head to Germany for another five years after a new contract renewal at the 2016 edition of the Grand Prix last weekend. It is not clear whether Sachsenring will be the point of call for the series in central Europe or a rumoured move to the Nurburgring comes to pass. Aside from charging hard across the Saxony trajectory there is also appreciation for the sold-out attendance and buoyant atmosphere at one of the busier stops on the schedule. “The fans turn up in the hundreds of thousands and even on Friday the stands were full,” says Smith of the attendance that was over 93,000 for Sunday alone. “It would be a shame to lose it.”