French Grand Prix, Le Mans, qualifying roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
The atmosphere in Le Mans was tense as the MotoGP™ World Championship headed out of the pits, the packed stands cheering as the riders filtered out. Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) was immediately on the pace, his first flying lap already the fastest time of the weekend.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) suffered an early crash at Turn 4 with just over eight minutes of the session remaining. He was unable to remount and quickly got back to the pits for his second machine. Fortunately for Pedrosa, his experienced team were immediately ready with his second bike.
As the final runs of the day began, Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) fell while on his out lap. The Italian immediately sprinted back to the pits and jumped onto his second Desmosedici GP, not even waiting to catch his breath.
Meanwhile Jorge Lorenzo improved his time, setting the first ever 1’31 around Le Mans with a 1’31.975 and giving Michelin their first outright lap record since returning to the World Championship. This is also Lorenzo’s first ever premier class pole position in Le Mans.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) will start second, his fifth front row start of the season. His 1’32.416 was 0.441s back on Lorenzo’s time, the Yamaha having a decent advantage over a single flying lap but Lorenzo himself admitted it won’t be the pace for the race.
Even with the fall, Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) was able to lock down third on the grid. His 1’32.469 came from his third lap of the session, unable to improve after his crash.
Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) will start Sunday’s French GP in fourth and as the leading Independent Team rider. Behind the Spaniard will be Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) as Ducati were once again the only factory team with two bikes inside the top five.
Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) achieved his best Qualifying result of the year with sixth while Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) ended seventh. This is his worst grid position since Rossi started last in Valencia and his first time starting on the third row since the Australian GP in 2015.
Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) completed the top ten. Like Pedrosa and Iannone, Petrucci suffered a fall during the session.
Due to his crash, Pedrosa will start the French GP down in 11th after a promising start to the weekend when he topped Free Practice 1.
Home rider Loris Baz (Avintia Racing) had a difficult day, struggling in Q1 and subsequently starting last on the grid for his home round.
MotoGP™ Warm Up commences at 09:40 Local Time with their race starting at 14:00 Local Time.
Almost as soon as the Qualifying session began yet another Moto2™ World Championship pole record was gone, Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) setting the standard early on.
Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) suffered his third fall of the weekend, coming off at Turn 7 just as the session began. A hard working team had him eventually back out on track, but it was a session spent playing catch up for the German.
Luthi’s 1’36.847 would stand as the fastest time of the day as the Swiss rider took his fourth pole in the Moto2™ class, his first since the Malaysian GP in 2015. Le Mans is a track where Luthi always goes well, with several title rivals starting down the grid this is a prime opportunity for the intermediate class veteran.
Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) was the only other rider in the 1’36s, his time coming late in the session. The Monster Energy Grand Prix de France sees Rins take his third front row start of the season, his pole in Austin leading to victory on race day.
Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Team) had been set to start on the front row but was imposed a late penalty for a technical infringement and demoted down to seventh, it would have been Baldassarri’s first front row in the Moto2™ class.
Thanks to the penalty, Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) will line up third on the grid ahead of Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) who suffered a fall late in the session at Turn 4. Zarco was just one of the many championship contenders who had a difficult Saturday.
Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Lorenzo Baldassarri (Forward Team), Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP), Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and Luca Marini (Forward Team) completed the top ten with half a second splitting them. Lowes has not been as strong in Le Mans as he was in Jerez, race day potentially one of damage limitation.
Xavier Simeon (QMMF Racing Team) crashed at Turn 9 with Ratthapark Wilairot (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) coming off not long after at Turn 8. Both riders were unharmed but their sessions suffered a serious road bump.
Turn 7 also saw a fall from Xavi Vierge (Tech 3), his bike cartwheeling through the gravel as he escaped harm. He had a second crash in the final minutes of the session, this time at Turn 9.
Sandro Cortese (Dynavolt Intact GP) did not take part in the session after withdrawing from the French GP due to a knee injury.
The intermediate class will be back on track at 09:10 Local Time before their race at 12:20 Local Time.
Three different riders had topped the three Free Practice sessions ahead of Qualifying, the Moto3™ World Championship again beginning with no clear pole favourite.
Friday’s afternoon session saw track temperatures of close to 40°C, Qualifying on Saturday saw the track at 27°C. From the start of the session riders were reminded of the importance of staying within track limits, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) one of many to have a lap time cut for exceeding track limits at Turn 10.
Binder would soon go quicker as he, Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) traded fastest times. Towards the end of the session Bulega suffered a huge highside on the exit of Turn 4, getting to his feet but holding his left wrist. Fortunately the tall Italian was unharmed.
Riders were pushing till the end, Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold) snatching pole position with his final lap thanks to a 1’42.756. From his previous four pole positions Antonelli has always finished inside the top ten, he won the 2015 Czech GP from pole, his first victory in the World Championship.
0.067s behind Antonelli, Binder was unable to best the Italian as the front row was tighter than ever in the lightweight class. Given Binder’s performance in Jerez, he’ll certainly be battling for victory from the front row.
For the first time in his fledgling Moto3™ World Championship career, Aron Canet will start from the front row of the grid. The Spaniard won the 2015 FIM CEV Repsol Moto3™ Junior World Championship race in Le Mans and was only 0.086s off pole in 2016.
His teammate, Jorge Navarro (Estrella Galicia 0,0) will start from fourth with Romano Fenati (Sky Racing Team VR46) lining up fifth.
Even with the crash, Bulega was able to hold onto sixth as the entire top six were within 0.15s. Juanfran Guevara (RBA Racing Team), Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing), Khairul Idham Pawi (Honda Team Asia) and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing Moto3) completed the top ten. Of the top ten, four are rookies.
The session got off to a difficult start for Fabio Spiranelli (CIP-Unicom Starker) and Adam Norrodin (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) as they both fell at Turn 7 while on their first flying laps.
Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA Racing Team) fell at Turn 7 with Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) crashing not long after at Turn 4.Having topped Free Practice 3, Jakub Kornfeil (Drive M7 SIC Racing Team) was forced to settle for 11th after crashing at Turn 13.
Local rider Jules Danilo (Ongetta-Rivacold) suffered a hard fall at Turn 12, ending what had been a promising weekend at home. Danilo wasn’t the only French rider to crash; Quartararo also had a small fall in the gravel of Turn 7 after running on.
After the session Fabio Di Giannantonio was handed a three place grid penalty for riding slowly in three sectors. Both Enzo Boulom (Procercasa – 42 Motorsport) and Karel Hanika (Platinum Bay Real Estate) were handed four place grid penalties for the same offences, having been penalised previously.
Moto3™ Warm Up begins at 8:40 Local Time, starting a day of intense racing action at the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France on Sunday. The lightweight class race is scheduled for 11:00 Local Time.