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Lorenzo takes critical MotoGP victory

The Monster Energy Grand Prix de France was host to another dominating Lorenzo victory while an intense battle for fourth burned.

Fortunately rain was nowhere to be seen in Le Mans, setting the stage for an exciting and eventful MotoGP race. The French GP comes after a post race test in Jerez and many riders arrived in France with new confidence, direction and parts. Bradley Smith was one such rider, running new front forks this weekend and leading FP2 on Friday.

Round five of the MotoGP World Championship also saw Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa return to the grid, the Spaniard having missed three rounds after having surgery to cure arm pump issues. Returning for Jerez had been a possibility, but a test on a Supermoto bike had Pedrosa and his Repsol Honda crew air on the side of caution and wait until Le Mans.

Lorenzo appeared strong again this weekend, as he had done in Jerez, despite saying that his third on the grid was one of the worst qualifying results of his career.

A lightning start allowed the Spaniard to break away early, quickly able to pass Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati and focus on riding his own race. One of Lorenzo’s strongest areas is his ability to run at the front and set incredibly consistent lap times when not having to battle with other riders. As in Jerez, Lorenzo demonstrated this incredible skill and was nearly untouchable. “I could overtake Dovizioso early and stay in the lead. I had to manage the one second gap and I had to push really hard even though the front feeling wasn’t great,” he said.

This makes it back-to-back wins for Lorenzo and reignites his championship hopes after many had begun to doubt the Spaniard. The MotoGP paddock heads next to Mugello, a favourite track of Lorenzo and one that has seen several outstanding rides from the Movistar Yamaha rider. On his current form he will be difficult to match.

Jorge Lorenzo – “Before the race I was a little bit worried about the front tyre on the right side, because it was close in some corners. Sometimes that‘s worse in the race on Sunday, because it‘s hotter at two o‘clock and you have more fuel in the tank and push more on braking. On the third or fourth lap it started closing, and I started worrying that I had an ever worsening tyre in the next laps, but luckily for us the tyre stayed more or less the same. It was close in the whole race, but not becoming worse. I was pushing the whole time and when the fuel tank ran low I pushed a little bit less. So this time we have been lucky. I know that other riders also struggled with the front. I could improve in some areas because I lose out in some corners. It was important to be second and overtake Marc at the start and Dovizioso in the first corner. This is the way I prefer to ride, because with nobody in front I can brake perfectly, keep the corner speed and try to increase the gap, so that is what happened. It was difficult because Andrea kept a gap of under a second for a long time, but finally I could stay ahead by 1,2 or 1,4s. Then, when I saw Valentino in second place and in some place close in a little, I had to try to push so much, especially on braking, I could brake later and later and rode a 1‘33,004, which gave me the advantage I needed to win this race. Winning two races in a row after finishing outside of the podium in three Grand Prix is a big contrast. These are much better results, but you have to keep your feet on the ground and not hesitate, because things can change very quickly and I can have bad results in the future. Mugello is a good track for Yamaha and especially for me, because it‘s my favourite track, but Valentino is also very fast there, so who knows what‘s going to happen.”

While Lorenzo was surging ahead, Marc Marquez had a difficult start to the race, dropping as low as sixth before finding his form in the closing stages.

The Spaniard quickly caught Andrea Iannone and Bradley Smith ahead, leading to a fiery battle between Marquez and Iannone. The duo swapped positions at nearly every corner, giving spectators flashbacks of their Moto2 days. The performance of Iannone was particularly impressive as he dislocated his left shoulder less than a week ago at a private Ducati test at Mugello. Marquez eventually came out on top as Iannone’s lap times dropped off significantly in the final three laps, no doubt feeling the pain in his shoulder.

Marc Marquez – 4th – “Today the temperature rose sharply; we had not ridden in such conditions at any time this the weekend. On the fourth lap I started to notice that I had a lot of problems with the front end. I think all the Hondas had the same trouble; in fact a lot crashed after losing front grip because we were really suffering. We knew that with a rise in temperature, conditions change, but we expected it to be for the better and this time it was for the worse. We must learn from this race and especially from the data we have gathered.”

