MotoGP stars talk ahead of Le Mans MotoGP

The Le Mans ‘Bugatti’ circuit lies about 5 km south of the town of Le Mans. Built in 1965 around the Le Mans 24 Hours car racing circuit, at the end of the 1960s the track became the venue for the grand prix bike race. After a few years the Le Mans round disappeared from the championship calendar until the 2000 season, while work was carried out to improve safety. One of the main features of the narrow track is the strange nature of its curves, which force the riders to brake brusquely and then accelerate hard out. The circuit can accommodate more than 100,000 spectators and has five left-hand corners and nine right.

Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo
Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo

Current championship leader Valentino Rossi (Yamaha MotoGP Movistar), who finished in 3rd place at the last race in Jerez & has 3 premier class wins at Le Mans to his name, said: “It’s been a great start to the season, especially for the 2 victories and because I was always on the podium, which is important for the championship.

“Jorge started with difficulty but his performance in Jerez was fantastic – fastest from Friday to Saturday. Jorge is always fast in Le Mans, historically it’s a good track for the Yamaha too. Last year Marc was faster, but we have to see if this year we are closer. “It’s not my best track, there’s not a lot of grip and the weather is an issue: cold in the mornings and low temperature in the afternoon. This means you have to use soft tyres for grip.”

Andrea Dovizioso (Team Ducati) has a total of 7 career podium finishes here at Le Mans and 1 win in the 125cc class in his championship-winning season. His claims his recent testing session at Mugello was crucial for this GP:  “The last race at Jerez didn’t go the way we had hoped for but we managed to score some points in in any case and hold on to second place in the championship. The test at Mugello was very important for us because it also pointed us in the right direction for the French GP: it helped us to understand the GP15’s behaviour much better and we lapped very strongly, and so I am very confident for this weekend’s race at Le Mans.”

Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team #29) – 5th (50 points) – “Unfortunately I injured my left shoulder during the second day of testing at Mugello. I was trying the harder front tyre when I crashed at the Arrabbiata 2 curve. After paying a visit to Prof. Porcellini in Cattolica, we immediately began treatment in order to recover as quickly as possible. My shoulder still hurts a bit, but in any case my mobility is good and this is important because it’s a comfort to know that you are not limited in your movements. I will try and ride as best as I can, but I don’t know how much pain I will have, and we will only get an idea tomorrow morning when I step onto my GP15 for the first time.”

MotoGP riders gather ahead of French MotoGP at Le Mans
MotoGP riders gather ahead of French MotoGP at Le Mans

Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo, who was the undisputed ruler of the Jerez GP, hopes for similar success at the French track: “In Jerez everything was perfect from the beginning. Le Mans is a new story, anything can change. But at Jerez I was good on corner entry, if I can keep this feeling at Le Mans I can be competitive.

“Le Mans is a good track for Yamaha historically, last year Marc was strong, but we still finished on the podium. This year the Yamaha is better & I think we have a big chance.”

The reigning world champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) may not be a huge fan of the Le Mans circuit, but his results speak for themselves: “6 years ago I got my first pole position here. My first Moto2 victory was here too. I don’t like it a lot but normally I get good results.

“Last year I arrived here in a very different position, but we have 14 races left so there is no panic.”

Speaking on his recent finger injury, Marquez added: “My finger is at 100%, it’s a bit bigger than usual [laughs], but I have the power in it back.”

Britain’s Bradley Smith will intend to make it five strong results on the bounce as he looks to ride to glory at the team’s home track and consolidate his position of 7th in the world championship standings. Having concluded a successful post Jerez GP test last week, the 23-year-old rider will use his knowledge to battle as close to the factory riders as possible.

Meanwhile, Pol Espargaro will fully intend to follow up his impressive finish of 5th place at the Jerez Grand Prix with another top result in France aboard his Yamaha YZR-M1. The Spaniard produced a sterling effort last year to qualify in 2nd position in only his 5th Grand Prix aboard a MotoGP bike and will seek to repeat this performance and fight for the leading satellite position.

