German Grand Prix, Sachsenring July 20/21/22 2001 No Room At The 'Ring The 2001 World Championship moves into its second half this weekend in Germany, where anticipation of the battle for the last-ever 500 crown is so high that all 165,000 ...
German Grand Prix, Sachsenring
July 20/21/22 2001
No Room At The 'Ring
The 2001 World Championship moves into its second half this weekend in Germany, where anticipation of the battle for the last-ever 500 crown is so high that all 165,000 tickets have been sold in advance.
And the sell-out crowd are sure to get their money's worth on Sunday as World Championship leader Valentino Rossi and arch-rival Max Biaggi (Marlboro Yamaha Team) go head to head at the tight and tricky Sachsenring, one of the most popular events on the MotoGP calendar.
The two Italians all but dominated the first half of this year's 500 series, winning all but one of the eight races to hold first and second in the championship, separated by just 26 points. Their duel has see-sawed over the past three races, the duo monopolising the top two steps of the podium on each occasion, Biaggi winning the Dutch GP, Rossi taking victory at the Marlboro Catalan and British GPs.
Biaggi's team-mate Carlos Checa will be aiming to join the two Italians on the podium this weekend after a morale-boosting ride at Donington Park two weeks ago. Checa's ride to fifth has put him back on course following a couple of difficult races and the Spaniard is hopeful of getting even closer to the front in Germany.
Although Sachsenring is the first race of the second half of the season, it's paradoxically the last race before the GP circus takes its traditional four-week midseason break. The German round is therefore a particularly crucial juncture in this year's World Championship campaign, because riders will want the psychological boost of a good result to take them through the summer recess to the next GP at Brno on August 26. After the Czech GP there are just two races left in Europe before the season-ending run of four 'flyaway' events in Japan, Australia, Malaysia and Brazil.
Both Biaggi and team-mate Carlos Checa take part in a three-day Marlboro Yamaha Team test at Brno from July 29 to 31, then ride demo laps on their YZR500s at the big Marlboro Masters event at Zandvoort, Holland on August 5.
BIAGGI TAKES IT TO THE MAX
Max Biaggi is involved in the most enthralling battle for the 500 World Championship in years. The Marlboro Yamaha Team star has won two of this season's eight races and currently lies just 26 points behind series leader Valentino Rossi (Honda).
Rossi made the best start to the year, winning the first three GPs, while Biaggi struggled at rounds two and three. But over the past five races their title fight has swayed this way and that, the points difference shrinking and growing with every twist and turn. Biaggi has amassed the most points from those five GPs - 106 compared to Rossi's 86.
Their contest is so intense that it's worth recounting each race, blow by blow. Suzuka: Biaggi a close third, Rossi wins. Welkom: Biaggi eighth after bad start, Rossi wins. Jerez: Biaggi 11th after running off the track, Rossi wins. Le Mans: Biaggi wins, Rossi third. Mugello: Biaggi third, Rossi crashes in wet. Catalunya: Biaggi second, Rossi wins. Assen: Biaggi wins, Rossi second. Donington: Biaggi second, Rossi wins.
After those difficult races at Welkom and Jerez, the Marlboro Yamaha Team turned Biaggi's form around with crucial tests at Mugello, where they made vital set-up changes. Since then, Biaggi's confidence has grown and his riding has improved. The four-time 250 champ reckons he's now riding better than ever, and no one would disagree.
Biaggi and Rossi are now so close that both of them know that each and every race, indeed each and every point, could be decisive to the final outcome. However, Biaggi insists he's not looking at the championship globally. He's taking things race by race. "There's a points gap at the moment and we're trying to close it," says the Roman, who finished fourth at Sachsenring 2000, less than half a second off the podium. "To do that I'm just looking at winning races, that's the only way to close the gap. Then maybe three or four races from the end of the season I'll start doing some calculations. Until then it's head down.
"We went the wrong way with bike set-up in South Africa and Spain but we've got better and better over the past five races. We've made no major changes since our Mugello tests gave us a good set-up. We had been fighting to create a more stable bike and I can now ride the bike the way I like to ride it, I'm more in control. And when I can smell success, I give 100 per cent."
Biaggi's Marlboro Yamaha Team are in awe of his recent form. "Max is riding superbly, better than ever," says team manager Geoff Crust. "But it's the second half of the season, after Germany, that should suit us better. Donington and Sachsenring aren't great tracks for us, but from Brno, the tracks are good. So if we can challenge for the win in Germany then we can look forward to even better results later on. Remember last year that it was at those later tracks where Max really got going."
CHECA GETS BACK ON TRACK
While team-mate Max Biaggi digs into his ongoing title contest with Valentino Rossi this weekend, Carlos Checa looks forward to the German GP as another opportunity for getting back on track after a difficult few events.
