#FrenchGP #GP1000 Le Mans, Sunday roundup: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3
Take a minute to catch your breath after what was an incredible SHARK Grand Prix de France… Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) takes a special place in history as the race winner at the 1000th FIM Grand Prix after a stunning break for glory in front of a record crowd at Le Mans, and there was drama, drama, drama throughout the field.
First, Bezzecchi is now just one point behind Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) after the Italian crashed out of the race in a dramatic clash with Aprilia Racing’s Maverick Viñales… gravel trap shouting match included, but both riders ok. Then, Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) vs Marc Marquez(Repsol Honda Team) lit up the fight for second in a tough but fair tussle, but that then ended in late race heartbreak for the number 93 as he slid out. However, for the French fans it did mean Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) was then promoted to a glorious home podium after some impressive Sunday pace, giving the 278,805 record crowd even more to cheer about.
The grid formed in front of the biggest crowd MotoGP™ has ever seen and it was Marc Marquez who shot into the lead as Bagnaia dropped down the order to P5. Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) slotted himself into P2 with Bezzecchi putting his VR46 Ducati into P3. Bagnaia then quickly snapped back at Martin as the Ducati riders duked it out on lap 1.
It was Marquez, Miller, Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), Bagnaia, and then Martin as they came across the line for the first time, and we had a race on our hands in MotoGP™. Miller wasn’t intimated by the eight-time World Champion by any means as the Aussie tried to force his way through on Marquez, but the Spaniard wouldn’t give in and hit straight back in true Marquez fashion.
Miller hit the front at the Dunlop chicane, meanwhile, the reigning World Champion was on the move as Bagnaia had now climbed his way back up into a podium position with 25 laps remaining.
The laps ticked away as a seven-bike battle for victory formed with Viñales carving his way into the 3rd place, the Aprilia seriously on the move. But then came the drama: the Spaniard collided with Bagnaia as both riders competed for the same piece of tarmac, both careening off into the gravel. Riders ok and to their feet… and then a fair few yells exchanged.
Half a lap later, there was more drama in the Le Mans gravel traps as Marini suffered a big crash coming out of the Dunlop chicane, just cutting the kerb. Alex Marquez(Gresini Racing MotoGP™) then got caught in the Italian’s crash as the field behind avoided the incident, riders again ok but another huge moment of adrenaline shaking the race up.
As the chaos subsided, we had a race on our hands. A four-rider battle for victory had formed as Miller now found himself with Marquez, Bezzecchi, and Martin for company, before Bezzecchi pushed his way through on Marc Marquez – and dropped the Spaniard from 2nd to 4th. The number 93 was sent into another postcode although no harm done, with both regrouping and Bezzecchi then told to drop a position for the move: a penalty he expected, and a penalty he also served wisely as he chose his moment to let Martin back through. And then took it back, with Marquez following suit too.
Bezzecchi now had an open goal to make huge gains in the title fight as Bagnaia sat in the garage, and the VR46 rider took the lead from Miller as they barrelled into the Dunlop chicane once again. Marquez quickly followed him through half a lap later too, with Bezzecchi already stretching out half a second at the front.
With 15 laps to go, Bezzecchi had 1.2s in his pocket to Marquez behind, who was 0.5s up the road from Martin, who had found his way through on Miller. The Aussie was starting to fall into the clutches of Zarco and Augusto Fernandez (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3). It didn’t take long for Zarco to push his way through either as the Frenchman moved up into P4 and Fernandez followed, leaving Miller in sixth.
With six to go, Martin thought it was time to pounce on Marc Marquez. The Spaniard tried to push his way through on the eight-time World Champion, but the Repsol Honda man was not giving in easy and bit back at the Prima Pramac Racing rider at every opportunity. That allowed Zarco to edge closer and closer… and the crowd had definitely noticed.
Martin finally pushed his way through with one and a half laps remaining, and this time the drama was for the number 93. Trying to hang in there, the returning Repsol Honda rider tucked the front and ended his French Grand Prix in the gravel trap, but after quite a return to the upper echelons of the timesheets.
That meant one thing to a partisan crown: Zarco was on the podium. The grandstands erupted around the French circuit as Bezzecchi crossed the line for a first dry weather win, Martin ensured he’s the top scorer at Le Mans this year, and then the home hero reached the flag. The noise made for an impressive welcome.
Fourth place was also something to shout about as Tech3’s Fernandez took an impressive result after an impressive weekend. First time in Q2, the GASGAS rider had had the speed all weekend and made it pay to perfection on Sunday to bounce back.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) rounded out the top five as Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) recovered from being battered down the order on the first lap to fight his way back through the pack, take a long penalty for a shortcut, and still manage to take sixth.
Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) had a tougher home Grand Prix but took a chunk of points on Sunday as the 2021 World Champion ended his weekend in Le Mans with a P7, with Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), Takaaki Nakagami (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia), and Franco Morbidelli taking 8th, 9th, and 10th – just ahead of Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Lenovo Team) on his MotoGP™ return deputising for the injured Enea Bastianini.
Early race leader Miller crashed out with three laps remaining after the Aussie had been dropping down the order on his KTM machine, making it a weekend to forget in terms of results but one to remember for speed. Can he bounce back at Mugello? Many will be looking to join him in doing so…
Tony Arbolino (Elf MarcVDS Racing Team) took an important victory for his Championship campaign as he commanded the race from the front, putting the pressure on Championship rival Pedro Acosta (Red Bull KTM Ajo). Acosta, who went into the Shark Grand Prix de France as Championship leader but equal on points with Arbolino, crashed out of second trying to reel in the number 14. Filip Salač (QJMOTOR Gresini Moto2™) put some pressure on Arbolino as the chequered flag drew closer, but the Italian held strong forcing the Czech rider to settle for second. Alonso Lopez (Lightech SpeedUp) hung onto the leading duo too, taking third and yet another podium.