Bradley Smith – “Next up for us is the awesome Le Mans race which is certainly one I look forward to, especially as it’s the team’s home race, plus Monster Energy sponsors this event. The track itself is quite narrow and features some tight first gear corners plus the stadium section at the end of the lap can be tricky, so we must ensure we get everything set up and ready as soon as possible for the race. The Jerez weekend was a bit of a challenging one, however I still managed to battle through to 8th and we then found the solution to our issue in the test on Monday. Therefore, I am confident of clinching a top result aboard the Yamaha YZR-M1 in the 28-lap race on Sunday. Last year was quite a tough one for me at Le Mans, but I am determined to continue my strong form so far this season and as the crowd is always so ecstatic and passionate about our sport, I will do my best to give them something to cheer about!”

Bradley Smith
Bradley Smith

Pol Espargaro – “I can’t wait to jump on the Yamaha and get out on the track this weekend at Le Mans! I had a good result last time in Jerez where I finished in 5th which was what the team and I needed after the tricky opening rounds that we experienced. Now I fully intend to follow this result up with another strong finish at the Tech3 team’s home race. Last year, I scored my first ever MotoGP front row and finished in 4th but only 0.6 away from the podium, so I’m definitely keen to hit the ground running this weekend. Now, it’s one year on and I know I can be pushing for this position, if not higher, after collecting more experience in the past twelve months. I am feeling confident for this race and although the weather can sometimes be tricky at this track, I will push hard for the team and the fans, who are always brilliant at Le Mans!”

After a three race absence, this weekend Dani Pedrosa will return to race alongside Marc Marquez for the Repsol Honda Team in Le Mans.

Dani received surgery to his right arm to alleviate discomfort from arm pump and as a result missed the races in the Americas, Argentina and Spain, but returns in Le Mans for round five of the 2015 World Championship. Marc, who was also injured in a training accident after the GP of Argentina, managed to fight for a courageous 2nd place in Spain, and now arrives in Le Mans this weekend almost back to 100%.

Dani Pedrosa – “I’ve been doing a lot of therapy in the past few weeks since the operation and I am improving step by step. I’m beginning to feel stronger and looking forward to getting back on the bike – after all, this is the best way to check the feeling after all the rehabilitation work. It will be good to get back to my team and catch up with them all after this time and of course to see all the fans in Le Mans, so let’s hope the weather is kind to us again like in 2014!”

Jack Miller
Jack Miller

Jack Miller arrives at the scene of another of his Moto3 race victories from last season, only this time it will be on board the CWM LCR Honda MotoGP machine. The Le Mans circuit in north-western France is a classic motorsport venue, although the MotoGP bikes use the Bugatti configuration this weekend which provides a stop-start feel for the 1000cc prototypes.

Nonetheless after a positive test in Jerez, the Australian is hoping to rekindle the form which took him to the top of the ‘Open’ pile in Argentina just a month ago.

Jack Miller – “I’m looking forward to the French GP this weekend after a busy week training. The test after the last GP at Jerez went really well so I look forward to this race now to use the things we improved in terms of the feeling of the bike during the test.”

“We’ll have to keep a close eye on the weather here too, it’s really difficult usually at this race in France so we’ll do our best whatever happens and in terms of the things we can control, we’ll try and overcome any obstacles we find.”

Cal Crutchlow has also had success at the French GP in recent seasons, having taken second place here in 2013. Coming off the back of a positive test session with his Honda RC213V in Spain, the 29 year-old is looking forward to getting back to business this weekend.

Cal Crutchlow – “I’m really looking forward to riding in Le Mans, we come here off the back of a not too bad result in Jerez. The whole CWM LCR Honda Team is working hard together to improve in a few areas, and then hopefully again we can do a good race here in France.”

“Last year I rode here injured, so it will be nice to finally ride and be able to push to my full potential this weekend. If that’s the case, then I expect to have a good result by Sunday evening.”

Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales will arrive in France in a positive mood, thanks to the steps forward that the Suzuki MotoGP project has made so far and the potential that the GSX-RR has shown. The last race in Jerez saw both riders consistently lapping close to the top riders in the class and yet more solid points were gained at the end of the race.

