MOTOGP: Round 8 – Sachsenring, Germany – July 18

Despite claiming pole position, there was something about the signs and portents coming into the race that must have made Jorge Lorenzo think this wasn’t going to be his weekend. He was off the pace on Friday, and then on Saturday his race bike had gone up in flames with an engine failure, the oily consequence of which caused a nasty accident for Randy de Puniet and Ben Spies. And just the fact that all the media attention was on Rossi – leaving even the championship leader looking like a bit part player in the weekend’s proceedings – was surely enough to make Lorenzo feel like the good times were over and reality was back in style.

Despite the signs and portents, at the start it seemed like business as usual: Lorenzo got a decent getaway but Dani Pedrosa got his normal flyer and took the lead, only for Lorenzo to quickly rebound and outbrake him later on the first lap to reclaim the top spot. Pedrosa wasn’t deterred however and stayed clamped to the back of the Yamaha, keeping his compatriot under pressure.

Further back, Hector Barbera also had a brilliant start to shoot up to third place into turn one ahead of Casey Stoner; his raw pace wasn’t up to keeping that sort of position, however, and he was quickly falling back through the positions allowing Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso to take up third and fourth positions in a pack that quickly broke away from the rest.

Valentino Rossi initially played a cautious game, not wanting to get into any stupid accidents and consequently foregoing fighting aggressively in the initial corners and consequently ceding places, but once things settled down he was right on the pace, quickly taking advantage of the struggling Barbera to claim sixth place and then sizing up Marco Simoncelli for a couple of laps before calmly picking his way past into fifth.

By then he was some 1.3s off the leaders, but up front the lead foursome were breaking up: Lorenzo was pulling away but Pedrosa was sticking with him, leaving Stoner a lonely third while Dovizioso fell back into Rossi’s clutches. Rossi was right on the back of the Honda by lap 9, a pass just seconds away, when suddenly the red flag was out.

Randy de Puniet had fallen at turn 4 on the tenth lap; bad for Randy, already carrying a nasty injury from yesterday’s qualifying session crash, and he would need to be stretchered off for the second time in two days; this time he really had managed to break his leg after his seemingly lucky near-miss on Saturday. But it also bad for two other riders who were arriving at the scene of the accident with no time to react, no way of avoiding the stricken Honda lying right across the racing line: Aleix Espargaro arrived first and hit the Honda dead-on, sending him hurtling over the front of his Ducati, hurting his wrist in the process; and the Honda, jolted into spinning motion, then caught the back of Alvaro Bautista’s Suzuki sending him crashing to the ground as well. And de Puniet’s bike was desperately unhappy with the multiple hits and not surprisingly burst into flames requiring the marshalls to arrive and coat the scene with fire extinguisher. With multiple bikes on the ground, extinguisher powder and oil coating the track, a red flag was the only option.

That left the race to be run over 21 laps with the order as determined at the end of lap 9. As well as lacking de Puniet, Espargaro and Bautista, the restart grid was also lacking Colin Edwards who had slid out a few laps earlier in an unforced error all his own making while running near the back.

The restart was deja vu all over again, Pedrosa taking the lead off the line and this time Lorenzo having to battle to avoid being squeezed out of second by Dovizioso. Lorenzo wasn’t able to take the lead back on the first lap but pulled it off on the second; it took Stoner four laps to dispatch Dovizioso to reclaim third, and then the top five were reset, Rossi all over the back of Dovizioso again as he had been just before the red flag. This time there was no saving Dovizioso and Rossi had him on lap 8 to claim fourth, the position that Valentino has targeted for a successful comeback. With Stoner some s up the track, would he settle for this and push no further? Of course not: he’s Valentino Rossi. He immediately set about hunting down the Ducati.

Up front, Lorenzo would have given his back teeth for a quiet time, but Dani was harassing him at every opportunity. At the start or lap 8, Dani completed the pass going into turn 1 but then couldn’t brake in time, allowing Lorenzo back into the lead; next time around he made no such mistake, and blasted into the lead – and immediately started pulling away, by far the fastest bike on the track as the lap record time fell to the Honda. Pedrosa was away.

Further back, Rossi had quickly cut the gap to Stoner and with seven laps to go he made the pass look easy. But Stoner was not best pleased, and after getting superior power out of the final corner he was able to plant himself onto the inside line going into turn 1 on the next lap: Stoner couldn’t stop the Ducati to make the apex, but he was able to block the Yamaha and force Rossi to go wide as well, giving him third place back.

Rossi wasn’t done yet. Injury or not, he was past Stoner again with four laps to go. He wanted that podium position dearly to mark his return. Next lap around and Stoner was in front again; next lap, and Rossi pulled off another great pass. It was a brilliant, tense, precisely evenly-matched duel between two world champion drivers, and it wasn’t settled until the very moment the chequered flag came out: Stoner barged his way past in the final corners, seemingly gambling that Rossi would back off rather than risk a crash in his injured state. Rossi had to yield, and finished just off the podium after all.

Pedrosa’s win was emphatic, putting an end to Lorenzo’s winning streak – although second was still a very nice contribution to Jorge’s very healthy championship campaign. Further back, the Stoner/Rossi battle had somewhat eclipsed a fascinating scrap between Dovizioso, Simoncelli and Nicky Hayden for fifth spot, while Ben Spies beat Hector Barbera to eighth. Not such a good race for Mika Kallio, who put his Pramac Ducati into the gravel at the restart.

A thrilling, electrifying race from start to finish, then. The last few races have been missing a bit of sparkle, and this one had it in spades: any coincidence that the spark returned at the same time Valentino Rossi did? You have to suspect not.

Race result

Pos  Rider             Team                 Time/Gap
 1.  Dani Pedrosa      Honda              28m50.476s
 2.  Jorge Lorenzo     Yamaha               + 3.355s
 3.  Casey Stoner      Ducati               + 5.257s
 4.  Valentino Rossi   Yamaha               + 5.623s
 5.  Andrea Dovizioso  Honda               + 17.158s
 6.  Marco Simoncelli  Gresini Honda       + 17.757s
 7.  Nicky Hayden      Ducati              + 17.935s
 8.  Ben Spies         Tech 3 Yamaha       + 20.957s
 9.  Hector Barbera    Aspar Ducati        + 22.000s
10.  Marco Melandri    Gresini Honda       + 35.217s
11.  Loris Capirossi   Suzuki              + 45.042s
12.  Alex de Angelis   Interwetten Honda   + 45.204s

Retirements:

     Mika Kallio       Pramac Ducati      0 laps
     Randy de Puniet   LCR Honda          did not restart
     Aleix Espargaro   Pramac Ducati      did not restart
     Alvaro Bautista   Suzuki             did not restart
     Colin Edwards     Tech 3 Yamaha      did not restart

Championship standings

Pos Driver            Points
1   Jorge Lorenzo     185
2   Daniel Pedrosa    138
3   Andrea Dovizioso  102
4   Casey Stoner      83
5   Nicky Hayden      78
6   Valentino Rossi   74
7   Randy de Puniet   69
8   Ben Spies         67
9   Marco Simoncelli  49
10  Marco Melandri    45
11  Hector Barbera    41
12  Colin Edwards     39
13  Loris Capirossi   30
14  Aleix Espargaro   28
15  Alvaro Bautista   25
16  Mika Kallio       24
17  Hiroshi Aoyama    18
18  Alex de Angelis   4
19  Kousuke Akiyoshi  4
20  Wataru Yoshikawa  1

Pos Constructor       Points
1   Yamaha            190
2   Honda             162
3   Ducati            113
4   Suzuki            42
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