HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France
'Le Márquez' Masters Le Mans
As Championship rivals crash out and a big disappointment for thousands of French Fans. Thousands of MotoGP fans watched, hoping for a home win for Zarco. Sadly not to be as Márquez wins again
Le Mans Qualifying and Free Practice
Fast and Furious Qualifying!
Johann Zarco made history as he smashes Le Mans lap record with a fastest ever lap.
On the Saturday, Frenchman, Johann Zarco gave all the French fans lots to cheer about. On his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha he scorched round to grab pole for his home MotoGP race after beating Marc Márquez to top an exciting qualifying at Le Mans.
The French hero of the day, Johann Zarco became the first Frenchman to take a MotoGP pole position since 1988 when it was Christian Sarron on a Yamaha.
Viñales gets a new lap record in FP3
MoviStar Yamaha's Maverick Viñales set a new Le Mans outright lap record in Saturday morning's third free practice where the top 16 were covered by less than one second and five riders under the existing pole record.
With track temperatures colder than Friday afternoon, the entire field went out on soft front and rear Michelins. Maverick Viñales rode to the fastest time on his final lap to lead Marc Márquez by a little over a tenth with Valentino Rossi in third only 0.036s behind them. So it looked a promising weekend for the Factory Yamaha Team.
Repsol Honda's Márquez crashed out at Dunlop chicane, wearing a hole in the elbow of the leathers and knocking the left wing off his Repsol Honda RC213V, but it didn't faze him he flew to a place in qualifying two place with a time of 1'31.774.
Rossi had been in command for much of the session with a time of 1'31.810 but with one minute left to go those two bettered his time. Hometown hero Johann Zarco took fourth place with Friday's quickest, Andrea Dovizioso taking fifth place.
On Friday Dovizioso had set a new lap record but that was smashed by Viñales in Saturday's FP3.
Lorenzo was outside his own old record taking sixth place closely followed by Aussie Jack Miller, who is favourite to replace Lorenzo in the Factory Ducati team next year.
Aprilia's Aleix Espargaró made a late lap dash to move up to eighth and Tito Rabat pushed his way into qualifying two on his final lap. And pushed Britain's Cal Crutchlow out of qualifying two.
Crutchlow, the LCR Honda man was tenth fastest, behind Suzuki's Andrea Iannone but Rabat's time dropped him to 11th and into Q1. Along with Danilo Petrucci, Álex Rins and Pol Espargaró and Alvaro Bautista bettering Dani Pedrosa time, who had crashed earlier in FP3.
HJC HELMETS GRAND PRIX DE FRANCE
MotoGP Free Practice 3 Classification
Le Mans, Saturday, May 19, 2018
Dramatic Qualifying 2
In Qualifying 2 It was touch and go all the way, with a very hot lap, a balance between holding on to it and coming off! Zarco survived a huge moment in turn 12 on his Tech 3 Yamaha M1. Trying all he can do to wrestle his Yamaha around the Bugatti track. He succeeded, getting the fastest ever lap ever around this circuit with a stunning 1m 31.185s, yet another new MotoGP lap record this weekend! That was enough for Zarco to take his second pole of the season and the fourth of his MotoGP career. Giving all the French Fans lots to cheer about.
The Frenchman led the opening runs with a time of 1m 31.645s, putting him within a whisker of Maverick Viñales' FP3 benchmark, itself a new record until it was beaten by several riders in qualifying.
First to go underneath that marker was Jorge Lorenzo, before Márquez went faster moments later to snatch the top spot away from the Ducati rider.
Then Zarco managed to go even faster on his final lap on his two-year-old Yamaha, with Honda man Márquez only making a small improvement on his last lap to finish second, 0.108 of a second behind him.
Q1 top man, Danilo Petrucci on his Pramac Ducati GP17 took an amazing third place after struggling throughout practice. He was the best of all the Ducati's, in fourth, Andrea Iannone on his Ecstar Suzuki narrowly missed the front row by 0.073 of a second.
Factory Ducati pair Andrea Dovizioso and team-mate Jorge Lorenzo completed the second row, after mid way through, Lorenzo's crew made some serious suspension changes. Jack Miller ended up in seventh.
