Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) has been incredibly close to his first premier class win a number of times, and now it’s time to return to the Frenchman’s home turf as MotoGP heads for the classic Bugatti circuit at Le Mans. Heaped in history and having hosted some memorable battles, the HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France will surely be another showstopper.
“I’m pretty happy to come to my home Grand Prix being second in the Championship. I got a nice, but also lucky podium in Jerez, but this gave me a very high motivation and a big smile to start the French GP. I hope that the weather will be good, but even if we have some rain, I know my Yamaha bike well now and I know, that I have to relax on it in any case.”
As we head north, there are still shockwaves going through the title fight after the three-rider incident that saw Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) and Ducati teammates Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo collide.
Eventual Jerez winner Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) took home 25 points as those three scored zero, Zarco then went past and took second place and 20 points – moving him up to second overall at the head of the pack chasing Marquez.
If that wasn’t enough, Le Mans was also the stage for Zarco’s first premier class podium after coming home second last season – as a rookie.
That was behind the battle royal at the front between Movistar Yamaha MotoGP teammates Valentino Rossi and eventual victor Maverick Viñales, with Le Mans often suiting the M1 and the two in a league of their own. After a tougher start to the season this year, both will be aiming to repeat their 2017 feats, although Rossi would like to write a different ending.
“Last year was one of the best races of the season, because in Le Mans I got my first ever MotoGP podium. I would like to fight for the victory, therefore I have to stay cool, work well with the team and we will see what will happen. I think the fact that all our fans will be there will deliver some more positive energy, maybe also some pressure, but I will change this pressure to even more positive energy, so we cross our fingers and arrive in Le Mans with full power.”
For those in the Jerez incident, a different ending to their frontrunning pace is exactly the ticket. Pedrosa won at the venue in 2013 and he’ll be stronger once again as he recovers from his broken wrist, and Dovizioso hailed big steps forward in pace found in Jerez – even saying their competitors should start getting a little nervous.
Lorenzo, too, made a huge leap forward – leading more than half the Spanish GP and some updates making a difference for the ‘Spartan’. He’s also won at the track five times in the premier class, including by two huge margins: 17.7 seconds in mixed conditions in 2009, and 10.6 seconds in 2015 in the dry. For the Majorcan, it’s a good place for the paddock to return to.
There’s a lot of competition this season, however. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) will be gunning for the front after a crash in Jerez despite starting on pole, and Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) and teammate Jack Miller are doing much more than making up the numbers in the front fight. Miller is the second highest place Ducati in the championship, with 36-points putting him in eighth place.
And what about Team Suzuki Ecstar? Alex Rins crashed out in Spain despite showing great pace, but Andrea Iannone took his second podium in a row for the first time in his career, making it three rostrums in a row for Suzuki for the first time in a decade. The Hamamatsu factory are on a roll.
In Jerez, that was also true for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. The Austrian factory fielded test rider Mika Kallio as a wildcard in Jerez on an early 2019 version of the RC16 and the results were impressive. Although that won’t be rolled out just yet, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith both showed big progress in Andalucia back on more familiar ground – could another top ten be on the cards?
Zarco leads the charge on home turf from Friday 18th May, with lights out for the race on Sunday at 2200 (AEST) Sunday night as the Frenchman guns for his first win.
MotoGP Championship Points
Marc MARQUEZ Honda SPA 70
Johann ZARCO Yamaha FRA 58
Maverick VIÑALES Yamaha SPA 50
Andrea IANNONE Suzuki ITA 47
Andrea DOVIZIOSO Ducati ITA 46
Valentino ROSSI Yamaha ITA 40
Cal CRUTCHLOW Honda GBR 38
Jack MILLER Ducati AUS 36
Danilo PETRUCCI Ducati ITA 34
Tito RABAT Ducati SPA 24
Dani PEDROSA Honda SPA 18
Alex RINS Suzuki SPA 16
Franco MORBIDELLI Honda ITA 13
Pol ESPARGARO KTM SPA 13
Alvaro BAUTISTA Ducati SPA 12
Lorenzo Baldassarri (Pons HP40) was in unstoppable form at the Circuito de Jerez, closing the gap between him and Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (SKY Racing Team VR46) to just nine points, with the gap between the top three in the standings just ten points. Will it be the two Italians battling it out at Le Mans?
