Home heroes and history makers arrive in Le Mans

2017-05-15 10:58
Le Mans is a truly legendary venue for racing, in the Loire region of France and only a couple of hours from the City of Light, Paris. The Bugatti circuit, where the MotoGP™ paddock race, only adds more to that legend every year as the engines fire up and the annual tour de force of the world’s fastest motorcycle racing Championship rolls into town. Some classic races have been won and lost on French soil, and 2017 promises another memorable rendezvous. In amongst the history, the track has also been resurfaced for 2017 - another extra challenge for the teams and riders as the Championship gains traction in Europe.

Fastest on Friday, pole on Saturday and race win on Sunday – that was Jerez for Repsol Honda Team’s Dani Pedrosa, and the ‘Baby Samurai’ extended his winning streak to sixteen seasons in a row as a race winner – a record. Pedrosa will be confident ahead of Le Mans – a venue he’ll be hoping has echoes of 2013 once again, as that year he also won Jerez and then took victory next time out. Teammate and reigning Champion Marc Marquez, second at home in Spain, will also be pushing hard to take another win this season – and won at Le Mans in 2014. One eye is on the big prize for Marquez, too, and the number 93 is now dialed into the long game with a title to defend.

Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) was another who showed in Jerez that a Champion can change their colours but not their talent, as he got the Ducati on the podium at a notoriously tough venue for the Borgo Panigale factory. Lorenzo will also be aiming high in Le Mans, where he has six wins – the most successful rider at the venue - including the last two years in MotoGP™ and a stunning wet weather win in 2009. Teammate Andrea Dovizioso will also be putting up a fight on French soil, after another top five in Spain – and some good pace in Le Mans.

Yamaha are the factory looking to bounce back. With a tough time in Jerez for Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), the venue is a good one for the marque on paper, and temperatures are sure to be lower – with tyres sure to be affected. In addition, Rossi still leads the Championship from his teammate by two points, and both have good records at Le Mans. Viñales took his first ever win in the 125 World Championship at the venue in 2011, and it also staged his first MotoGP™ podium in 2016. The ‘Doctor’ is of course a previous winner at the track, too – and will be looking to extend his lead in the standings as a minimum.

The home crowd have a tricolore of home heroes to cheer for, too. Superstars rookie – and top Independent Team rider last time out in P4 – Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) lines up alongside Loris Baz (Reale Avintia Racing) and another very familiar name as 2014 WorldSBK Champion Sylvain Guintoli returns to MotoGP™ to replace injured Team Suzuki Ecstar rider Alex Rins. Following some testing in Jerez, Guintoli will be hoping to join his compatriots in putting on a real show.

Sharing the box with Guintoli is Andrea Iannone, who had some good pace in Jerez and had big positives after the Jerez test – someone to watch as he learns his way around the Hamamatsu factory machine. Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is a constant improver, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) a perennial frontrunner, Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar) dark horses in the battle – the grid is deep in 2017, with incredible competition throughout and so many names hitting the front.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing got closer to that front battle again in Jerez. Taking a huge leap forward with a new engine, closing in on Q2 and in the top ten in two practice sessions with Pol Espargaro, the Austrian factory scored more points with Bradley Smith in Jerez and are well on their way to making a real dent in the grid – committed as ever, and ready to race.

MotoGP™ get going at 9:55 (GMT +2) on Friday in France, and the lights go out for another piece of the legend at 14:00 on Sunday.

MotoGP World Championship Classification
1 - Valentino Rossi (ITA - Yamaha) 62 points
2 - Maverick Viñales (SPA - Yamaha) 60 points
3 - Marc Márquez (SPA - Honda) 58 points
4 - Dani Pedrosa (SPA - Honda) 52 points
5 - Andrea Dovizioso (ITA - Ducati) 41 points
Morbidelli? Marquez? Or a dark horse in Le Mans…
EG 0,0 Marc VDS look to continue their 100% win record in France – on triumphant turf for Tom Lüthi

After winning the first three races of the year, Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) seemed to be unstoppable until the paddock arrived in Jerez – where the pendulum swung to the other side of the garage. Teammate Alex Marquez topped almost every practice, started from pole, and took the lead – with Morbidelli making a mistake trying to keep the pace and crashing out. Marquez took his first win in Moto2™ - and at a track that traditionally has been more difficult for the rider from Cervera.