Two weeks ago at Donington Park the Spaniard rode a strong race to fifth, ten seconds off a top-three finish. That result, at a track he's never been keen on, gave Checa's spirits a much-needed lift after DNFs at two of the previous three Grands Prix. Now the Marlboro Yamaha man is confident he can keep building momentum, even though he faces another venue that holds little appeal.
The Sachsenring was constructed in the mid-nineties using a small section of the ultra-fast and lethal street circuit that hosted GPs throughout the sixties. The modern track is one of the tightest and slowest in GP racing, with an average lap speed around 150kmh/93mph, less than half the speed that a 500 GP bike is capable of achieving. Some riders don't mind the layout but others find it frustrating, since it gives them so little room to exploit their machines' power.
"Donington is my favourite track and the Sachsenring is my second favourite," smiles Checa, his voice laden with irony. "But that doesn't matter, I'm a professional rider and it's not my job to like circuits or dislike them. It's my job to work with my crew to find a set-up that suits each track and then to do my best in the race. Having said that, I'm looking forward to the circuits that follow Germany, but I don't see any reason why we shouldn't get a good result this weekend."
Last year Checa had a torrid time at the 'Ring. He fell heavily during Saturday morning practice, suffering concussion and a consequent trip to the local hospital. He bravely elected to race the next day and finished a dogged ninth. The previous year he was really flying aboard his factory YZR500s, finishing fourth, just a fraction off the podium, despite his arms pumping up.
"The first time Carlos went there in '98, when he was riding Hondas, he was on it," says Checa's chief engineer Mike Webb. "But the last two times he's not been lucky. In '99 he was feeling real good but he was suffering from tendinitis, which he's had fixed since then. Last year he had that crash in practice and the weekend was a write-off."
Despite those memories, Checa is confident that he will be on the pace for the 2001 German GP. "We were held back at the start of the season by crashes and injuries, now I feel like I really know the bike," he adds. "We've improved the set-up at the last couple of races and I've felt comfortable on the bike since Assen. We've been working to take some weight off the rear, to make it comfortably loose, and to put some weight on the front, to minimise front-end push. We've done okay at that, now we just need to work at fine tuning front-end balance."
The modern Sachsenring joined the GP calendar in 1998, 26 years after the old Sachsenring street circuit hosted its last Grand Prix. In '98 the track was the slowest in GP racing, with a lap speed of just 143kmh/89mph. Layout improvements for 2000 upped the pace to 150kmh/93mph and further changes this year, with the addition of an extra loop that lengthens the lap from 3.508km/2.180 miles to 3.704km/2.302 miles, will see lap speeds rise further. The circuit infrastructure has also been radically improved, with a brand new pit-lane complex replacing the former semi-alfresco pit boxes.
Nevertheless the character of the anti-clockwise circuit is still tight and twisty, putting the emphasis on delicate mid-range engine performance rather than brute top-end horsepower. Riders use full throttle for as little as 5 per cent of a lap at Sachsenring, as they ease on the power through the twists and turns.
The other crucial factor at the 'Ring is the six successive left handers that dominate the mid-section of the lap, introducing massive amounts of heat into the left side of the tyres.
WHAT THE TEAM SAYS
MAX "I feel a little frustrated at the Sachsenring because it's so tight and narrow, but the fans make it a great race," says Max Biaggi. "It's not easy on a 500, you need very smooth power delivery because you spend so much of the lap on small throttle openings. If you can get the engine to make the power nice and easy when you get on the throttle, it's a big help."
Biaggi's crew chief Fiorenzo Fanali rates Donington and the Sachsenring as two of the tougher tracks for the Marlboro Yamaha Team. "They are quite hard tracks for us because they're all part throttle," he explains. "Last year we weren't happy with our engine character but this year it's much better, though we need to keep improving. In fact last year in Germany the worry was tyres. We never found a good choice to cope with all the left handers which give the tyres a hard time. But this year should be better with Michelin's 16.5in rear."
CARLOS Mike Webb, crew chief to Carlos Checa, is more confident about the Sachsenring than Fiorenzo Fanali, Max Biaggi's crew chief. "I don't think it should be a worry for us," says the affable New Zealander. "The track is fine and I reckon it's okay for our bike. The things that are important at the Sachsenring are the same things that are important through the sweeping parts of Donington Park. Like Donington, all the corners are interlinked, so you need the bike to turn while you're on or off the gas. Part throttle with a lot of lean angle is the deal. But the surface is good, which makes the place easier than Donington, which is pretty slippery."
Sachsenring's longest straight is longer than in previous years though still rather slow, with top speeds probably around the 260kmh/160mph mark, which means very low gearing for a 500. "The overall speed is low," says Checa. "And that means short gearing which definitely makes the bike harder to ride."