As we hit the halfway point of the 2017 MotoGP season, the championship is closer than ever and that is down to the fact that the 2016 MotoGP champion, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) remained unbeaten at Sachsenring, where he won the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland, but a rookie didn’t make it easy for him.
Folger quickest in the warm-up
On the morning of race day in German, it was local rider, Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech3) who topped the timesheets at the end of a cool and slightly damp MotoGP warm-up session. Lapping quickest with a time of 1:21.365, he was definitely one to watch come the race.
Marquez on eighth consecutive pole in Sachsenring
The last seven times that Marquez has qualified in Sachsenring (four of them being in the MotoGP class since he joined) he has ended up collecting pole position. His domination continued into 2017 when he once again secured the prime spot with a late lap during a wet Qualifying. He was to be joined on the front row by Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) and his teammate, Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda).
LCR Honda rider, Cal Crutchlow led the second row in fourth, local rookie Folger who collected his best career qualifying so far in fifth, and Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) who surprisingly appeared confident in the went when he qualified sixth.
Pol Espargaro claims KTM’s best MotoGP grid position
The Espargaro brothers, Pol (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Aleix (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) made up row three with nine times world champion, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha); Pol claimed KTM’s best grid position since they have joined the class on their 10th race.
Weather changed as riders lined up on the grid
Just before the GoPro Motorrad Grand Prix Deutschland, the weather changed. What was previously sunny had become overcast and cool and caused many riders to make a quick, late decision on the grid before the race, regarding the tyre choices.
All riders chose the Michelin Power Slick, but different variations of the soft, medium and hard compounds that were brought by the French tyre supplier, and their spare bikes remained in pit lane with a full wet set-up.
Barbera disqualified for false start
It was not a clean start for all riders when the 31 lap race got underway in Germany. Hector Barbera (Reale Avintia Racing) had a jump-start and was penalised by Race Control. Because he did not return to the pits to complete his ride-through penalty (for whatever reason we are unsure), he was black-flagged and disqualified.
The rest got away cleanly especially pole position man, Marquez who led into the first turn of the race. He led ahead of Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Folger, Petrucci, Rossi and Crutchlow. Unfortunately for Folger, he ran wide at turn 3 of the opening lap but luckily, Petrucci did not benefit from the mistake.
Many changes in position at the start of the race
As they began the second lap, Crutchlow passed Rossi at turn one to take sixth. They continued on trying to settle into current positions, pace and rhythm. Further down the field, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) passed Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Alvaro Bautista (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) passed Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) to take 13th, and Crutchlow passed Aleix Espargaro after losing seventh to him earlier on.
Rookie on the move
At the front however, the rookie was on the move, first passing Lorenzo to take third as they headed up the hill on the third lap. Aleix Espargaro lost another position to Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), as ahead of them Crutchlow was attacking Rossi for sixth.
Folger had caught and was making his move on Pedrosa to take second; he passed him on the fifth lap eventually at turn 12 of the track after staying right on his tail. Aleix Espargaro had retaliated to Dovizioso claiming back eighth, but Dovizioso attacked again.
Battle of the Ducatis
Rossi was forced to take an inside line heading into turn one of the sixth lap to protect himself from a move by Crutchlow, as ahead of them, Petrucci passed fellow Ducati Desmosedici GP 17 pilot, Lorenzo to take fifth. Further down, Iannone overtook Jack Miller (Estrella Alicia 0,0 Marc VDS) to take 13th, and then wildcard rider Mika Kalio (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) moved up to 14th behind him when he too passed Iannone.
Closer to the front, on lap seven, Dovizioso passed Crutchlow. Knowing there were riders hungry for positions behind him, Rossi pushed on and was right on the back of Lorenzo’s tail. The Italian passed his former teammate at the overtaking hotspot, turn 12 and seeing this move, Dovizioso tried too.
By the eighth lap, Dovizioso had succeeded in passing his fellow Ducati teammate, the nine times world champion was his next target and by the end of the lap he had passed him. Rossi retaliated at turn 13, the last corner of the track to re-claim fifth. The Movistar Yamaha boys were being forced to work hard for their positions on track, as Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) and Crutchlow almost came into contact at the chicane.
Rookie, Folger takes leads on home turf
While all this was going on, Folger, the rookie, in his ninth race of his debut MotoGP season, overtook Marquez (with his track record in Germany, as he his last seven races here) with a lovely, smooth, expert move on the champion; it was extraordinary. The crowds roared with joy as they witnessed Folger go round the outside at the right hand turn 11, placing himself on the inside heading into the left hand turn 12 and allowing him to push on in front.