Andrea Iannone – 5th – “This was a really difficult race for me, maybe the most difficult of my career. At the start I was feeling fine, I had good pace and I was pleased with the way things were going. Up until lap 10 I was lapping quickly behind Lorenzo and Dovizioso, but then I began to feel pain in my left arm and had to use my right arm more to compensate. As a result I could no longer brake the way I wanted. I also made a couple of mistakes, losing some time, and I was caught by Smith and Marquez, with whom I had a really great scrap. In any case I’ve got to be pleased with today, because it was really difficult to finish the race, and I want to thank my team who gave me a really competitive bike that allowed me to obtain this result. A big thanks also to the guys in the Clinica Mobile who have been taking care of me all weekend”.

While the battle tore on behind, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi had a brief battle, the Yamaha rider coming out on top. Issues in Jerez saw Dovizioso finish off the podium for the first time this year, this third at Le Mans is important for the Ducati rider’s championship as he sits in second with 67 points, just five more than Lorenzo. 

Andrea Dovizioso –  3rd – “I am happy because it is always very important to score a podium finish and the one I got today confirms once again that we are competitive. The conditions were good, but after the mid-point of the race I was no longer able to keep the pace of Lorenzo. Unfortunately the tyre had a drop in grip and I was not able to be as efficient as in the first half of the race: I thought my speed was good enough to get me to the flag and allow me to fight for the win, but it was not possible. This confirms that we are still missing a little something and, even though we have to be satisfied with another podium, we still have to work hard and make further improvements to the GP15”. 

Charging through the field, Rossi seemed as though he may be able to catch his teammate but the gap never dropped below one and a half seconds. It had been a less than ideal start to the weekend for the Italian as he and his Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team struggled with finding a good setting. Big risks in changes to the set up of Rossi’s M1 paid off come the race as he once again extended his championship lead, now 15 points ahead of Andrea Dovizioso. 

Valentino Rossi – “I‘m happy but we struggled too much to find the right setting in the practice, so we decided to risk and modify the bike before the race. I have to say thank you to my team because they worked very well, my bike today in the race was fantastic and I was able to push, recover and overtake and I was especially able to enjoy riding a lot. I started from the third row and Jorge is always very fast at the start. I had a small gap but I enjoyed the race a lot, because I could overtake and ride at the maximum. Around half way through the race I arrived in second place behind Jorge. He had around two seconds so I wasn‘t so far behind him and I tried the maximum, because I felt good, but he was in a perfect situation. He was in front and concentrated and he was in his “hammer time”. When he‘s like that it‘s very difficult to come close to him. This weekend he was stronger than us and was better prepared for the race, so he deserved to win, but I‘m happy, also for Yamaha because this year our bike is very strong. These twenty points are very important for the championship. We arrived late at the front, but we arrived and it was another great race. We struggled in the practice, I think that‘s also due to our bike a little bit, because Jorge also struggled, while he‘s always great at putting out one fast lap. That‘s our weak point, but on the other side, in the race our bike is fantastic, it‘s very balanced and you can push every lap and this is important. I arrive in Mugello with this great condition I‘m in and that makes me very happy. The problem is that it‘s also Jorge‘s favourite track! Today was a great result for our team, a Yamaha 1-2, and we hope that in Mugello we can reverse the order!”

Maverick Viñales had a positive start, but unfortunately dropped several positions at turn two, so he needed to make progress through the field. He had a consistent – and yet fast – pace for the whole race, gaining positions lap-after-lap, finally ending his race with an excellent ninth place.

Maverick Viñales – 9th – “At the end of the race I’m happy on how it went and ninth place is a good performance; the same I did in Austin and the one we deserve at the moment. For sure our potential says that we should be in better positions, but we need to improve how we work through the practice sessions and we still have some lack-of power. As we see from the race I always struggle in the middle of the pack but my lap-times are better than my competitors, therefore it is a matter of starting further towards the front, so the riders ahead are not slowing my progress. I’m not complaining for being in the position I am, as I am also a rookie, but when you see a potential it is hard to accept a result for yourself which is not the best.”

Le Mans was a difficult race for many of the British riders, both Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding fell from the race in what was an overall disappointing weekend for many of the Honda bikes. The higher track temperatures on race day having a negative impact for the Honda riders who struggled for front end feel.

Scott Redding – DNF – “The start of the race was difficult because it was hard to find front grip. I thought it was getting better, so decided to try and pick up my pace. But then I closed the front at turn six. It was an early end to the race and I am very disappointed. We keep trying to find a solution to some of my problems but we haven’t quite got there just yet. I am looking forward to Mugello. It is a track I really like and I am sure we can bounce back strongly.”