Le Mans is much the same, but with a win under his belt, Marquez may fully rip up the formbook in France. But it surely won’t be easy, as Morbidelli’s record at the Bugatti circuit is solid. A top ten in his first race at the track and two top fives thereafter, the Italian will be ready to bounce back and knows he is on a good stage to do so.

Tom Lüthi (CarXpert Interwetten) could be the man in the way. With four wins at the track – two in 125cc and two in Moto2™ - the Swiss veteran is a force to be reckoned with in France. On pole last year and winning in 2015 by an impressive margin, Lüthi will know Le Mans is a place to try and strike back. With some podiums in 2017 at venues usually more difficult for the 2016 runner up, the Championship gap went down to only 11 points again in Jerez – so the stage could be set for a first win.

Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46) took his first podium in Jerez in a stunning ride, and he will be looking to keep his form going and stay in with the frontrunners – with ‘Rookie of the Year’ the goal. But there’s another rookie ready to get in his way in France – home hero Fabio Quartararo (Pons HP 40), who has also shown an impressive adaptation to Moto2™.

Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) will be pushing hard once again on the new KTM intermediate class chassis – already on a 50% podium rate so far – with the likes of Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racing Team) and Dominique Aegerter (Kiefer Racing) to contend with. Aegerter also has a new teammate joining Kiefer from Le Mans – British Supersport Champion Tarran MacKenzie, who will want to hit the ground running and kickstart his Moto2™ career.

MacKenzie’s first taste of Moto2™ is FP1 at 10:55am (GMT +2) on Friday, with the intermediate class showdown set for 12:20 on Sunday.

Moto2 World Championship Classification
1 - Franco Morbidelli (ITA - Kalex) 75 points
2 - Thomas Lüthi (SWI - Kalex) 64 points
3 - Miguel Oliveira (POR - KTM) 59 points
4 - Álex Márquez (SPA - Kalex) 49 points
5 - Francesco Bagnaia (ITA - Kalex) 33 points
Moto3™ gear up for Le Mans with Mir in charge
Championship leader keeps it calm in Jerez to carry on his form – as Fenati closes in…

Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) had a tougher time in Texas but the points leader was back on the podium in Jerez as he continues to keep his dominion at the top of the standings. The men behind him – Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) and John McPhee (British Talent Team) were the ones who suffered a little more under the Spanish sun, with a P9 and a crash respectively, and they will be looking to hit back hard in France.

The big winner in Jerez was COTA winner Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers), who came second – ahead of Mir once again. Now the Italian “veteran” is second in the standings, and only nine back on Mir.

First time winner Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) shot back in style after the disappointments of Texas, and the first victory in Jerez may transform Canet. Two more riders who had incredible showings in Jerez - Marcos Ramirez and Darryn Binder (Platinum Bay Real Estate) – may also feel the force of having transformed the fight at the front in Jerez.

Another big story is the return of Danny Kent (Red Bull KTM Ajo) as a wildcard. The 2015 Moto3™ World Champion tested with the team in Jerez, and now returns - with experience of the team and a title, what can he do?

Jules Danilo (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) flies the home flag in France, and has shown solid steps forward this season as he learns the Moto3™ craft and consistency. Two solid points finishes in the last two races make for good reading ahead of Le Mans, where practice gets underway on Friday at 9:00 (GMT +2).

Moto3 World Championship Classification
1 - Joan Mir (SPA - Honda) 74 points
2 - Romano Fenati (ITA - Honda) 65 points
3 - Jorge Martin (SPA - Honda) 59 points
4 - John McPhee (GBR - Honda) 49 points
5 - Aron Canet (SPA - Honda) 43 points

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