The championship sure to be affected by the result
After missing out on fifth to Dovizioso, Rossi was able to claim the spot back; places means points, and points means positions in the championship and that title is very much at stake (heading into the race Dovizioso had a two point lead over Vinales and Rossi was in third).
After experiencing the pressure from Dovizioso, Rossi continued to push and soon enough was able to pass Petrucci at turn one of the 10th lap after out-braking him at the right hand turn. His teammate was also making progress, as he finally made his way past Crutchlow to take ninth, again at the chicane that they nearly come into contact at earlier. Having just lost the position to Rossi, Petrucci took a long, hard look up the inside of Rossi at turns 12 and 13 but was unable to pass.
Folger runs wide and loses lead to Marquez
Back at the front, Folger, who had led for almost five laps came under pressure from Marquez. Struggling to brake at the primary turn of the track, Folger ran wide and Marquez was able to pass him on the inside with ease to reclaim the lead.
Folger was not willing to give up though, and he pushed on hard behind Marquez, sticking well and truly with him over the following laps, waiting for an opportunity to attack; you wouldn’t have known it was a rookie making Marquez (with his track record in Germany) making him work so hard for the win).
In his pursuit of the Spaniard, Folger broke and set a new lap record; spoiling the title that Marquez held at the German’s home track.
Things went from bad to worse for Petrucci
Dovizioso passed Petrucci to take fifth; the factory Ducati rider becoming the lead Ducati on track at the Sachsenring. This was the start of things going downhill for Petrucci as he soon lost another position to Aleix Espargaro. Meanwhile behind him, Vinales passed Lorenzo to take eighth and leaving the Spaniard to deal with the hungry Brit, Crutchlow.
Aprilia contending well with other manufacturers
A battle commenced between Rossi, Dovizioso and Aleix Espargaro on track. The Aprilia was not exactly shy of the development that Yamaha and Ducati, and performed well when put in a fight against them under the control of Aleix.
Aleix Espargaro passed Ducati at turn one of lap 13, but then sadly ran wide allowing Dovizioso to pass back through. It was not as much of a success story for the Spaniard’s teammate, Sam Lowes, as the British rookie crashed out at turn seven of the same lap ending his weekend early; he was unhurt.
On the following lap, both Dovizioso and Aleix ran wide at the first turn of the lap when Aleix was again trying to pass the Italian. His mistake proved costly, as Petrucci was able to recover a position, moving up to sixth and forcing the Aprilia rider down to seventh.
Crutchlow passes Lorenzo
Further round the lap, Crutchlow was able to get passed Lorenzo. Also, rookie Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was on the move. Having qualified way down in 9th after a tough weekend, he was having a fantastic race as he continued to progress through the ranks. With 17 laps remaining he was up in 13th after passing Pol Espargaro.
Vinales ups the pace and surges through the pack
Next came a surge from Vinales, who was determined to get his championship lead back heading into the summer break. First he passed his former teammate at Suzuki, Aleix to take seventh, and within the same lap Vinales also passed Petrucci. (Petrucci had forced Aleix to sit up which allowed Vinales to overtake, and then Vinales attacked Petrucci).
Petrucci’s misfortune continued however as he fell victim to Bautista who was also on the move through the pack. After plucking off Aleix when his momentum and rhythm was spoiled, Bautista passed Petrucci at turn one of the 15th lap , as, Zarco passed Iannone behind him to take 12th.
Vinales remained the fastest on track however and continued in his pursuit for positions and points. After Aleix had lost his position, he immediately bit back passing Bautista, but Bautista again attacked on lap 16. Crutchlow also passed Petrucci to take ninth, now forcing the Italian back to 10th.
The battle for fourth commenced
It seemed that Dovizioso was holding up Vinales and so it meant that Rossi was a way slightly at the front of the group. Dovizioso was quick heading down the waterfall however which made the group close up even more. On lap 17, Dovizioso passed Rossi at turn 12 after the waterfall.
Rossi stayed in touch however, and remained in the Ducati rider’s slipstream down the start-finish straight and then passed him heading into turn one. Vinales tried to take advantage of Dovizioso being off line slightly, and also attempted to pass too but Dovizioso recovered and was able to stay fifth. At turn 13, both Vinales and Dovizioso made a simultaneous attack on Rossi but Rossi managed to stay fourth.
Petrucci loses more positions
Further back, Petrucci’s luck again went from bad to worse as first Lorenzo passed him to take tenth and then Zarco did, leaving the Italian in 12th and regretting his tyre choices. Zarco then went on to take 10th from Lorenzo; fantastic considering he started in 19th. On the following lap, he lost yet another place, this time Iannone passed him pacing him in 13th.
Folger runs wide again opening gap for lead
Back at the front, as he pursued the lead, Folger again made a mistake at turn one causing the gap between him and Marquez to increase. Still the German rookie worked hard to recover and remain in touch with the Spaniard.
