French Grand Prix, Le Mans – weekend preview: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3

 In MotoGP, News


Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) put on an impressive display on home turf in Jerez, riding for redemption after his crash out the lead at COTA and showing he’s certainly capable of sealing the deal in a dominant race. In doing so he also took back the Championship lead, and in terms of race wins and track records, Marquez has a solid CV at Le Mans – as is becoming true everywhere – and the reigning Champion will be gunning for his third premier class victory at the venue. But there’s one man who stole some of the headlines in Spain – as well as a few records – and now it’s his turn to race on home turf.

Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) has been an impressive rookie since he stepped up, but in Jerez he stepped it up even further. Breaking Marquez’ record as the youngest polesitter in MotoGP™ on Saturday, on Sunday he seemed on for a first ever premier class podium right behind the reigning Champion – before the heartbreak of a mechanical failure. So, on Monday, he smashed his new lap record in testing by half a second. The Frenchman is fast and his home crowd will be behind him every lap – at a track where Yamaha have often reigned.

One man hoping to leapfrog the Frenchman a little earlier in the race this time around is Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar). The Spaniard followed up his first MotoGP™ win at COTA with a second place behind Marquez, but Rins had fought through to it from ninth on the grid. Saturday form is the chink in his armour as it stands, and the Suzuki man says he’s unsure as to why. Can he unlock that one lap pace at Le Mans? Or will he be forced to slice through the pack again before unleashing his speed? Only one point off Marquez in the standings, Rins will be pulling out all the stops on Saturday to set himself up for an assault on a second win and the lead.

Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), meanwhile, missed the podium at Jerez by mere tenths and saw himself slip down to third in the standings. Last year at Le Mans he crashed, but it was out the lead – and it’s a track that’s been kinder to the Italian than Jerez. A Ducati has never won there, but with the increasing all-round form of the Borgo Panigale factory, is now the time? As Rins surges towards the front and the likes of Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) take points off him, the Italian will be refocused to attack in France.

And what of Viñales? After his first podium of the season the Spaniard could be a key threat, and he won at Le Mans in 2017 when he famously outpaced teammate Valentino Rossi and the ‘Doctor’ went down on the final lap. Rossi, too, could be one to watch despite a more difficult Jerez, having won there three times in the premier class and boasting the usual impressive record. And Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) has an even better record there with five premier class wins. Was Spain a blip for them and France another fresh start?

Home hero Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – on the podium in 2017 – and teammate Pol Espargaro will be hoping it is after a tougher Spanish Grand Prix than anticipated. But the Austrian factory are making huge gains to the front reading behind the positions, and the work never stops. Espargaro is also just ahead of brother Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) in the Championship too, and Noale factory Aprilia are only a point ahead of KTM in the standings so there’s plenty at stake.

That’s true of the fight to be top Independent Team rider too. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) has now been equaled on points by Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), and his teammate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) – a podium finisher at Le Mans – is only two points back. Will the Quartararo show start to pick up traction and threaten them as well as the Rookie of the Year crown? Or can the veterans start to claw back some ground…

The Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France fires up at Le Mans from the 17th to 19th May and it’s poised to be pivotal. Can Marquez extend his lead and take Honda’s 300th premier class win? Is Rins’ race day reputation set to roll on? Will Yamaha be resurgent once again? Can ‘DesmoDovi’ unleash the Desmosedici and take Ducati’s first win at the venue? Or will Quartararo steal the headlines again…

Don’t miss the MotoGP™ race at 14:00 local time (GMT +2) on Sunday.


Ahead of COTA, the stats said Championship leader Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP40) could be facing an uphill struggle and that’s exactly how it played out on race day: the number 07 crashed out and key rival Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) emerged victorious. Since then, Baldassarri has returned to the top step in Jerez with another dominant showing and extended his lead, but he’d reigned in Spain last year and the back-to-back wins came as no surprise despite a tough start to the weekend. Now, as we head into the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France, the form book says it could be another uphill for the Italian and a big chance for the Swiss rider to fight back, for Le Mans is more than a track where the Italian has struggled; it’s also a track where Lüthi has shone.

Four wins – two in the 125 World Championship and two in Moto2™ – added to two more podiums in the intermediate class make the Swiss rider an immediate favourite. It would also be perfect timing to hit back so soon and he’s on good form this season so far. Will that be enough? Or can Baldassarri show it’s nothing to do with track records and flip the form book?

Behind the two at the top of the standings, Marcel Schrötter (Dynavolt Intact GP) in third is one hoping this season is a clean slate at the circuit, along with Jerez and COTA podium finisher Jorge Navarro (Lightech Speed Up). Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team), meanwhile, will want to bounce back from his Jerez crash that also took out Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) – a man with podium form in France who will also be eager to get back near the front after having been denied the chance on home turf.

Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), meanwhile, says the Jerez test was a problem solver and is another one with a previous top five finish in France, and Dominique Aegerter (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward) has a solid record at the track – and has now scored points for new Moto2™ manufacturer MV Agusta twice. It could be another solid venue to keep that record rolling. Finally, one of the biggest questions comes courtesy of another newer chassis on the grid: what can KTM do at Le Mans? After a test that saw plenty of new hardware on show from the Austrian factory – and that after a top five for Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) in Spain – the mutterings were positive as they seemed to find some answers for the issues they’d experienced in the heat of Jerez. Le Mans, as well as coming after some testing time, could well be markedly cooler temperatures too.

Moto2™ is serving up some classics so far in 2019. France is shaping up to be another.


Veteran he may be, but the signs didn’t seem to be pointing to a Niccolo Antonelli victory in Jerez before we arrived – nor to a SIC58 Squadra Corse 1-2. Nevertheless, that’s what happened and Moto3™ got another shake up in the standings, as well as making some emotional history as SIC58 Squadra Corse took their first win 15 years after the late Marco Simoncelli’s first Grand Prix victory. So as we head for Le Mans in the wake of another surprise race winner then, do track records even matter in 2019?

Antonelli will likely be one of the riders hoping so, despite just winning at a track where he’d not always had the most success. Le Mans sees the Italian boast one of the best records, with three top five finishes including last year, and that bodes well as he aims to outgun Championship leader Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team). Canet, whom he trails by a single point, has a podium, a fourth place and a top ten to his name in France for his part though, so there’s not much in it – like in the standings.

There is, however, one rider who has previously won at Le Mans: Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers Team). But as the rounds roll on and that statistic keeps showing up, the Italian’s season so far remains a difficult one. In Jerez he ran on avoiding Ramirez’ crash through no fault of his own, so can he turn it around at Le Mans, where he has a win from 2015 and a podium from 2016?

A few more veterans to look out for could be Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing), Andrea Migno (Bester Capital Dubai) and Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PrüstelGP). On two previous appearances at Le Mans Ramirez has taken a fourth place and a podium, meanwhile Migno and Kornfeil are consistent presences in the top ten in recent years in France – and Migno was on the podium last season. That’s not forgetting last year’s winner Albert Arenas (Bester Capital Dubai), who impressed on his return from injury in Jerez as he took fifth.

There are some riders whose 2019 form can’t be ignored, too: Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) needs to bounce back, Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) shows no sign of disappearing from the fight at the front and Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) will have a bittersweet aftertaste from Jerez after taking pole then dropping down to eighth.

Track records, building confidence, quick-shifting fortunes and just pure skill are all key ingredients in Moto3™. Who will find the best recipe for success at Le Mans? Find out in the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France on the 19th May.

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