MotoGP It was a high-stakes Friday in the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France, with the weather fine on Day 1 but rain and worsening... French Grand Prix, Le Mans – Friday roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3

MotoGP

It was a high-stakes Friday in the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France, with the weather fine on Day 1 but rain and worsening conditions expected on Saturday – meaning the end of FP2 became a frantic dash to ensure a provisional place in Q2. As the dust settled it was Monster Energy Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales at the top of the pile, with the 2017 race winner fast all day and deposing reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) by 0.190 seconds. Home hero Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) completed the top three after topping FP1, with the Frenchman’s pace showing no sign of abating.

The day started sunny before the Le Mans clouds loomed at the start of FP2 to serve as a reminder of the weather warnings for Saturday…not that anyone needed one. After some drama that saw Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) take a tumble and then Pramac Racing’s Jack Miller, it was Honda at the top with Marquez, followed by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), but the timing screens were about to be painted red. With just under ten minutes to go to get that fast lap in, Repsol Honda Team’s Jorge Lorenzo bolted first and went fastest overall. It was game on.

Then Crutchlow crashed, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro capitalised to push the British rider out the provisional top ten, and Viñales moved the goal posts again to go top. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) then seemed on to go faster still but lost time near the end of the lap, before there was more drama as Aleix Espargaro crashed, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) crashed for a second time and then Miller followed his lead.

Meanwhile, Viñales was busy at the top going quicker again and that was, then, how it would stay. Marquez jumped from fifth to second across the two sessions, with Quartararo slotting into third and remaining ominous.

Lorenzo remained fourth overall as the Spaniard found some impressive pace in the afternoon, recovering from an FP1 crash to find some top form in France – a venue where he has six wins across all classes, five of which are in MotoGP™. Dovizioso stayed safely inside the top ten and ended Friday in fifth, just ahead of teammate Petrucci after ‘Petrux’ bounced back from his crash. Pol Espargaro, despite his eventful day, is seventh overall in yet another impressive performance from the 2013 Moto2™ Champion to put KTM on course for an automatic place in Q2, likewise brother Aleix, who puts Aprilia in P8.

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was another with something to smile about after FP2, with the Japanese rider improving vastly upon his FP1 to end the day in ninth – just ahead of Miller. The Australian didn’t improve in FP2 but had done enough to edge out Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) by just 0.001 – something that could prove crucial.

That’s a phrase that two men will likely be repeating and regretting after a tough first day in France, chiefly Crutchlow down in P12 and nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). The ‘Doctor’ is P14 overall heading into FP3 and couldn’t crack the top ten, although he was another suffering some drama on Friday as one run in FP1 was interrupted by his chain coming off. Finally, second in the Championship Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) also had a tougher day. He’s down in P16 and could well face another fight through the pack on Sunday although it’s not stopped the Spaniard hitting the front yet.

That’s it from Day 1 at Le Mans and, come rain or shine on Saturday, we look set for a thriller of a qualifying day. Will FP3 stay dry and let the field improve? Or could Q1 even prove an advantage for those who are forced to fight it out and let them check out the conditions ahead of Q2? And, if the fight for pole in France sees rain shuffle the pack, who can master the classic venue in the wet? Find out from 9:55 (GMT +2) local time for FP3, before qualifying from 14:10.

Moto2

Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) shot to the top late on Friday at the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France, taking over as fastest from Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) late in FP2 – but not by much. A mere 0.049 split the two men by the end of play, with Championship leader Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP40) in third only 0.117 off the top.

Augusto Fernandez, fresh from his first Grand Prix podium at Jerez, was just behind teammate Baldassarri by 0.019 and took P4 overall, with replacement rider Mattia Pasini (Petronas Sprinta Racing) completing the top five just 0.007 in further arrears. Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) ended Day 1 in sixth.

Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team) had an impressive first day in France as he topped FP1 and ended the day seventh overall despite a crash, edging out compatriot Simone Corsi (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2), whose good form at Le Mans continued in 2019. Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) was ninth by the end of Day 1, with Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) locking out the top ten as top rookie on Friday. Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) was just behind him, however, and fellow rookie Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) was close behind in P13. Bo Bendsneyder (NTS RW Racing GP) put the sophomore amongst the debutants in P12.

Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) will be the final man moving straight through to Q2 if the weather switches on Saturday and laptimes can’t be improved in FP3, with the Spaniard just ahead of Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2). Lowes suffered a crash in FP2 and was the only rider who failed to improve on his morning’s laptime, making him a surprise name outside the graduation zone on Friday. That’s also true of the two men who trail him: Jorge Navarro (Lightech Speed Up), who’s been on the podium in both the last two races, and Le Mans master Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP), who crashed on Friday.

 

Moto3

Rookie Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) flew to the top of the timesheets on Friday in the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France, a tenth clear of Jerez winner Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) despite the Italian crashing on Day 1. The afternoon saw all but one improve their laptimes, with Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) completing the top three after another top showing of pace from the Japanese rider.

The gaps all the way down the timesheets were better measured in hundredths than tenths and Suzuki was only 0.005 ahead of last year’s podium finisher Andrea Migno (Bester Capital Dubai) by the end of the day. It stayed close to complete the top five, too: 2018 winner Albert Arenas (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) was just 0.017 further back, 0.011 ahead of Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers) in P6. The Italian, in turn, bested COTA winner and Championship leader Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) by only 0.015. Canet suffered a crash on Day 1.

Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) ended the day eighth overall after topping FP1, ahead of an impressive day’s work from rookie Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team), who had to be passed fit to ride after a foot fracture in Jerez. Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) completed the top ten.

Kazuki Masaki (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) was pushed down to P11 by just 0.002, 0.003 ahead of Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) as the Jerez polesitter crashed twice on Day 1. Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) was 13th, with Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers) down in P14 by the end of play and as it stands, the last rider provisionally on course for a place in Q2. Fenati had a highside on Friday and headed to the medical centre but was declared fit, as was Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) after the Spaniard crashed too. He ended the day in P16, just behind Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing).

Has Friday decided the riders heading through to Q2? Will the weather worsen on Saturday? Or is there time left yet for a last push to the top…find out in FP3 at 9:00 (GMT +2) on Saturday, before qualifying from 12:35.