Plenty of action as riders pursue points
On lap 22, Bautista caught Dovizioso in sixth, he passed the Italian on the following lap at turn 1; the Desmosedici GP 16 placing higher than the Desmosedici GP17.
Having lost out on fourth place to his teammate, Rossi used Vinales to try and get I touch with Pedrosa. Pedrosa was still very much part of the race, he was just out alone, a few seconds behind the leaders, and a few seconds ahead of the group battling for fourth, but was remaining consistent and in contention of a podium should he finish at the pace. The two Movistar Yamaha riders pushed on in pursuit and managed to close the gap down significantly but not enough to jeopardise his podium.
Smith overtook Kalio on lap 23 to take 16th from the wildcard and pushing him out of the points; it meant that the test rider was placed lowest now out of the three that represented the new manufacturer in their first season of competing in the class.
Iannone crashes out of the race
Iannone was on Lorenzo’s tail and a move from the Italian on the pilot of his old bike was adamant. He had overtaken one Ducati and was ready to take on the next however things went wrong for him. He crashed at turn 12 of the track the front folded when he ran wide at the fast turn and he slid out with his bike and they bounced through the gravel; it was such a shame but fortunately he appeared unhurt.
The race was far from over
Five laps remained but the race was far from over. Aleix Espargaro made a move, passing Dovizioso on turn on of the 26th lap but again he ran wide and Dovizioso was able to retain his position, eighth. At the front, the gap had increased between Folger and Marquez as Folger decided to back off and finish rather than risk everything to try for the win; his bike was twitching everywhere as his tyres started to degrade.
Penultimate lap saw more passes
On the penultimate lap, the changes throughout the pack continued, Miller passed Smith to claim 14th, Aleix Espargaro once again passed Dovizioso who had attacked to take seventh, and Zarco made one final move on Crutchlow to take ninth meaning he had recovered 10 positions from the start.
Marquez maintains winning record in Sachsenring
It seemed that no further work could be done as everyone just pushed to cross the line in the position they were in. Marquez won in Sachsenring, for the eighth time in a row making it five out of five MotoGP wins since he joined the elite class, backing up his pole position record. It is safe to say that this was the hardest he had worked for it.
Fantastic result at home for Folger
German rookie, Folger, much to the crowds delight, crossed the line in second just over three seconds behind the Spaniard. It was an extraordinary ride from the rookie who appeared confident to be on home turf with his Yamaha. He was fantastic and proved that Monster Yamaha Tech 3 were right to sign him and Zarco to take over from the previous riders. He now holds the Circuit Lap Record set during the race with his time of 1:21.442 on lap four of the race.
Perfect podium for Pedrosa
Joining them on a much deserved podium in Germany was Spanish Repsol Honda rider, Pedrosa who crossed the line in third around 11.5 seconds behind his teammate and race winner, Marquez. He collected vital points for the championship.
Vinales won the battle for fourth
Vinales finished fourth in Germany just ahead of his teammate Rossi in fifth. Bautista ended the race in sixth ahead of Aleix Espargaro who after a strong weekend got a great result for Aprilia. Dovizioso was eighth as the second fastest Ducati; his result saw him lose the championship lead he gained after back-to-back wins in Catalunya and Mugello, and his fifth in Assen.
After an extraordinary ride, Zarco finished the ninth race of his debut MotoGP season in ninth ahead of Crutchlow as the top Brit in 10th. Lorenzo was 11th ahead of Petrucci who had to settle for 12th. Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith finished two out of the three KTM’s in the points ahead of Miller who collected the final point in 15th.
Kalio, who wanted to prove that he is still able to race finished 16 less than a tenth behind Miller. Karel Abraham (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) was 17th ahead of Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Team), Loris Baz (Reale Avintia Ducati), Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing) and rookie, Rins who completed the list of finishers in 21st.
Marquez new MotoGP championship leader
The results in Sachsenring mean that the championship leader has changed once again, but still it remains closer than ever; the top four are covered by just 10 points. Marquez’s continued success in Germany means he is now top on 29 points, five points ahead of Vinales who is second with 124 points. Dovizioso has dropped from the top to third but is only six points behind Marquez (and one behind Vinales) in third with 123 points. Former leader Rossi is now fourth with 119 points.
Just 16 points behind the Italian in Pedrosa in fifth; his podium has proved significant and important in shaking up the championship. Zarco is the highest placed rookie and independent team rider in sixth on 84 points. Folger’s second on home turf means he is seventh on 71 points, 13 behind his teammate. Petrucci is eighth as the second Ducati ahead of Lorenzo in ninth and Crutchlow completes the top 10.