The FIM MotoGP World Championship arrives at Le Mans this weekend for the third round of the 2010 campaign, the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France, as the battle for an early advantage at the top of the standings in all three categories continues.
Jorge Lorenzo currently sits in prime position in the MotoGP class following his fine win at Jerez and the French circuit of Le Mans is one at which he has enjoyed great success in his two premier class seasons to date.
Last year the Fiat Yamaha rider won an eventful race that started as a wet contest but ended on dry tyres, and it was a result that was the start of a run of six straight podium finishes.
Having finished second the year before, the Spaniard will be in confident mood as he looks to stretch what is a narrow four-point lead over team-mate and rival Valentino Rossi.
The reigning World Champion also has a strong pedigree at the circuit, despite last season’s 16th-placed finish there. Rossi has three premier class victories at Le Mans (2002, 2005 and 2008), and will reignite his duel with Lorenzo and company.
Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa will want to close the 16-point gap from his present third place in the standings to top spot by at least repeating his podium finish from last year’s race, and second place at Jerez three weeks ago will have placed him in a more than positive frame of mind.
The Spaniard’s team-mate Andrea Dovizioso has started the season strongly with a podium in Qatar and a top-six finish at Jerez, and in France he will want to get on the podium for the first time in the premier class, having just missed out last season.
Ducati Marlboro rider Nicky Hayden’s hunger for a top-three finish will also be strong after consecutive fourth places in the opening two rounds of 2010.
Randy de Puniet’s home GP will provide plenty of motivation for the LCR Honda rider, who at present is the highest placed private team rider in the Championship ahead of Colin Edwards of the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team. Edwards has twice been on the podium at Le Mans, the last time being 2008.
In eighth place in the standings Casey Stoner (Ducati Marlboro) will be desperate to score big points and place higher than his best-ever finish of third, which came in his Championship-winning season of 2007.
Level on points with him are Ben Spies (Monster Yamaha Tech3) who makes his MotoGP debut on the circuit, and Marco Melandri (San Carlo Honda Gresini) who has been on the podium three times in MotoGP at Le Mans including a win in 2006 and second place last year.
His team-mate Marco Simoncelli, Mika Kallio (Pramac Racing), Hiroshi Aoyama (Interwetten Honda MotoGP), Loris Capirossi (Rizla Suzuki) and Héctor Barberá (Páginas Amarillas Aspar) follow in the standings.
Álvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki) will ride despite having just had surgery on a broken collarbone, with Aleix Espargaró (Pramac Racing) also hoping to build on his single point so far.
Leading the standings in Moto2 is Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa of the Technomag-CIP team, having taken a win and a second place in the first two races.
The strong start stands the 19 year-old in good stead, and he will be hoping to improve significantly on his failure to finish last year’s 250cc race in his only previous World Championship outing at Le Mans.
Hot on his heels is Toni Elías at just seven points adrift, and the Spaniard has enjoyed some success at the track in the past having won there in the quarter-litre category in 2003 – one of three career podiums at the site.
Interwetten Moriwaki rider Thomas Lüthi occupies third in the standings heading into the third round, and with two wins (both in the 125cc class) at Le Mans he knows his way around the layout well.
A podium finish at Jerez last time out means he will be one of the favourites to be challenging at the head of the race.
Jules Cluzel’s desire to please his home fans combined with his eagerness to maintain pace with the Championship leaders will see the Forward Racing man going hard, whilst Alex Debón (Aeroport de Castelló-Ajo) will also be determined after the disappointment of a DNF at Jerez and will want to consolidate if not improve on his fifth place in the standings.
Simone Corsi (JiR Moto2), Sergio Gadea (Tenerife 40 Pons) and Roberto Rolfo (Italtrans STR) are all top-eight riders with their eyes on the podium.
Mapfre Aspar riders Julián Simón and Mike di Meglio will compete on the Suter chassis for the first time this season after the Spanish team decided to switch to the Swiss frame last week, and there will also be a wildcard entry, Belgian rider Xavier Simon, who will ride a Moriwaki chassis under the banner Holiday Gym Franchises.
Nico Terol leads the chase for the 125cc crown after just two rounds, and the Bancaja Aspar rider finished last year’s race at the track in ninth place but was on the podium the season before, so he knows what it takes to score valuable points at Le Mans.
Pol Espargaró (Tuenti Racing) sits seven points behind Terol in the standings and will lead the charge of others looking to break the Championship leader’s early run of form. Coming in off the back of a win at Jerez, where he beat Terol to the victory, Espargaró will aim for higher than his previous best of fourth at Le Mans.
Esteve Rabat (Blusens STX) is enjoying his best start to a season and is closely followed by Bancaja Aspar rider Bradley Smith inside the current top four.
The Brit took his first World Championship podium at Le Mans three years ago and was fourth at the circuit last season, and will be hoping for further improvement as he seeks to make up the deficit to team-mate and rival Terol at the top.
Efrén Vázquez (Tuenti Racing) will be refocused after the disappointment of a fall at Jerez, whilst Marc Márquez (Red Bull Ajo Motorsport) also failed to finish at his home GP last time out following an unfortunate end to his race with a faulty exhaust.
The young Spaniard has taken both pole positions so far this season, and will ride through the pain of a recovering injury sustained in his tumble.
Three wildcard riders will also race; Gregory di Carlo, Kevin Szalai (both Equipe de France Vitesse Espoir) and Kevin Thobois (Xtreme Racing Team), all three on Honda machinery.