French Grand Prix, Le Mans – Raceday Roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
It was a history maker of a day for reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) in France. The Spaniard converted pole into a dominant win clear at the front, and in doing so he took Honda’s 300th premier class victory – as well as equalling the premier class win count of teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Behind him it was a Ducati duel for the podium, with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) just able to hold off teammate Danilo Petrucci over the line. ‘DesmoDovi’ equals the podium tally of MotoGP™ Legend Mick Doohan across all classes, Petrucci took to the rostrum for the first time for the factory Ducati Team.
As the lights went out, poleman Marquez and second place Petrucci immediately went toe-to-toe into Turn 3, with the number 93 just getting the better of the Italian as everyone made it through the tricky left-right in one piece. It was the top three on the grid who held the top three positions in the race, and Marquez started to edge out a half-second gap on the field.
But Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) was on the move. He forced his way past fellow GP19 rider Petrucci and immediately locked his radar on the back of Marquez’ Honda. And it wasn’t long before the 0.5 gap was bridged as Miller slammed in the fastest lap of the race before chucking it up the inside of Marquez at Turn 3 on Lap 5. Two laps later Marquez went to return the favour and both riders ran slightly wide; Miller getting the cutback to lead but Marquez sweeping up the inside of the Ducati…as Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) joined the fray at the front.
With Marquez back in the lead though, he began to get into a rhythm. A tenth here and a tenth there slowly stretched the gap out to half a second as the Spaniard posted the fastest lap of the race and it was hammer down for the Championship leader.
The gap to Miller and Dovizioso kept on rising and as Marquez ticked Lap 14 off, it was over a second and it soon became a race for second between the three Ducatis, with Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) not completely out of the equation but back in fifth. With 11 to go Marquez was two seconds up the road as Dovi made his move past Miller, the Australian running wide at Turn 7 as Petrucci began to build up his speed and close down the podium places.
A few laps later, the number 9 was past Miller and setting his sights on his teammate. With five laps to go Petrucci struck for P2 but ran wide and the duel would continue – but Dovizioso kept on getting it back. Meanwhile, Marquez had built up nearly a four-second gap as he cruised round to claim his third win of the season in dominant style, equalling teammate Jorge Lorenzo’s premier class win tally (47), which is joint fourth on the list. Although no match for Marquez on the day, Dovi took an important second for 20 more points and Petrucci returned to the rostrum for the first time since Le Mans last season.
Miller held off Rossi by a tenth to earn a solid fourth in France, ‘The Doctor’ not quite able keep tabs on the podium battle and coming home fifth. Just behind him, meanwhile, was a big contender for ride of the day: the best result of the season so far for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing and Pol Espargaro. The Spaniard had looked strong all weekend and he proved it in the race, taking an awesome sixth place and over a second ahead of the next man up, Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT).
Home hero Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) eventually crossed the line in P8, which won’t be what he wanted from the French Grand Prix but there was plenty to write about once again. Off to a bad start and dropping outside the points in the early stages, fast Fabio unleashed some searing pace to slice back through the field to only just over a second behind his teammate. Podium potential once again, the fight rolls on to Mugello.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) lost out to Quartararo in the latter stages, the British rider finishing ninth, with the top ten completed by Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins. A P19 start hampered the Spaniard’s French GP as he slips from second to third in the standings. Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) earns his best Honda result in 11th, with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), home favourite Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and the two Red Bull KTM Tech 3’s of Hafizh Syahrin – the Malaysian’s first points of the season – and Miguel Oliveira completing the points. Oliveira was handed a penalty that dropped him below Syahrin in the standings, but both still scored – as did all four KTMs in a good day at the office for the Austrian factory.
Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) collided with Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales and they crashed out together on Lap 7, with Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) also crashing – riders ok. Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) retired, and there was huge drama on the warm-up lap before the race had even begun. On the brink of his 200th GP start, Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing) and Team Suzuki Ecstar’s rookie Joan Mir both crashed – separately – heading into Turn 3. Mir was able to get back to the pits and get back out to join the race, but Abraham was black flagged for coming out of pitlane after the leader had crossed the line on Lap 1.
It’s been a long time coming, but Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) was back on the top step at Le Mans to end a win drought stretching back to Japan 2017 – and he did it in style. Over a second clear over the line and untroubled for much of the race, it was heads and tails compared to his misfortune in Jerez. Behind the number 73, Jorge Navarro (Lightech Speed Up) duelled Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) to decide the podium, with the Speed Up man eventually coming out on top as both once again showed some impressive form.
It was Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) who took the holeshot from second on the grid, with Marquez just about getting the better of Navarro and Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) attacking the Speed Up too. But Marquez didn’t leave it long, attacking at Turn 2 on Lap 4 and then starting to pull away – leading from that point on.
