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This just in from HRC:

TITLE PRESSURE MOUNTS AS MAX FINDS FORM

After a riveting Rio Grand Prix two weeks ago where mighty Makoto Tamada (Camel Honda RC211V), riding on Bridgestone tyres, recorded his first win in the premier class, the show moves on to Germany. Tamada's victory was significant, but so was the fact that the two title protagonists so far both failed to score points Sete Gibernau (Telefonica MoviStar Honda RC211V) and Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) failed to finish the race.

This is the first time this season neither of those riders has scored and it was left to Max Biaggi (Camel Honda RC211V) to pick up the points for second and close to within 13 points of the leading duo who are still locked on 126 points apiece. This key German race now marks the halfway point of this 16-race season and none of the leading riders can afford to slip up here.

Last year this was where Gibernau defeated Rossi in one of the great races of the 2003 season. And there's no reason why this year's contest should be any less enthralling. If both men succumbed to the undoubted pressure in Brazil, then the pair have to take a more measured approach here in Germany. If they don't, then the wily Biaggi could well be the benefactor.

The Sachsenring is where the Grand Prix circus returns to more familiar ground. Rio, like Welkom in South Africa, is something of a one-off race, and unpredictable for that. This is a familiar environment 50-miles south-west of Dresden in eastern Germany and although some riders don't like this roller-coaster of a track they are at least more acquainted with it.

Built near the old public roads circuit, the new Sachsenring is a mere five miles from the old MZ factory the birthplace of the modern two-stroke engine. The track is now 3.671km long after a downhill right-hand bend was added for last year's race. This is now one of the epic corners in Grand Prix racing.

But there's more than just one majestic bend to this demanding track. This is a flowing track that works riders and tyres hard. Rubber gets little time to recover between turns and the right-hand side of the tyre gets little work to get it up to temperature in the early laps before huge demands are made of it in the downhill plunge.

The track is one of the slowest of the 16 venues only three tracks have a lower top speed. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) recorded 283 km/h here in 2003. Indeed, some riders use only four gears out of six available such is the tight nature of this track. Riders also use less full throttle than at any other track.

Gibernau is among the riders that find it tough here, despite his win last year. "It's slow and difficult," he said. "But then again it was one of the best races of my life last year. The last two turns offer good overtaking opportunities and the descent is the quickest and the most difficult part of the track. The bike settings need to be spot-on to get drive out of the slower turns. But the crowd is amazing and I have lots of support from fan clubs based here."

For Biaggi the Sachsenring represents a challenge and the Roman appreciates the demands it makes on a rider. "The track is winding with no real straight," he said. "It's unique. You need a very agile bike and you need it set-up by Saturday because the way qualifying is going these days a front row start is a must. A good grid position is vital here because the first part of the track is very narrow and it doesn't open out until the last part you don't have time to make up positions if you get a bad start here."

Biaggi set pole here last year and also holds the lap record at 1m 24.630s. But his team-mate Tamada will be a threat here. The Japanese rider has endured a great loss recently having flown to Japan last weekend for his Mother's funeral. Grief notwithstanding, Tamada will be racing to win as ever.

Alex Barros (Repsol Honda RC211V) is hardly a fan of this track, but after a tough home race in Brazil, he needs to get back in the groove here as the halfway point of the season approaches. "I'm hoping we can make progress here," he said. "The season so far has been pretty frustrating for the team. There are times when the bike feels great in practice and then it all goes wrong. Sometimes it's the other way round. We had front-end trouble in Rio and this is a track where you don't want front end trouble."

His team-mate Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC211V) has been showing stronger as the season gels and after a third place in Rio, he needs another big result. "The Rio result came at the right time," said the American. "I've had ups and downs this season and I need to string another race together with a front row start and a podium finish. I didn't qualify so well here last year, but I enjoyed the race and learned a lot. I need a few strong finishes to get me where I need to be in the Championship."

Colin Edwards (Telefonica MoviStar Honda RC211V) has been consistent this year, but not as far up the finishing order as he would like. "This is a strange, tight track," said the Texan. "The tyres are under a lot of strain and it's vital to make the right choice so they don't overheat on the left-side. Then there's the downhill right that you have to be careful on in the first few laps because that side of the tyre takes a bit more time to get up to temperature. It's not a track I really like."

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