Aleix Espargaro
Aleix Espargaro

Although their feelings about their machines are pretty similar –very positive in terms of handling and looking for confirmation on electronics and traction improvements after the latest test – their expectations about the characteristics of the circuit of Le Mans are different: Aleix Espargaro feels more prudent about the coming event, while Maverick Viñales feels enthusiastic and confident.

Aleix Espargaro:  “I’m satisfied with the steps forward we have made in the last test in Jerez. We are looking for better traction which could let us better exploit the bike’s potential. The electronics have made many improvements and we also tested some chassis parts on the rear that allowed us to make better lap times. We have also worked on geometry and set-up which finally gave us better braking, which also allowed us to enter the corners quicker and exploit the strong points of our chassis, which will be crucial for Le Mans. Personally my feeling with the French track is not the best, I prefer fast corners and I struggle on tight circuits, but this is not worrying me too much as I know the handling of my GSX-RR is good and I’m confident I will find a good feeling with the bike pretty quickly.”

Maverick Viñales: “To me going to Le Mans is a good thing, I like this circuit and I am confident I will find a good feeling pretty quickly. The circuit is tight with slow corners, which means you have to brake later and be as efficient as possible through the turns to have a good exit speed. The improvements we’ve made in the recent Jerez tests give me hope; the electronics and also the new set-up has proved to be effective both on lap-times and on improving my confidence in riding.”

The race in La Sarthe region will be the first home race in the premier class for Loris Baz who will race in front of his fans with the aim of being the fastest Open bike. This Sunday’s race will have a special taste for the Frenchman as he will race with a special livery.

Stefan Bradl will go for an all-in weekend. After the successful day of testing at Jerez he is eager to get on the track of Le Mans. The German is aiming the head of the Open pack and the point-zone.

Loris Baz – “This will be my first home race in MotoGP. I look forward for Friday, it will be exciting to race in front of my fans and my friends. Moreover we have prepared a special livery along with a new helmet and a special suit for the race on Sunday. In Jerez we worked hard during the test trying to develop several new solutions and we can do well in Le Mans.”

Stefan Bradl – “We did a really good step forward with the setting and electronics in Jerez. We are eager to try these new settings in Le Mans to close the gap with the fastest Open. I cannot wait to get on track again.”

A post-Grand Prix test for the Aspar Team at Jerez will hopefully see Nicky Hayden and Eugene Laverty in more competitive shape this weekend. Over the course of countless laps at the Spanish circuit Hayden completed some important electronic developments, finding improvements in traction and under braking. Laverty finally made a breakthrough with the lack of rear grip that he had encountered during the race weekend and in previous races this season. The pair are well aware of the challenge that lays ahead at Le Mans but they are equally determined to give their best once again.

Nicky Hayden: “I am looking forward to getting to Le Mans and hopefully putting into practice some of the things we found at Jerez. The improvements we made in the test there should help us close the gap to the top. Le Mans is a tough circuit with some hard-braking zones so it will be important to find a set-up that allows us to attack those areas with confidence. We also need to work hard on the acceleration to get us out of those turns. The weather tends to be very changeable at Le Mans so let’s hope it is kind to us this weekend. From what we have seen so far this season we will have to work hard from Friday to make sure that we are competitive enough to challenge for a good grid position on Saturday.”

Nicky Hayden
Nicky Hayden

Eugene Laverty: “We did a great job in the test after the Grand Prix at Jerez, finding a solution to our rear grip problems there. That is a positive step as we look towards the next round in France. We have shown our pace over a single lap this season but we have been lacking consistency over race distance and we feel we found that at Jerez. I rode Le Mans during my time in 250cc but that’s a long time ago now and it will seem like another new track to me. That won’t be a problem though and I’ll be doing as much work as I can at home to be prepared. We’ll be focused from Friday on doing the best possible job and building on the positive base we found at Jerez.”

The dual objective for the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini riders is to finish in the points, further reducing the gap behind their adversaries – a result that Bautista has already brought home twice, in Austin and at Jerez – and to continue developing the bike, which has already undergone an initial acceleration from the start of the European season with positive feedback from Bautista who tested the new seamless gearbox for the first time in the post-race tests at Jerez.