It was not a good day at the office for The Factory MoviStar Yamaha pair Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi could only managed eighth and ninth, after a promising start in the practice sessions, they did not get within half a second of the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha man, Zarco.
But it was an even worse day for Britain's Cal Crutchlow on his LCR Honda, or should I say off it, He crashed in free practice four and again in qualifying one.
Injured Dani Pedrosa took tenth with Tito Rabat and Aleix Espargaró, who crashed early on, completed the top ten. Crutchlow will start from 13th with Hafizh Syahrin and Álex Rins, riding for the first time in the premier class at Le Mans, in 15th place.
Bradley Smith got away with a massive near highside in Q1 to end in 17th place while Red Bull KTM team mate Pol Espargaró did the same but in a different part of the track on his way to 18th. Aprilia's Scott Redding finished in 22nd.
In Q1 Pramac Ducati's Danilo Petrucci and Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa took the fastest times to go into Q2.
Britain's Cal Crutchlow on his LCR Honda was not having a good weekend at all, as he crashed twice, first in free practice four and again in qualifying one. A huge FP4 hi-side at turn eight that took him into hospital for a check up, it was fortunate he didn't break any bones but had a lot of bruising.
Third Victory in a row for Márquez in the French Grand Prix
Marc Márquez took another easy victory, making it three in a row at Le Mans as Championship rivals Andrea Dovizioso and Johann both crashed out.
The Spaniard cruised to another win, Zarco's crash was devastating for over 105,000 MotoGP fans that packed the Bugatti circuit, after the Tech 3 Yamaha rider started from pole position. He was riding well, soon up to second and chasing after Márquez. Then he ran a little wide and whilst trying to pull it back, he lost the front and his race, sadly was over.
From the start it was Lorenzo who charged away as the lights went out to lead followed by Zarco but Lorenzo was soon was passed by the faster riders.
Márquez made a poor start and dropped down to sixth at the start of a tough opening lap, as Jorge Lorenzo flew from sixth on the starting grid into the lead ahead of Johann Zarco and Andrea Dovizioso.
At the end of lap two, Márquez had caught up to fourth, joining a four-rider lead group.
Andrea Dovizioso picked off home favourite, Johann Zarco for second place at the downhill La Chapelle right-hander on the third lap, and had just passed Lorenzo to take the lead at the start of the fifth lap.
As the lead group dropped into La Chapelle, Dovizioso lost the front end of his Factory Ducati and slid into the gravel, his second non finish on the trot.
Three laps later, while keeping second from Márquez, Zarco suffered a similar fate to Dovizioso as he fell at the Garage Vert double right-hander, his hopes of his first MotoGP win fell too.
That left Lorenzo with a narrow lead over Márquez, but it was clear that Márquez had superior pace to the sole remaining works Ducati man, and the inevitable pass came at La Chapelle on lap ten.
Hard riding Danilo Petrucci was promoted to third by the demise of Dovizioso and Zarco, managed to follow Márquez past Lorenzo on the next lap at the Musee left-hander, but couldn't challenge the Honda man, Márquez for the lead.
Márquez was able to race off into the distance for the rest of the laps and take the victory by 2.310 seconds.
After being passed by Petrucci's Pramac machine, Lorenzo couldn't hole off Yamaha's Valentino Rossi, who took him with a clever pass at La Chapelle to claim his first podium finish since the Qatar opener in third place.
Lorenzo lost more places to the second Pramac Ducati of Jack Miller and Dani Pedrosa on the other Factory Honda, finishing sixth, ten seconds down on Márquez.
Maverick Viñales starting from eight on the grid he made a bad start dropping down to 13th. The determined Yamaha rider battled to pass riders lap by lap. Viñales riding with skill and good overtakes ended up seventh, a further 13 seconds behind Márquez.
A brave Cal Crutchlow decided to race his LCR Honda, after his huge qualifying hi-side, left him in doubt and being taken to hospital. He was declared fit for the race.
