MotoGP heads to Le Mans for round five
Valentino Rossi may have been untouchable in Jerez, but Marquez leads the title chase by 17-points over Lorenzo as MotoGP heads to Le Mans
Heading into the Spanish GP, riders in the MotoGP World Championship were playing catch up to Marc Marquez. The Repsol Honda rider had vanished into the distance at the Circuit of the Americas and everyone was left wondering if he’d do the same at home in Jerez. Or would it be Jorge Lorenzo who reclaimed the Spanish track as Lorenzo’s Land? Both, along with Valentino Rossi, had set the pace all weekend and the trio were in a league of their own. Qualifying saw them line up on the front row together for the third race in a row and with under two tenths of a second dividing them, everything looked set for a titanic clash.
However, there was no battle, no last corner do or die moves nor any unbelievable comebacks. Valentino Rossi proved, as any good role model does, that hard work pays off. He and his crew inside the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP garage prepared perfectly for the race and Rossi mastered the rising track temperature while his rivals struggled. Neither Marquez nor Lorenzo could hold a candle to ‘The Doctor’ as he ran away with victory, crossing the line over two seconds ahead of Lorenzo. For the first time in his premier class career, Rossi took a flag to flag victory from pole position, the 113th win of his long and illustrious career. Victory pulled Rossi up to third in the championship, but he’s still 24 points behind rival Marquez. Rossi needs to start winning, or at least beating both Lorenzo and Marquez but you can guarantee it will be tough. The three have always been at the top but in 2016 they’re truly ahead as the rest of the field plays catch up with the new rules, now one of them needs to assert themselves.
Marquez has so far been the only rider to finish on the podium in all four races; both Rossi and Lorenzo playing catch up after falls in Austin and Argentina. It’s this consistency that has Marquez at the head of the championship with 82 points, his maturity prevailing in Jerez to keep his lead alive. In years past Marquez would have likely pushed his Honda RC213V to breaking point in Jerez, producing a thrilling battle but also exponentially increasing his chances of crashing with each corner. Not so in Jerez, with tyre life rapidly fading he stayed safe and brought home 16 points with third.
As with Marquez, Lorenzo experienced severe tyre issues in Jerez, his rear wheel spinning down the straight and forcing him to roll off. Lorenzo was left to lament the tyre issues that removed any chance of challenging Rossi he had, second place allowed him to close the points difference to Marquez but the 2015 MotoGP World Champion had wanted more. Since 2012, Lorenzo is the only rider in the leading three to take more than a single victory in Le Mans, Rossi not having won there since 2008.
Weather often plays a major role in the French GP and could likely result in a fourth different winner of the season. The MotoGP World Championship remained in Jerez on Monday after the race for a one day test, a number of riders making significant improvements to their setup and heading to Monster Energy Grand Prix de France more prepared than ever.
For years Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) has been considered an alien, at the front in almost every race but the new rules and current Honda have seen him off the pace. He’s been in the top five but hasn’t had the pace to challenge for victory in any races. Testing offered some much needed track time to Pedrosa and his crew who tried a number of setting changes to relieve the situation, the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France will show if the solutions worked.
One to watch is definitely Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) who ended the test as the third fastest rider. Viñales has threatened the podium on several occasions this season and seems to be on the cusp of great things. Le Mans is a special circuit for Viñales as it was where he took his first World Championship victory in 2011 and one where he almost always goes well. The tight layout of the Le Mans circuit should suit the sweet handling GSX-RR well, but if recent rounds are anything to go by, Viñales may not be the only Suzuki in the podium hunt.
Only a single point behind his teammate in the championship, Aleix Espargaro (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is showing increasingly well with each passing round. He arrives in France with two straight fifth place finishes, his best ever successive results in the premier class. With the disappointing start to the season behind, Espargaro is back to showing his junior teammate how it’s done in MotoGP.
Jerez proved to be a disastrous weekend once again for Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), a water pump issue ending his race early. Ducati riders have always gone well at Le Mans, especially in the wet and it could be the lifeline Dovizioso needs to save his season. Both Dovizioso and teammate Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) come to France having not only tested in Jerez, but also privately in Mugello.
It wasn’t just Dovizioso who had a tough weekend in Jerez, all of the Ducati riders had significant grip issues and like Lorenzo had problems with rear wheel spin on race day. None were hit worse than Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) who went on to finish a full minute behind Rossi. Both he and Dovizioso are looking for a much needed bit of good luck. Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) looks set to make his GP return, having withdrawn in Qatar due to aggravating his pre-season hand injury. He will attempt to ride during practice and assess his condition as the weekend progresses.