Romano Albesiano –  (Aprilia Racing Manager) – “At Jerez the European phase of the Championship got off to a positive start: we finished the Grand Prix with both riders, the second championship point brought home by Bautista and a performance by Melandri that improved throughout the weekend. It was a trip where some comforting data came out for the future, thanks in part to the tests conducted the day after the race when Bautista provided the first positive feedback on a new seamless gearbox that should be making its début on the track very soon. This is confirmation that gives the entire team a boost of confidence: a first significant step in our development process that we knew would speed up once we got back onto European soil, with the opportunity to establish a more direct connection between on work at headquarters and track operations. Now we are taking on the French GP in the hopes of being able to take another step forward.”

Fausto Gresini (Aprilia Team Manager) – “In Spain we had a great weekend, completed by positive post-race tests. We can feel satisfied with our achievements so far, with the two championship points Bautista has earned. We have shown that we are able to easily battle to be in the top 15, so now it would be nice if Melandri could bring home his first points of the season in France. After all, Le Mans represents another important milestone in our path of development, so we’ll keep working to reduce the gap behind our adversaries as we have done in recent races.”

Alvaro Bautista
Alvaro Bautista

Alvaro Bautista – “At Jerez we worked very well throughout the entire race weekend. At Le Mans we’ll be taking on a track which is similar in many ways, so I think that the data we collected in Spain may be a good base to start from. In the tests on Monday I was able to try the new seamless gearbox for the first time. It’s a shame we won’t have it already for Le Mans because it is already at a great level, but I’m confident that even with the current version of our bike we’ll be able to do well this weekend. I have great memories of last year’s race where I took the third step of the podium. The goal this round is the same as the previous races: to keep reducing the gap behind the other riders that are ahead of us and to be as competitive as possible. The track has a lot of direction changes, so we’ll be working hard to obtain an agile and easy to ride bike. For the rest we’ll try to stay as focused as possible in order to be ready for any conditions since weather conditions often change quickly here at Le Mans. The second championship point earned at Jerez provides great motivation for the entire team. We’re ready to work hard.”

Marco Melandri – “The Le Mans track is quite particularly, but I’ve always liked it. In fact, every time I’ve raced here I’ve done well. In this round it would be nice to try and get into the points. I think this is a realistic goal within our reach whilst waiting for important technical changes that will allow me to take more significant steps forward. The weather forecast seems pretty good so, as always, we’ll be working as hard as we can and taking the weekend one day at a time, ready to take advantage of every opportunity.”

French Moto2 rider Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) joined the conference as a special guest to share his excitement over racing in his home Grand Prix, especially due to the fact that it has been 11 years since a French rider arrived for the French GP leading the world championship: “I don’t have too much pressure, 16 points advantage is good and I want to keep this mindframe and enjoy being on the bike.”

The Moto3 top four spoke in a special press conference held in Le Mans today. Just 44 points separate Danny Kent (GBR), Efren Vazquez (SPA), Fabio Quartararo (FRA) and Enea Bastianini (ITA), who respectively sit at the head of the standings. Kent has a comfortable 31 point lead, while the following 3 are separated by just 13 points.

Moto3 during the Press Conference
Moto3 during the Press Conference

Danny Kent (Leopard Racing) is dominating the championship thus far with three consecutive victories. He wants to continue this trend in Le Mans: “It’s been a great start to the year, 3 wins out of 4 starts, but still, there’s a long year ahead and I need to keep my feet on the ground. I will keep working hard.”

When asked if his winning streak was due to him or the bike, Kent responded that it’s a mix of both: “The package we have is really good. I’ve also been working a lot on my fitness and I’ve lost a few kilos. I’ll just keep trying to be consistent.”

Efren Vazquez lies in 2nd place behind his team mate. The Basque rider, currently 31 points from Kent, is hoping to close that gap in Le Mans: “I’ve had a good start to the year, not as good as Danny though! But I’m happy with 2 podiums and second place in the championship.”