Cal Crutchlow – DNF – “Obviously I’m very disappointed with today. It seems all the Hondas struggled for front grip today but this wasn’t actually the reason for the crash. My foot slipped off the rear brake pedal and as that happened I grabbed the front brake, which caused a big spike in the front braking and caused me to crash.  I’m really sorry to the team for that because I felt that in the latter part of the race we were due to come stronger and fight in the group that was immediately in front of me. That was the limit of what we were capable of today. I was close to Marc [Marquez] when it happened but we were both a long way from the front guys because it seems they had a lot more front grip than us. We need to regroup now and go to Mugello, where hopefully we can have a better race.”

Bradley Smith did well to finish in sixth behind the dueling pair of Iannone and Marquez after a strong showing earlier in the week. There were also reasons to celebrate for rookie Eugene Laverty, the Irishman scoring his first MotoGP points as he finished in 14th and as the second Open Honda bike.

Eugene Laverty – 14th – “The objective before the race today was to score points and we have achieved that. The key was the good work done by my mechanics once again this weekend. We have had a good setting for the past few races but this was a different kind of circuit and we found ourselves on the back foot on Friday. We had to make big changes to the front end of the bike and our work wasn’t made easier by two crashes, which were down to a mistake with tyre choice. I made a good start to the race but in turn two, with all the traffic, I touched with another rider and ran off track. I lost a lot of ground there and found myself almost at the back. I thought it was going to be a complete disaster but pushed hard and tried to make up as much ground as I could. I set some consistent laps and managed to get in the points for the first time this season. I am happy with that and hopefully we can keep it up for the upcoming races.”

The Open category was led by Nicky Hayden, the American also qualifying as the highest Open rider. He and Jack Miller had battled during the early stages of the race, but the Australian fell as he existed Turn 4. Local rider Loris Baz also finished in the points in 12th, taking his best ever MotoGP finish in front of a cheering crowd.

Nicky Hayden – 11th – “The team did a great job yesterday and it was good to start the race from further up the grid than we have been doing lately. I made a good start and held my position over the opening laps and the changes the team had made to the bike yesterday evening worked well. It was nice to be able to take the bike where I wanted and to finish as the top Open is a bonus. It was also good to fight with some of the factory guys. I was in front of Viñales for a good few laps and had a nice battle with Petrucci. Around ten laps from the end we had something going on with the electronics, which limited our pace towards the end of the race because the bike was acting strangely in second gear. Anyway, I am happy with the results and the points we have picked up today so I want to say thanks to the team because this hasn’t been an easy year so far. Thankfully in Jorge we have a boss who fights every day to keep us moving forward in the face of adversity. I think we all deserved this result, so now we need to enjoy it and make sure we go to Mugello with our batteries fully charged, ready to go again.”

Jack Miller – DNF – “We had a great start and I was going really good, I was happy with the way the race was going. After about six laps I was right behind Hayden and Petrucci but I was having a few too many moments, I kept losing the front and so I decided to drop the pace a little bit.

“It was still a decent pace but it wasn’t what I needed, Maverick caught up and passed me so I tried to stay with him and see what we could do. About two laps later in the direction change at turn four I lost the front and couldn’t save it. It’s one of those things, the track temperature was almost twenty degrees hotter than we’ve had all weekend and we weren’t quite prepared for it.

“Apart from that we have had a strong and consistent weekend so I am looking forward to taking the things we have learnt here to Mugello.”

Miller was not the only rider to fall as he existed Turn 4, returning Dani Pedrosa also took a tumble there. The Spaniard was unhurt and remounted to finish in 16th, some 15 seconds out of the points. Stefan Bradl was another early faller as he continues to adapt to the Yamaha Forward machine. Both Aleix Espargaro and Karel Abraham were forced into the pits with technical issues, ending their races early.

Dani Pedrosa – 16th – “It was a shame to crash so early in the race; I don’t understand much about the crash, because I just lost the front end. I tried to restart the engine and get back in the race, even though the handlebars were bent, because I wanted to try completing an entire race. It was a positive test for me, although there is still room for improvement, but fitness-wise things are a little better. Hopefully we can improve even more over the coming weeks.”

