A chess move used in the opening stages of matches between the best players in the world, the French Defence will also be used this coming weekend by the current MotoGP grandmasters. The fourth round of the World Championship -the Grand Prix de France- takes place on May 17th at the famous Le Mans circuit, with the series leaders aiming to preserve their positions and stave off attacks on their supremacy.
An eleven point gap separates MotoGP World Champion and current premier class leader Valentino Rossi from nearest rival Casey Stoner heading to the continental showdown, with the duo in top form thus far in 2009. Fiat Yamaha rider Rossi won his first race of the year at the last round in Jerez, and is the only man with a 100% podium record still intact after the opening three races. Last year he headed an all-Yamaha top three at Le Mans, and a repeat of that result would leave him just one win shy of a century of victories -an honour that he could take at his home race in Mugello.
Stoner has only finished on the podium at Le Mans on one occasion, with a third place in a wet 2007 race. The Ducati Marlboro star could regain the lead of the World Championship on Sunday, depending on the results of his immediate rivals.
Tied on points in third and fourth place are the Spanish duo of Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, representing Fiat Yamaha and Repsol Honda, respectively. Lorenzo crashed out of his home race at Jerez, whilst Pedrosa took a second consecutive unexpected rostrum whilst in less-than-peak condition.
Just eleven points cover positions five-thru-ten in the overall classification, With Andrea Dovizioso at the head of the ‘mini table’ and targeting a better feeling with the Honda RC212V. The Italian has a four-point advantage over Colin Edwards, competing in his Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team’s home race on Sunday.
Randy de Puniet follows up his fourth place at Jerez with a chance of home glory with his LCR Honda machinery, the Frenchman in a rich run of form.
The remaining riders in the top ten have all won races at the Le Mans circuit across the three World Championship classes, with Marco Melandri and Chris Vermeulen previous premier class victors at the track and Loris Capirossi a victor in the lower cylinder categories.
A return to one-hour practice sessions is brought in from the Grand Prix de France onwards.