E. Bastianini (ITA), E. Vazquez (SPA), D. Kent (GBR), F. Quartararo (FRA)
E. Bastianini (ITA), E. Vazquez (SPA), D. Kent (GBR), F. Quartararo (FRA)

As a veteran of Moto3, Vazquez was asked for his opinion on the new blood in the championship: “The level is higher every year, the bikes are more level and it’s really interesting for the championship. The young riders come with full batteries ready to fight for the win. It’s harder for me, sometimes the fight is with myself.” Moto3  rookie Fabio Quartararo (Estrella Galicia 0,0) is looking forward to his home race, having already proved in the FIM CEV Repsol championship that he can win here: “I’ve only ridden once here in CEV, just one race. The level of the riders is higher in this championship though…”

An assorted group of Grand Prix riders went ahead and gave out a try to a 1 horsepower ride today. Mike di Meglio, Maverick Viñales, Sandro Cortese, Alexis Masbou and Louis Rossi –  an avid horse lover – enjoyed a voltige initiation class this morning with the French World Champion Jacques Ferrari at Le Pôle Européen du Cheval less than 15km away from the Le Mans circuit. Voltige is a traditionally French equestrian discipline which consists of acrobatic and artistic activity performed while on horseback. 

Riders spend some learning about horse vaulting
Riders spend some learning about horse vaulting
Bridgestone slick compounds: Front: Extra-soft, Soft & Medium; Rear: Extra-soft, Soft & Medium (Asymmetric)
Bridgestone wet tyre compounds: Soft (Main) & Hard (Alternative)

Measuring 4.2 kilometres in length, the Le Mans circuit features a ‘stop-and-go’ configuration with low-speed corners punctuated by a series of short straights. The layout places an emphasis on strong acceleration and braking performance, rather than outright corner speed. With cool temperatures likely and the tarmac being relatively low in grip, the circuit demands a good bike setup to ensure the tyres stay in their optimum operating range. The low temperatures and forces imposed on tyres means that the slick tyre allocation for this round uses Bridgestone’s softest rubber compounds to ensure quick warm-up, high grip and excellent temperature retention.

For Le Mans, Bridgestone’s rear slick tyre allocation for the Factory Honda and Yamaha riders will be the soft and medium asymmetric options, while the rest of the field will have access to the extra-soft and soft rear slicks. The front slick allocation for Le Mans will be the extra-soft, soft & medium compound options.

To ensure optimal performance in wet conditions, the main wet tyre for French Grand Prix is the soft compound although limited numbers of the alternative, hard compound wet tyre will also be available.

Hiroshi Yamada – Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport Department – “It is always a pleasure coming to Le Mans as Bridgestone has shared in many memorable victories here, both in the competition and sole tyre supply eras, including some challenging races caused by unstable weather. The layout of this circuit features many acceleration and braking zones and overall is not so severe on tyres, so this is the first round when we are able to offer our extra-soft compound front and rear slicks. In recent years this circuit hasn’t favoured any particular manufacturer, so I hope to see many riders challenging for the podium this weekend. Although it is often cool and wet at Le Mans, our tyre allocation is designed to work over a wide range of temperatures and conditions, but of course I hope we can see another exciting race take place in dry conditions! This year we have two French riders in Mike and Loris participating in the MotoGP class so there is even more incentive for the local fans to come to Le Mans this weekend to enjoy the action.”

Shinji Aoki – Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development Department – “Le Mans has a stop-and-go layout and overall, the lateral loads placed on the tyres at Le Mans are low compared to other circuits. Additionally, the tarmac is smooth and low in grip; therefore the French Grand Prix is the first occasion this year where we will offer the extra-soft front and rear slick options. The layout of the circuit means riders want tyres with good rear grip for acceleration out of the corners, and optimal stability from the front tyre for the many braking zones. Although the circuit is generally quite easy on tyres, the right shoulders of the rear tyre are placed under more stress than the left, particularly on the exit of turn nine. As a result, all of our asymmetric rear slicks for Le Mans feature harder rubber on the right shoulder.”

Le Mans ‘Bugatti’ circuit
Le Mans ‘Bugatti’ circuit
MotoGP 2015 Jerez Round Four Championship Standings
MotoGP 2015 Jerez Round Four Championship Standings
MotoGP 2015 Jerez Round Four Moto2 Championship Standings
MotoGP 2015 Jerez Round Four Moto2 Championship Standings
MotoGP 2015 Jerez Round Four Moto3 Championship Standings
MotoGP 2015 Jerez Round Four Moto3 Championship Standings