Aleix Espargaro – DNF – “Of course I’m really disappointed for the weekend, when something has a bad start it usually ends up bad as well! I had a minor crash on Friday and then the huge crash on Saturday; nothing broken but I didn’t really feel well and finally I had the technical issue on my machine on Sunday. I had a good start, but I immediately felt the bike was not performing as well as it usually does and finally I had to retire at the very beginning of the race because it was impossible to go beyond the second lap. Apparently we had an issue with the clutch, so now the engineers are checking everything. It’s a pity because I felt good on my GSX-RR: it was maybe the best set-up we’ve had since the beginning of the season but it finally turned out to be a bad weekend. Tomorrow in Barcelona I will make some further investigations on my hand because it hurts a lot during hard braking, but we need to look ahead to Mugello and be positive.”

Alvaro Bautista finished in fifteenth place, enough to earn another championship point. Marco Melandri, also hindered by problems with the gearbox, finished in 18th place.

Alvaro Bautista – 15th – “I got off the line well, moving up in the pack and with fresh tyres I was doing well, but as soon as they started to wear the bike became more unstable and more difficult to ride. We need to analyse all the race data carefully because toward the end the bike improved, becoming easier to ride, maybe because of the emptier tank and lower weight. We’ll wait for Mugello. An evolution of the bike will be ready there and in the meantime I’d like to thank the team as they are working very hard. We finished here as well, earning a point, and given the conditions we found this is a good sign of confidence.”

Marco Melandri – 18th – “It was a difficult weekend where I never found the right feeling with the bike. Then today in the race the problems with the gearbox made things more complicated and slowed me down, so I wasn’t able to do much better. It’s a shame. After Jerez we could have done better, but now we’ll try to put it behind us quickly and think about Mugello, our home round.”

Controlled victory for Luthi in Moto2

A fourth career victory at the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France sees Thomas Luthi move to second in the championship.

Alex Rins started from pole for the first time in his Moto2 career but made a poor start, dropping down to ninth off the line. It was home hero Johann Zarco who led in the early stages of the race, initially looking as though he could escape at the front but eventually Luthi caught and passed the Frenchman. From lap five onwards Luthi went unopposed in the lead, taking a comfortable win of over one and a half seconds, his second in the Moto2™ class. “In the beginning I felt good and the bike worked well straight away. I felt like I had a little stronger pace than Johann but he was very strong on the brakes. It was a long race for us but we’ve made a good start and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season,” he said.

The Marc VDS team hardly saw Tito Rabat during Friday and Saturday practice as the Spaniard put in long 27 lap runs in the majority of sessions. What was most impressive about this was the pace Rabat was able to maintain even on worn tyres, frequently putting in his fastest lap of the session towards the end of a race simulation run. Rabat’s race did not get off to an ideal start however, as once again he had trouble on the opening laps as he was pushed wide while battling for positions. The reigning Moto2 champion responded quickly and settled into a solid rhythm, lapping between 1’37.8 and 1’37.6 for the majority of the race.

This steady flow of high 1’37s saw Rabat close down Luthi in the final stages, but his battle with Zarco had him too far behind to catch the Swiss rider.

Rabat sits sixth in the standings, 36 points behind Zarco. “I made a normal start but at the beginning I had to wait behind Zarco. When his tyres went down I was faster and I was better through T1. Congratulations to Luthi for his win. I’m happy because we’re back on track and on the correct lines,” said a pleased Rabat.

With the Championship lead to consider, Zarco did not take any extra risks in his home race and settled into third after his attempt to break away early. “The target was the victory, I had a good start and I took the chance to lead and try to run away. Luthi and Tito were both strong, Tito especially at the end. I don’t think I used too much tyre, Rabat was just more comfortable and carried more corner speed. I didn’t want to crash so I settled for third and the podium. I’m still leading the championship, so perfect!”. Zarco now has a 21 point lead over Luthi, with Folger dropping to third having failed to finish the French GP.

While the podium positions were settled, other spots inside the top ten certainly weren’t. Sam Lowes was safe in fourth, lamenting his tyre gamble as he was just 0.3s from a podium finish at the end of the race. The British rider continues to be the only Speed Up frame amongst the group of Kalex bikes in the top ten of the Moto2 standings.