In the meantime there was big drama, however. Championship leader Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) slid out when making progress – and Mattia Pasini (Petronas Sprinta Racing) was unable to avoid his stricken compatriot. The number 07 was taken to the Medical Centre and was diagnosed with a dislocated right shoulder and concussion so he’ll have to be passed fit to race at Mugello.
Back at the front, Vierge attacked Lüthi next as Navarro tussled for fourth with Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), and Simone Corsi (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2) was starting to look threatening behind too. From Row 6 the Italian was up into sixth and still making progress, sure enough making his way up into second and looking like the man to try and make a run at Marquez. Sadly it wasn’t to be, however, as the Italian slid out after a few laps on the chase.
That left Marquez with a sizeable gap back to Navarro and Vierge, with Fernandez up into fourth behind them – but he didn’t wait long to strike. As Marquez kept it calm and collected in the lead, the fight for second then lit up as Fernandez vs Navarro treated us to some classic racing around a classic venue. In the end though, it was Navarro who won out and was able to pull out a small gap, with Fernandez forced to settle for third.
Binder took fourth for a good haul of points, with Vierge dropping to fifth by the flag. And Lüthi, a four-time winner at Le Mans, faded back to sixth – unable to capitalise too much on the 0 scored by Baldassarri. Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) came home seventh and was top rookie once again, ahead of Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) after a more muted weekend for the German. Iker Lecuona (American Racing KTM) took a solid ninth, with second rookie Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) completing the top ten.
In 11th, meanwhile, was one of the rides of the race. Tetsuta Nagashima (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) had a stunning Sunday as he sliced through from 31st on the grid, gaining a whopping 20 places over the 25 laps. Rookie Fabio Di Giannantonio (Lightech Speed Up) took P12, ahead of Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46). American Joe Roberts (American Racing KTM) took points for the first time this season in P14, ahead of a third consecutive points finish for the new MV Agusta chassis but this time in the hands of Stefano Manzi (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward). There was some bad news for his teammate Dominique Aegerter, however, as the Swiss rider had to retire on the last lap as it looked like he’d run low on fuel.
John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) has taken his second Grand Prix win in the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France, with the Scot fighting it out at the front and then able to defend the lead in the final sector to cross the line just over a tenth clear of Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing). That makes it five winners in five races so far this season, and ten different winners in a row. Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) completed the podium despite a couple of last lap wobbles, and the Spaniard extended his Championship lead.
McPhee got a good start from pole, but it was Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers) and Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) who initially launched past the Scotsman to take over at the front, with Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) behind McPhee in fourth as the pack settled, and a small gap back to Andrea Migno (Bester Capital Dubai), Canet, Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) and Dalla Porta.
One name missing from the front early on was Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia), with the Japanese rookie unable to capitalise on his front row start as he crashed out – and caused some big drama. His bike moved back onto the track but it was safely avoided as the pack scattered, with the freight train then recouping and rolling on.
Suzuki was holding station in the lead as the laps ticked down and the Japanese rider consistently led over the line, but with only a handful of laps to go, heartbreak hit as he then suddenly slid out – and Arbolino couldn’t avoid him; the Italian also going down. That shuffled the order as the front group scattered and the second made up some big time, with race day pace man Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) first on the scene to make it a bigger scrap over the last laps. And he had company, with the battle heating up.
Two key moments decided much of the race: first, Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) was a little optimistic with an attempted move on teammate Migno and a gap opened up as they lost time, leaving Dalla Porta, McPhee, Toba and Canet at the front.
The second decisive moment came on the last lap as it was Canet’s turn to wobble. In full attack mode, the Italian overcooked it and only just stayed on – but he did head wide, and took Toba with him. That left McPhee defending from Dalla Porta for the win, and the Scotsman kept it cool to cross the line a tenth clear. His second win was also the team’s first.
Canet finished third and got a talking to from Toba on the cool down lap, with Rodrigo crossing the line fourth ahead of Migno. Toba eventually took sixth, just able to slot back in and beat impressive rookie Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) to the line by 0.041.
After taking his first points of the year last time out in Jerez, Kazuki Masaki (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) took his first top ten in France, two tenths ahead of Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PrüstelGP). Second rookie Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team), despite a 12-place grid penalty, completed the top ten and beat last year’s winner – teammate Albert Arenas – to the honour, with Masia classified in P12 behind Arenas after a time penalty for cutting a corner.
Makar Yurchenko (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) took his first Grand Prix points of the year in thirteenth, ahead of Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas Sprinta Racing), with Filip Salac (Redox PrüstelGP) finishing 15th. The Czech rider was hit by faller Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) on Lap 1 and ran off.
Niccolo Antonelli (SIC58 Squadra Corse) was a high profile crasher, the Italian losing ground in the Championship, and Ramirez was another to go down. Previously a Le Mans winner, Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers) retired from the race.
That’s it from France and now we head for Tuscany and the unique Autodromo del Mugello, a stunning venue that puts on a serious slipstreaming show every season. Can Canet keep his advantage there? Or will the home heroes fight back? Find out on Sunday 2nd June.