In a true British Bulldog style, he rode a good steady race. Starting right back in 13th he took advantage of his pace making good passes throughout the race. Even on the last lap he caught and passed Aleix Espargaró, Aprilia, to take a very well deserved eighth place. He is my man of the race.
Márquez took the win from Danilo Petrucci, who fought through the pack to take a well deserved podium. Valentino Rossi was happy to be on the podium again, he took a well earned third place after a hard weekend.
Aussie Jack Miller, Marc VDS Honda, came home in fourth, being unable to catch Rossi. Dani Pedrosa got fifth after passing Jorge Lorenzo in the closing stages of the race. Lorenzo finish sixth.
MoviStar Yamaha's Maverick Viñales came seventh, with Cal Crutchlow having a heroic ride to finish eighth. Aprilia's Aleix Espargaró took ninth and Suzuki's Álex Rins was the tenth Finisher.
Pol Espargaró led the KTM charge to finish 11th, while top rookie Hafizh Syahrin, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, Franco Morbidelli, Marc VDS Honda, Bradley Smith, KTM and Takaaki Nakagami, LCR Honda complete the points scorers.
The non-finishers were Andrea Iannone, who crashed out on cold tyres on the opening lap at La Chapelle. The other fallers were Scott Redding on the second Aprilia, Tito Rabat, Avintia Ducati and Alvaro Bautista, on, or is that off his Angel Nieto Ducati (!).
As both of his main title rivals, Zarco and Dovizioso, crashing out, now the Honda rider, Marc Márquez now has a big advantage of 36 points in front of Maverick Viñales.
Post Race Rider Interviews
We'll start with the race winner
Spanish Repsol Honda Team #93 Points 25
"I'm particularly happy with this win here in Le Mans, as it's one of the most difficult tracks for us!
"Today I was the only one on a hard rear tyre, and that made my approach to the race a bit different because I knew it would take a little more time to reach the right temperature. But during the warm-up, I had the opportunity to verify that once the tyre was ready, it was very constant, and I was able to keep a very good rhythm.
"To be honest, things were a bit challenging at the beginning of the race: Zarco touched me in the second corner and I went a bit wide, then Iannone crashed and nearly hit me, so I lost some more positions. I decided to cool down for a while.
"When I saw that Dovi and Johann were out, my approach to the race again changed a bit. At a certain point, I had one big moment in turn three, where I had already crashed in FP3, which is why I was being extremely careful there; I think that helped me to avoid a crash in that moment.
"I'm currently experiencing a very 'sweet' period with my bike, and when you've got that kind of feeling, you also work better; then you ride better, and the bike works better.
"Things don't exactly become easier when you get into this zone, but they're more 'natural.' Of course it's a very long season, and not all the races will be the same, so we'll just try and keep the momentum."
Second place Danilo Petrucci
Italian Alma Pramac Ducati Racing #9 Points 20
"It is a great Sunday. I couldn't get off to a good start but managed to stay with the leading group from first lap.
"I had a good pace and a great confidence. We did a great job this weekend. I am also pleased to have given the team a great satisfaction.
"See you at Mugello!"
Third finisher Valentino Rossi
Italian MoviStar Yamaha Racing Team #46 Points 16
"Since yesterday, we've worked well. I was feeling quite pessimistic after qualifying, but we made two or three modifications to the balance of the bike that gave me more grip and also made me lose less in acceleration.
"Already this morning in the warm up I was not so bad, so I thought "I can do a good race", but starting from the third row is always difficult. You have to stay concentrated, but I had a great start and right from the first lap I was able to overtake.
"I was in the right group. The other positive thing was that after that lap I was fast, I did good lap times and I had a good pace, this is very important.
"I hope that we can continue to work strongly, like we did today, to further improve the bike."
Fourth Jack Miller
Australian Alma Pramac Ducati Racing #43 Points 13
"It was a good race. I am pleased to have been with the front group all the time.
"I tried to take Valentino for the podium but in the end I wasn't able to do it. I would like to congratulate Petrux for his result and thank the team for the work they have done this weekend.
"It is a great team and they deserve this result".