Franco Morbidelli once again finished in fifth, his fourth fifth of the season so far. Both Alex Rins and Luis Salom fell while battling with the aggressive Italian, Salom and his bike rolling over Morbidelli as the pair came into contact. It was a difficult weekend for the Paginas Armarillas HP 40 team after Rins’ pole with both their riders crashing. Rins eventually remounted to finish 17th.

There was also disappointment for Alex Marquez who crashed along with Louis Rossi. The move up to Moto2 has been difficult for the younger Marquez, having had a high number of crashes in testing and practice sessions. Despite struggles early in the weekend this is the first race in which Marquez has failed to score points. Mika Kallio was another faller. All riders were uninjured.

Anthony West was under the weather but still brought home a highly creditable 11th place finish.  “The finish and the result are quite okay with the points we took. I am just disappointed with the sickness I had, I feel ill and I was a little bit weak in some of the chicanes changing direction. You need a lot of strength in those chicanes here to change direction and I just didn’t have the power, so I missed the turn a few times. On the rest of the track, I was quite strong apart from an issue with grip in some corners. I then had a long and exciting battle with Cortese. At the beginning of the race, I felt I was faster than him and I was fighting hard, but he was pulling away on the straights. I kept fighting and luckily, towards the end, the lap times of Cortese and my other rivals dropped off a bit whereas I was able to stay consistent, so I got Cortese back and was able to pass him. Now I am happy the race is over and I can rest again. I will continue with the antibiotics the doctor gave me. I feel they are working, but it’s the wrong time to take them when you are trying to ride!”

Italian Moto3 podium lockout in France

A rain interrupted Qualifying session resulted in a mixed grid and a riveting race as riders charged through the pack.

Rain fell during the opening minutes of Qualifying on Saturday for the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France resulting in several favourites such as Danny Kent, Efren Vazquez and Brad Binder all qualifying down the grid. Fortunately the skies were clear come Sunday in Le Mans, but this still left a lot of work many riders to do. There was no doubt going to be incident into the first chicane with so many riders eager to impress thanks to surprise high position on the grid or make up spots having failed to set an early fast lap.

Brad Binder, Remy Gardner and Gabriel Rodrigo were all victims of this added pressure as they fell going in to the chicane. Efren Vazquez suffered a quick highside as he existed, ending any hopes of recovering points after his disastrous Qualifying. Whilst this was happening, Andrea Antonelli and Enea Beastianini had all made very fast starts and joined the leading group in the early stages having started seventh and 18th respectively. They were joined by Francesco Bagnaia, Fabio Quartararo and Romano Fenati, all who had started inside the top five.

The battle for the victory became an exclusively Italian affair as Fabio Quartararo crashed out of his home Grand Prix as he exited Turn 4, just as Vazquez and several others had done. With both Quartararo and Vazquez out, Danny Kent was put in a comfortable situation with none of his main championship rivals looking set to score points in France. Despite this the Britain continued to push, having joined the front group in the closing stages from 30th on the grid. The ride demonstrated his ability to come back from adversity, the Brit having already demonstrated his ability to lead from the front in Austin and Argentina.

It would be the Italian trio of Fenati, Bastianini and Bagnaia who would see Kent finish off the podium for the first time this season. Romano Fenati took his and KTM’s first win of the season having spent the entire race battling with his compatriots on the Honda and the Mahindra. “The start of the season was hard, the bike wasn’t perfect and the performance was less. We worked very hard every time and today we have the victory. The bike was perfect today and in the last lap the tyre was ok. In Jerez the tyre was gone after 5 laps so we’ve improved a lot,” said the SKY Racing Team VR46 rider.

Bastianini has now made a habit of coming back from poor grid positions to claim podium finishes, having performed a similar feat in Qatar at the season opener. “It’s a very difficult race today. My start was nice and I was always pushing to the max this race. In the last laps I had too much movement so the win wasn’t possible,” he reflected. He moves into second in the championship with 67 points, but it 37 behind Danny Kent as the Brit takes a firm lead in the Moto3 Championship.

Remy Gardner fell early on in the race.

Remy Gardner (DNF):  “My start was good but some riders crashed at the entrance of the second corner and one of their bikes hit me when I was in twelfth place. Race was finished for me. The positive matter is my practices and warm-up lap times because the gap to the front is less than a second. This shows a good progress. I just need some good luck”.