As the only French rider on the grid, Loris Baz (Avintia Racing) will be a popular man over the weekend. He’s had a rough start to the season, first corner incidents forcing him to spend multiple races playing catch up. His home debut in 2015 saw him take 12th on the Open Yamaha, his best finish from the first five races of the season. Now on a much more competitive machine, he could give the home crowd something to cheer about.
They may not have any French riders, but the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 squad are nevertheless excited for Le Mans as it is the team’s home race. Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is currently fifth in the championship and leading the Independent Team rider battle and looking in much better form than in previous years. Le Mans was where Espargaro took his first and so far only MotoGP front row start in just his fifth premier class race. Teammate Bradley Smith has had a much more difficult time in 2016 and is looking to return to fighting with his teammate.
Jack Miller should have made some more progress with his recovery from ankle surgery earlier in the year and will be looking to score good points at Le Mans.
MotoGP World Championship Standings
1 – Marc Márquez (SPA) HONDA 82points
2 – Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) YAMAHA 65 points
3 – Valentino Rossi (ITA) YAMAHA 58 points
4 – Dani Pedrosa (SPA) HONDA 40 points
5- Pol Espargaró (SPA) YAMAHA 36 points
Moto2 – Sam Lowes leads into Le Mans
An inch perfect race in Jerez saw Sam Lowes back up his championship lead with his first win of 2016
Domination is the word best used to describe Sam Lowes’ (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) race in Spain. Once at the head of the field he hammered out a brutal race pace to break the likes of Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) and Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40). Celebrating his second career victory didn’t last long for Lowes who immediately began to focus on the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France. With momentum on his side, Lowes is looking to add to his 72 championship points and extend his ten-point advantage.
It won’t be an easy round for Lowes with Le Mans specialists such as Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten). The French GP is by far Luthi’s most successful event having won it on four occasions, including the 2012 and 2015 Moto2™ World Championship races. Already Luthi has shown his potential as a race winner in 2016 and has followed it up with three top ten finishes. While he hasn’t been challenging for the podium in every round, Luthi’s consistency could see him easily sneak into the title battle especially with a fifth French GP victory. Currently fourth in the standings with 53 points, Luthi is still a threat.
Having spent the majority of the race in Jerez pushing to the limit to stay with Lowes, Folger once again proved that he could battle with the best riders in the class. Since moving to the Moto2 class, Folger has had a best finish of sixth in Le Mans but the circuit holds a special place in his heart as the site of his first Grand Prix podium back in 2009 when he finished second in the 125cc race. The German is still trying to recover from his DNF in Qatar, three top ten finishes since still have him down in fifth place with 47 points.
Currently Lowes’ closest title rival, Alex Rins has had a steady start to his 2016 campaign, four top ten finishes highlighted by his Austin win. In Jerez Rins never appeared capable of matching Lowes’ speed but took a safe third place regardless. Some may feel the Paginas Amarillas HP 40 rider’s start to the season has been lacklustre, but with 62 points after four rounds he is well ahead of where he was at this point in 2015, when he had 49 points. During his time in the Moto3 class Rins never once finished off the podium in Le Mans and took his debut top three finish there in 2012.
After two podiums in the first three races, Johann Zarco’s (Ajo Motorsport) title defence looked to be off to an almost perfect start but his efforts hit a speed bump in Jerez. Usually ice cold and calm, Zarco was visibly frustrated at several points during the course of the weekend, qualifying down in 15th and salvaging fifth. 2015 saw Zarco take his first, and so far only, podium finish at home, the French rider ready to return to the podium after the trying time in Jerez. 16 points back on Lowes, his chances of becoming the first ever-double Moto2™ Championship are still very much alive.
While Zarco may be the only French rider on the grid, the Tech 3 Racing team are also looking forward to racing at home. Both Xavi Vierge and Isaac Viñales have scored points once each, Vierge with 14th in Argentina and Viñales with a solid 13th place in Jerez. It’s not easy for a small team like tech 3 to go up against the might of Kalex, but they continue to work at it.