Fifth Dani Pedrosa
Spanish Repsol Honda Team #26 Points 11
"Fifth is a decent result considering the weekend and my physical potential. Looking at the positives, we recovered five positions after starting from 10th place, which isn't so easy at this track.
"Today it was also important not to crash, and we managed to finish the race, which in turn lets us approach the next race with some more confidence. And finally, our rhythm at the end of the race was consistent, even if it's not yet as fast as we would've liked.
"We were able to improve our bike setup over the weekend, and I'd like to thank the team for that. Now we'll see what my physical condition is like after next week's test in Catalunya.
"Hopefully it will be better, and then we'll try and keep improving our performances."
Sixth Jorge Lorenzo
Spanish Ducati Team #99 Points 10
"Once again I got a great start, which allowed me to stay in the lead for nine laps, but unfortunately I was unable to keep the pace for all the distance.
"We still have a small problem making the bike more user-friendly, which makes it very tiring for me, and I'm unable to be consistent for many laps.
"Luckily in two days' time we will be at Montmelo for a one-day test and we'll try and find a solution, because I'm convinced that if we manage to resolve these final details we can fight for podiums and the wins.
"In any case we finished the race and, after my DNF in Jerez, this was also one of today's objectives."
Seventh Maverick Viñales
Spanish MoviStar Yamaha Racing Team #25 Points 9
"This was not the race I hoped for when I arrived here in Le Mans.
"It took me quite some time to get past a few rivals and when I arrived in seventh place the gap to the riders in front of me was too big. It's disappointing that I couldn't fight at the front today, and this is something we need to keep working on, but I did move up to second in the championship standings.
"This means we need to stay focused and keep working hard, starting at the test in Montmelo. I can't wait to go there so we can try to make another step before the next GP."
My man of the race -
Brave eight finish for Cal Crutchlow
British LCR Honda #35 Points 8
"I was actually a bit disappointed with the race because I knew all weekend I had the pace, but I finished where I finished because of the consequences of what happened yesterday.
"The team did a great job, they put a bike on the grid for me that was capable of challenging at the front of the race, but I just wasn't able to today.
"I wasn't willing to push in the first laps, it was as simple as that. Over the first 10 or 15 laps I didn't want to make any mistakes, I just needed to stay on the bike otherwise I could have done myself some serious injury.
"After that, I was able to push a little bit and pick some riders off, but I have to give credit to the team. It's the first race we've finished for a while, it's not a great result, but I'm happy to have finished and done a good enough job."
Ninth Aleix Espargaró
Spanish Aprilia Racing Team #41 Points 7
"At the start I was bogged down on the first chicane, losing several positions, so in the early laps I had to push to the limit to make up lost ground.
"At that point, it was no longer possible to catch up with the leading group of riders and I found myself pushing on my own for the entire race. I maintained a good pace around a low 1'33", despite a strong chattering on the front that I had not felt all weekend up to that point, otherwise I think that I could also have been faster for a few laps, maybe around a high 1'32".
"After an unlucky season start, we'll take this ninth place as a starting point, even if it is certainly not the result we had been aiming for."
Tenth Álex Rins
Spanish Ecstar Suzuki #42 Points 6
"This weekend has been very difficult for me, trying to manage everything and go fast.
"In the race I tried to find the balance, and I think finishing in tenth was a good result. I was fighting with Aleix, Maverick and Cal during the last laps and we got a good finish.
"Now I just need to work hard from Fridays onwards, because all the tracks from now on I have already ridden with the MotoGP bike. Things are going in a good way, and at the Mugello test we tried some useful things, so we'll go there with our heads up and try to complete a good weekend."
12th Hafizh Syahrin
Malaysian Monster Tech 3 Team #55 Points 4
"In the race I was feeling very good, but it's a shame that I did a bad start and then I was behind a slow group, I had to pass one by one.
"I know, that my pace was very strong and I think I could have been inside the top 10 with this, but it's difficult to pass on this track and you also need to be really brave to pass in the first corner.
"I tried it many times, but in the end, I lost the faster group in front. This is a nice experience for me and I try to learn and to understand for the next races. Also, my confidence is coming back.