Turn the clocks back to almost a year ago, and it was another Italian, Franco Morbidelli, who took victory on French soil. However, Bagnaia was his closest challenger on that day, in only his fifth Moto2 start – a track it seems the future Alma Pramac Racing rider gets on well with.
Baldassarri will have something to say about it though, especially if he can carry his blistering Spanish form into northern France. Although, Le Mans is a track the 21-year-old has yet to score points at in the intermediate class. But, like he’s said himself after his Jerez win, Baldassarri has grown this year and with a victory already under his belt, confidence on his side of the garage will be sky high.
Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) had a great weekend in Jerez – in more ways than one – as he looks to mount a serious title challenge this year. The Portuguese rider put pen to paper on a KTM Tech 3 MotoGP deal for 2019, while on track, Oliveira crossed the line second after starting P14 on the grid. Is a fourth podium of the year – and a first win – on the cards for Oliveira at Le Mans?
It’s not just the three Championship leaders who will have a say in France though. Argentina winner Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team), who lies fourth in the overall standings, was fifth at Le Mans last year. Meanwhile, Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) will need to bounce back after his Jerez crash. He finished just off the podium at Le Mans last year in fourth, but could it be at least one better in 2018?
Fabio Quartararo (Beta Tools – Speed Up Racing) comes into his home round off the back of his best result of the season in Jerez. The Frenchman will be aiming to replicate his P10 on home soil, his previous best result here was sixth in the Moto3 class. Jules Danilo (Nashi Argan SAG Team) is another French rider coming to Le Mans, can he try and battle for his first points of the season?
Remy Gardner remains on the sidelines after breaking both his legs before the previous round at Jerez in a motocross training accident.
Moto2 Championship Points
Francesco Bagnaia (ITA) KALEX 73 points
Lorenzo Baldassarri (ITA) KALEX 64
Miguel Oliveira (POR) KTM 63
Mattia Pasini (ITA) KALEX 58
Alex Marquez (SPA) KALEX 47
After three of the biggest names expected to contend for this year’s crown scored a 0 last time out, Aron Canet (EG 0,0), Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and Enea Bastianini (Leopard Racing) will all be out for points and glory at Le Mans. And the man who now finds himself in the driving seat and was once again a dark horse at the front in Jerez? Argentina GP winner Marco Bezzecchi (Redox PruestelGP).
Like on the last lap of the Spanish GP when the Italian said he stayed sensible thinking of the points, Bezzecchi is now in a position to do that again as others jostle to get back on the podium or the top step. But equally, the VR46 Academy rider knows he has the advantage – and with it, less pressure.
For Canet, of course, the fight back towards the front will be much more difficult – with the EG 0,0 rider now starting from the back of the grid as a penalty following the Jerez pile up. Will he keep his cool and fight through like those before him have done in the lightweight class? Or will the risk vs reward ratio be much harder to judge? For Martin and Bastianini, on the other hand, the goal will be simple: win. One of their key title rivals is racing from the back and the opportunity to score is a big one.
Philipp Oettl (Südmetall Schedl GP Racing) is the man who took that opportunity last time out, with a perfect ride under pressure to take his first ever GP win. That, too, could play a role – with his confidence sure to be sky high. That’s also true of rookie Alonso Lopez (EG 0,0) who, despite a late penalty of dropping one position due to exceeding track limits, crossed the line in third. Le Mans is another track he knows well from the FIM CEV Repsol Moto3 Junior World Championship.
MCNEWS.COM.AU is a specialist on-line resource that provides motorcycle news for motorcyclists. MCNews covers all areas of interest for the motorcycling public including news, reviews and comprehensive racing coverage.