Moto2 World Championship Standings
1 – Sam Lowes (GBR) KALEX 72 points
2 – Alex Rins (SPA) KALEX 62 points
3 – Johann Zarco (FRA) KALEX 56 points
4 – Thomas Lüthi (SWI) KALEX 53 points
5 – Jonas Folger (GER) KALEX 47 points
Moto3 – 4 winners in 4 races, will it be 5 in France?
Le Mans’ tight and technical layout always leads to thrilling racing in the lightweight class, especially in the final two corners.
The Moto3 World Championship races have consistently been some of the most exciting races of each weekend, every rider on the 30 strong field taking every opportunity they can to charge up the inside of a rival. But at the Spanish GP one rider put on a master class in riding as Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) produced arguably the most impressive Moto3™ rider since the class began in 2012 and asserted him as the title favourite.
From last on the grid the South African cut through the field with ease, making up 19 places in just two laps. He’d go on to do the seemingly impossible and win by over three seconds. There’s few more impressive ways to win your first Grand Prix than from the back of the grid. Not only was it Binder’s first win, but also the first ever win by a South African in the lightweight class and the first South African victory sin Jon Ekerold won the 1981 350cc race in Monza. With victory came an extended championship lead as Binder now has a comfortable 15-point advantage over Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0).
In the past Binder has never found huge success in Le Mans, scoring points in two out of his four previous visits with a best of eighth in 2013. His chief championship rival, Jorge Navarro, will be looking to capitalise on this fact and attempt to make up lost ground while looking to mimic Binder and take his career first victory. Navarro had looked set for a home podium in Jerez until the dynamic Italian duo of Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Francesco Bagnaia (Aspar Mahindra Team Moto3) came barrelling up his inside at the final corner. Like Binder, Navarro’s consistency has helped his title ambitions immensely as the Spaniard has never stepped outside the top eight so far this season. This will be just Navarro’s second visit to Le Mans, having joined the 2014 season from Indianapolis onwards.
Romano Fenati (Sky Racing Team VR46) leads a tight Italian challenge in the championship but he needs to focus on closing the gap to Binder, which currently sits at 30 points. Over a race win behind, Fenati needs to consistently start beating his fellow KTM rider to get back in the title hunt. A mistake could easily see him slip out of third place, his teammate Bulega 11 points behind and getting faster at each round. Third through seventh in the Moto3 standings is filled with Italian riders, 18 points splitting the quartet.
As in Jerez, Bulega, Joan Mir (Leopard Racing), Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Khairul Idham Pawi (Honda Team Asia) have all raced at the Le Mans circuit previously in the FIM CEV Repsol Moto3™ Junior World Championship. It was young Canet who won the 2015 edition of the race, Mir making a Binder-esque charge from the back but crashing out. Pawi took second in the mixed conditions, the Malaysian will no doubt be praying for rain having only scored two points since his win in Argentina.
Francesco Bagnaia and Mahindra have always shown well in Le Mans, the tighter layout suiting the MGP3O quite well. ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia arrives looking to recreate his debut 2015 podium at the French circuit, looking for his and Mahindra’s first ever win. As Jerez proved, you have to fight till the last corner in Moto3 or risk being overtaken.
The Monster Energy Grand Prix de France will be a critical round for the likes of Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold) and Enea Bastianini (Gresini Team Moto3) who both started well in Qatar but have since struggled to finish in the top five. Both came into the season as title favourites but are yet to show the consistency needed for a championship campaign. Unfortunately Bastianini suffered a crash while training off road and sustained a fracture to his right wrist, his hopes are to be back on track in Le Mans.
Antonelli’s teammate, Jules Danilo (Ongetta-Rivacold), arrives at his home race in the best form of his career. Back to back ninth place finishes have seen him already exceed the total number of points he scored in 2015 and Danilo is now looking to finish his home round for the first time.
After a disastrous start to the year, Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing) is preparing for the French GP as though it were the first round of the year. The potential is clearly there but so far a series of unfortunate events have seen technical problems and other riders have ended Quartararo’s races early.
Alexis Masbou (Peugeot MC Saxoprint) is also out for redemption in front of his loyal home fans, the double race-winner is yet to score a single point in 2016.
Moto3 World Championship Standings
1 – Brad Binder (RSA) KTM 77 points
2 – Jorge Navarro (SPA) HONDA 62 points
3 – Romano Fenati (ITA) KTM 47 points
4 – Nicolò Bulega (ITA) KTM 36 points
5 – Francesco Bagnaia (ITA) MAHINDRA 34 points