"In Mugello I hope I can give my best again, I try to stay focused and work hard on my physical condition and my riding."
The Other British Riders
14th Bradley Smith
British Red Bull KTM Factory Racing #38 Points 2
"I'm pleased with the race. I lost a bit of time at the beginning with the battling on the opening laps.
"I was keeping stable with the guys by mid-race and then struggled to get back to them. 14th is another points-scoring position and I was having a good fight with Morbidelli at the end.
"We improved another fifteen seconds over our race distance last year so again KTM is making gains but the competition keeps getting higher and higher. Heads down now and thoughts towards the two-day test in Barcelona and we need to try the new surface.
"I enjoy Mugello and the bike has some good power and potential. It is always a favourite of mine on the calendar with the undulations and the crazy Italian fans.
"It's a pleasure to ride there."
Scott Redding British
Aprilia Racing Team Gresini #45 Non-finisher
"It was a difficult weekend, but I am trying to look at the positive side.
"Unlike what happened in Jerez, where I didn't have grip in the early laps, here at the race start I felt quite at ease with the bike. Usually the situation improves lap by lap, so I had planned on staying in the group of riders I was battling with to then improve during the race.
"Unfortunately, I struggled to manage the front tyre and, in fact, my crash was caused by a loss of grip at the front.
"I am disappointed about how things ended, but I am happy with the way I was riding in the race, where I had the best sensations of the weekend."
The Home Favourite, Frenchman Johann Zarco
French Monster Tech 3 Team #5
"We experienced a difficult end of our home Grand Prix, after having great feelings. Anyway, we take home very nice memories with the pole position and showed a great performance.
"We worked well and, in the race, I was in second position. My start was quite bad, but in the first chicane I could almost immediately make up the positions again. Afterwards, it was difficult with Lorenzo, maybe I could have been faster, but I just didn't get through.
"Later on, I wanted to overtake him, but I did a little mistake. I think I was too fast in that corner, went a bit wider and the front closed. I didn't expect to crash, because my feeling on the bike was good.
"I should have maybe wait to have less fuel in the bike, which was the best moment for us during the weekend. Even with used tyres, the control was good and it happened at the beginning of the race. I should have waited a bit longer, but I didn't do it.
"Now I have to keep in mind, that sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you are not. Yet, I will keep doing what I do all over the world and keep the victory as a target this year."
Johann Zarco explains 'unexpected' home race crash.
Johann Zarco says he crashed out of his home MotoGP race at Le Mans because he "could not wait" behind the leaders out of fear of being passed by the riders behind.
The Tech3 rider delighted the home fans with pole position on Saturday after a record lap of 1:31.185s.
Initially getting off the line slowly, Zarco recovered to second with a daring pass the inside of eventual race winner Marc Márquez at the Dunlop chicane.
Zarco tried to pass race leader Jorge Lorenzo, but found this "almost impossible", and soon lost a place to Márquez on lap seven. He retaliated at the start of lap eight, but crashed at Garage Vert moments later.
He admits his keenness to not lose any more positions meant he pushed too hard into Garage Vert, and says this race will act as "a good lesson".
"I tried to follow and overtake Lorenzo but it was almost impossible," Zarco, who crashed in FP4 at the same corner after a collision with Tom Luthi, said.
"I was losing too much time and I could find the pace, but it was difficult. I have to be more than 100 percent to think how to overtake him, and this made the race complicated for me.
"Marc overtook me and I could not wait behind the guys, because if not I'm losing even more positions.
"That's why I tried immediately to catch back the second place, but then in that corner I came a bit too fast and the bike was still heavy with the fuel.
"I tried to lean to make the corner, but I crashed. I did not expect to crash, so it's a shame with this French Grand Prix, home grand prix, all the crowd screaming my name.
"But I think it's a good lesson, because I should analyse better that maybe I can have the pace, but the situation means I have to push, I have to give the best, and I think there wasn't enough margin to manage well."
Despite losing another chance at a maiden MotoGP victory, Zarco still believes he has "more of a chance" to think about wins, though admits the pace of the Hondas and Ducatis will make achieving one difficult.