Arbolino got the holeshot before Lopez dived up the inside to take over, but there was drama one lap later as Arbolino took the lead into Turn 1, with his teammate Sam Lowes (Elf MarcVDS Racing Team) crashing out of 3rd place at Turn 2. However, the red flags came out for a incident involving multiple riders at turn 5. All riders ok: Albert Arenas (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Aron Canet (Pons Wegow Los40) and Manuel Gonzalez (Correos Prepago Yamaha VR46 Master Camp).
With the countdown to the restart underway, it was all hands on deck as the polesitter rushed his way back to the box with under a minute left until the green light went on to open pit lane, and the team worked on his bike. The crowd watched on with baited breath and Lowes missed the deadline for the the pitlane closing time by just a second, forcing the Brit to start from the back of the grid…
So riders lined up for the restart but this time without the polesitter in position. The red lights went out once again and it was Arbolino who took the holeshot, fending off Lopez through the Dunlop chicane, with Acosta latched onto to the leading duo.
Arbolino, Lopez, Acosta, and Salač was the order as the came across the line for the first time with the top 3 stretching out a little bit of breathing space to the Czech rider. Lopez and Acosta were swapping paintwork as the two Spaniards battled it out though, letting Arbolino sail away at the front and allowing Salač to join the P2 party.
Arbolino began to stretch a lead at the front as he set a new race lap record on his very first flying lap. This also stretched out the riders behind as Acosta began to pull away from Lopez, who now had Salač and Celestino Vietti (Fantic Racing) for company in the battle for 3rd.
Acosta responded one lap later setting the new fastest lap but still with 0.6s to find to catch the Italian. Incredible Championship drama came soon after though, as the former Championship leader crashed out of the race with 10 laps to go… as key title rival Arbolino sat in comfortable victory contention.
That promoted the battle for 3rd to the battle for 2nd as Salač led Lopez in P2. Arbolino had 1.8s in his pocket until he began to lose ground at an alarming rate though, with Salač getting within under half a second of the Italian with seven laps to go. But Arbolino controlled the gap at 0.5s at the front, taking the race victory as Acosta watched the #14 stretch out a 25-point lead in the Championship.
Salač still takes an impressive second place to reward his speed this season, with Lopez once again tasting that Prosecco in third.
Vietti looked strong in the opening stages of the race but wasn’t able to keep up with the incredible pace of the top 3 as the Italian finished 0.6s back from the podium fight in P4. Jake Dixon (Inde GASGAS Aspar M2) rounded the top 5 after carving through an incredible scrap involving Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Barry Baltus (Fieten Olie Racing GP) and Fermin Aldeguer (Ligthtech SpeedUp) who finished 6th, 7th, and 8th respectively. Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) took ninth, just fending off an impressive ride from rookie Sergio Garcia(Pons Wegow Los40).
The Lowes watch was a dramatic one as the Brit carved his way through from the back of the grid, picking off rider after rider in hopes of finishing in a point-scoring position. Although it’s not the result the Brit would have wanted, he recovered to P15 as he walked away from Le Mans with a Championship point.
The Championship story continues to run its rollercoaster course in the 2023 Moto2™ season though. With the momentum currently with Arbolino, the Italian will go into his home Grand Prix in high spirits as the attention now turns to the iconic Mugello circuit for the Gran Premio d’Italia Oakley in just four weeks’ time.
Daniel Holgado (Red Bull KTM Tech3) is the Moto3™ race winner in the 1000th FIM Grand Prix in history. The Spaniard extended his Championship lead as he got back on the top step in style, leading from the front and keeping it pitch perfect over the final lap to take a home win for the Tech3 team too. After a tough start to the season, Ayumu Sasaki (Liqui Moly Husqvarna Intact GP) took his first rostrum of the season after some more impressive speed, and Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing) completed the podium as his consistent run continues… and he moves up to second overall.
Sasaki technically got the holeshot but got attacked into the first chicane by Holgado, the Japanese rider trying to fight back later in the lap but denied. As ever in the close competition of the lightweight class though, it soon became a group fight with a leading freight train of ten riders – with rookies David Alonso (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) and Jose Antonio Rueda (Red Bull KTM Ajo) leading the chase, Alonso up from 25th on the grid.
A top eight was able to pull away though, with Holgado, Sasaki, Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Ivan Ortola (Angeluss MTA Team), Diogo Moreira (MT Helmets – MSI, Masia, Xavier Artigas (CFMoto PrüstelGP) and Ryusei Yamanaka (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) line astern. Heading into the final corners with 10 to go though, drama hit as Moreira suddenly slid out, crashing alone and rider ok, but his place in the standings left up for grabs – and Championship leader Holgado still holding firm at the front.
On the last couple of laps, the top four made their break: Holgado, Sasaki, Masia and Ortola. Over the line onto the last lap, Holgado still had a few tenths in hand too, but that didn’t last long as Sasaki homed in. The duo gained some reprieve as a moment for Masia dropped him back slightly too, and it became two duels.
At the front though, Holgado just had too much for the Japanese rider on the chase. The number 96 crossed the line for a stunning second win and increases his advantage in the title fight, with Sasaki second but back on the box for the first time this season. Masia recovered from his moment to hold off Ortola, taking the last step on the podium and making his own gains in the Championship too.
Yamanaka got the better of Öncü to complete the top five, with Artigas a little further back in seventh. Alonso, Rueda and Stefano Nepa (Angeluss MTA Team) completed the top ten in that second group.