The French round has turned this year’s championship into a cross between a pub raffle and a pack of monkeys fighting with knives in an alley illuminated by burning dumpsters. Half the time I don’t believe what I’m seeing and the other half of the time I’m clapping my hands with the glee of a five-year-old with his face in a bowl of ice cream.
The first wet race since 2018, if it was a Bible story, would be heralding the End of Days. None of the rookies, including Fabulous – who despite being beaten by Stefan Bradl, finishing in ninth, and increasing his lead on the championship ladder – had ever ridden a wet race on a MotoGP bike.
In the week leading up to the race, there was testing at Portimao so the riders could get their heads around the circuit – where in all likelihood, the championship will be decided. Fabulous, who is all about the championship at the moment, declined to take part, saying it was too big a risk. He backed this view up in the first Practice session which was damp. He pedalled around at the back of the pack because Sunday’s race was predicted to be dry, and he just didn’t want to chance an off in Practice.
Qualifying was dry, but Le Mans was cold. It is mid-autumn there, after all. The track temperature hovered around 15 degrees, but it was sunny and Fabulous wedged himself on pole after a frantic final 10 minutes, which saw Rossi briefly top the time-sheets, and just half-a-second separated the top 11 riders at the end of the session.
So Fabulous was on the point of the spear and smiling his gap-toothed joy at the world. He was followed by Miller and Petrucci, who’d demonstrated Le Mans was indeed a track favourable to the hard-charging Ducatis.
Crutchlow, who has become a mad-eyed medical experiment thanks to the skin of his arm now growing directly onto his forearm muscle, found himself in fourth, followed by Vinales and Dovizioso.
The third row was Bagnaia, Pol Espargaro, and Johann Zarco, who looked prepared to sacrifice it all for his French homeland.Remember that Fabio Quartararo is, at best, considered only a token Frenchman. His father is Italian and he basically grew up in Spain. As far as Zarco is concerned, only he is Napoleonic enough to weep during LaMarseillaise. I felt he would give it his all on Sunday.
So they all lined up on the grid, and as the Foxsports announcers chattered blindly over the satellite footage, I watched the rain coming in over the Le Mans football stadium, which is a ten-minute drunken stagger to the northeast of the race-track.
Quite suddenly, it was a wet race.
The pits and the grid went into anthill mode, as the racers went back to their garages and mechanics scrambled to get wets onto their bikes. I even saw Brad Smith lugging his own starter motor back to the pits.
Ten minutes later, they gridded up again, and after a warm-up lap, the lights went off and we all entered the Twilight Zone.
Miller was first into Turn One, and it was hard to make out who was chasing him, but there was lots of red visible through the spray, and a glimpse of that awful green colour Petronas paints its bikes with.
Rossi crashed scant corners into the race. I wanted to blame Vinales and Mir, but he did it all himself. Three consecutive DNFs for The Doctor? What fresh hell is this? I thought.
Petrucci had elbowed his way past Miller to grab first, and Dovizioso was tucked in on Jack’s tail. Le Mans did indeed start to look like the Ducati track it is hailed as. Behind the leading trio, Pol Espargaro was engaged in a battle for fourth with Fabulous, who was quickly discovering the special thrill only riding a 300 hp MotoGP bike in the rain for the first time can offer a man.
Lap two saw Dovi dive past Jack, and the three Ducatis now began to gap the field. Rins had also passed Fabulous, and was now in pursuit of Pol’s fourth-placed KTM.
On the next lap, Fabulous saw the one-armed Crutchlow heave past him, while Pol was wondering what Rins had had for breakfast as the factory Suzuki left him in its wake.
As the laps counted down, Fabulous’s day got worse. Brad Smith, somewhat of a gun in the wet, passed him as well. And the championship leader was now fading into the merciless clutches of Miguel Oliveira and, miracle of miracles, Alex Marquez, who has not even seen any of the blokes he was now racing against, given his preference for chasing Rabat around at the back.
They both passed Fabulous as well.
The three leading Ducatis appeared to be disappearing in the mist, like gorillas being chased by poachers. Nakagami boated past Fabulous, who was now in 11th, and Rins was lapping half-a-second faster than everyone else.
Vinales was in third-last, but keeping Mir and Rabat amused with his efforts. Mir soon got tired of that clown-car and started to push forward.
In the group chasing Rins, Oliveira and Marquez were clearly wondering when Smith would crash, so they passed him to avoid being caught up in the inevitable – and Alex Marquez discovered he was now lapping as fast as Rins, who was relentlessly closing the Ducatis down.
Smith duly crashed, and Marquez Junior was torturing Cutchlow for his hard-fought sixth place. Fabulous was then passed by Zarco.
With ten long, wet laps left, Rins was running solid 1.44s and it was only a matter of time before he caught the Ducatis. In fact, it looked like it was not going to be too long before the entire field caught the Ducatis. They were almost all lapping substantially faster than the red bikes.
On the next lap, Rins passed Miller, but Jack being Jack, immediately fought back and now there were four bikes at the front. One of them a pretty blue colour.
As Alex Marquez established himself to be the fastest man on the track – lapping 1.4-seconds faster than Petrucci at the front – Tito felt it was time to lie down in the gravel, head for the showers, and put this whole sorry French mess behind him.
Morbidelli felt the call of the shower as well, and also exited into the gravel, which saved Fabulous the embarrassment of being passed by his team-mate.
Dovi felt he should lead for a bit, and went past Petrucci, while Miller once again took back third place from an increasingly annoying and determined Rins.
Nine laps from the end, Crutchlow felt it was his time to join the others in the showers, as Rins wedged himself into second place behind Petrucci, who had just passed Dovi again.
It was all looking very frantic at the front, and Miller alone looked to be at ease with his tyres and saving some ammo for the final gunfight. Which is pretty much when Pol and Alex caught them all – and when Jack’s bike blew up, just as he’d secured second place.
Young Marquez was clearly on fire, but not like a dumpster. More like a beacon of familial hope. He passed Pol, grabbing fourth place, and watched as Rins ploughed into the gravel and the shower-block got a little more crowded.
And it was getting a little crowded at the front, too. Petrucci was holding them all at bay, Dovi was a smirking second, but Alex Marquez was impressing mightily and looked ready to wipe the smirk from Andrea’s face.
Rins, who had rejoined the race training a length of track marshall’s strap behind him like streamer, was black-flagged, and Dovizioso stopped smirking.
Marquez had passed him and he was now being trailed by Pol, who then passed him on the second-last lap. It looked like being Oliveira’s turn as well very shortly, and so it came to be at the end of the main straight.
Meanwhile, Napoleo…erm, Zarco had left his charge a little late, as had Mir, but they were both now coming hard, and thus we were delivered an ending, both at the front and at the back, no-one could have foreseen in a cup of gypsy tea-leaves.
Fabulous ended up battling for ninth against Vinales and Mir. Binder, clearly appalled at his first wet race on a MotoGP bike, ended up behind them in 12th – but everybody scored points because only 15 riders finished.
Petrucci was on the top step, Marquez Junior on the next one, and Pol on the last – and the championship was somewhat unchanged – except for Rossi and Miller, whose chances of a title are now pretty much a matter of mathematics-only possibilities.
And with the possible return of Marquez Senior at his beloved Aragon next week and the week after, that alley with the knife-fighting monkeys is only going to get crazier…mathematically speaking.
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.
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