"I think I have every day more chance to think about victories," the Tech3 rider said.
"It's difficult anyway, the Ducati's, the Hondas, Marc, they're all so strong. So maybe it's too much dream to think about victory.
"But I want to keep this mindset, because it helps me also to push myself and to keep going up."
Italian Championship Contender Andrea Dovizioso
Italian Ducati Team #04
"I'm really gutted, this time it was only my mistake. I went a bit wide at Turn 6, I didn't think I had any problems with the front turning in but it did.
"It's a real pity because today I had good sensations and a chance of fighting for the win, I think quite easily, and it is an unacceptable error for someone like myself who wants to fight for the title.
"At this moment in time it's hard to digest the mistake I made because I usually don't make any, but unfortunately races are sometimes like that and now we have to look to the future.
"I want to say sorry to the team and the guys in Ducati Corse because we did an outstanding job this weekend, we came to the race in perfect condition and our bike was simply terrific."
Team Managers talk after the Le Mans Race
Monster Yamaha Tech3 Team Manager for Johann Zarco and Hafizh Syahrin
"The French Grand Prix is over and I can't tell you that this isn't a scenario I didn't think about.
"Until Saturday night, Johann did the perfect weekend in my opinion, he got this unbelievable pole position, kept his head cool and looked like coping really well with the pressure of the home GP.
"This morning, we saw another Johann. There was this kind of warning when he crashed together with Luthi during the Warm Up, which is not what he is normally doing. We could see, that he was nervous, he wanted to convince himself that everything was going well.
"The Warm Up is always the last time you are on the bike before you start the race, so it was an important moment. For the race, the exit of the grid was bad, but he recovered in the first chicane with an incredible braking manoeuvre and later on, we saw that Johann was struggling with Lorenzo in acceleration and he had to make up the whole time lost on the brake. Then Márquez came back and they started a three riders battle.
"I think Johann just kept the brake a bit too much and lost the front. Sure, afterwards you think it was not necessary to try to pass Lorenzo so early, as when the bike gets a bit lighter the pace would have come. I believe there was a podium, but I'm not a guy of 'if, if, if'.
"So, we learned, he learned, especially because it's a shame to do your first DNF after 21 consecutive points finishing races in your home Grand Prix. Anyway, thanks to Johann, thanks to the entire team.
"I'm sorry for the fans, because they were all dreaming and waiting for at least another podium and we couldn't deliver, but that's unfortunately part of the game. We try again next race in Mugello, which could be a bit difficult with the long straight.
"On the other side, we are very, very happy with Hafizh, who is back to his normal form and was the best rookie. Unfortunately, he lost a lot of time behind Morbidelli, otherwise I think a top 10 was highly possible, but the 12th position and four points is great.
"Some tests in a few days in Barcelona will for sure help him to understand his MotoGP bike even more, but we are truly pleased with what Hafizh has been doing all weekend long.
"All the time he has a smile on his face, he is learning and shows a great attention to everything the team is telling him, plus good speed. Finally, we are very proud of him. Let's pack everything now and head to Barcelona for the next test."
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team Director for Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales
"Today's podium is important and encouraging for the team. Valentino really deserved the third place he earned today, because he never gave up throughout this weekend.
"He used all his experience and his resilience to prepare for this race and once again proved his pedigree, especially considering the set-back of yesterday's qualifying. Maverick had a difficult start and he needed a lot of time to overtake the riders in front of him.
"By the time he had a clear track he was able to ride good lap times, but by then the gap to the front was already too big.
"On a positive note, he did take over second place in the championship standings, but it's mainly Vale's podium result, at a track that caught out many riders today, that gives the team a boost for the next GP.
"However, first we'll be testing at Montmelo, to try the resurfaced track, and this will give us some further time to work on the bikes' balance."
The next round of the MotoGP world Championship is in two weeks time at Mugello, the home race for Valentino Rossi with his hordes of fans coming to support the hometown hero.
My Mugello Preview will be here soon and my race report will be soon after the winner tastes the rostrum champagne! With all the action of the race, photos and Rider Interviews.
- Roland Potter