The Monster Energy Grand Prix de France at Le Mans begins a grueling period for MotoGP racers – it’s the start of five races in just seven weeks, with Fiat Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo leading over his teammate Valentino Rossi in the championship.
At the pre-event press conference for Round 3 on the Bugatti circuit at Le Mans, Jorge Lorenzo said "This many races in a short space of time is hard physically, because you are always on the bike and you don’t have time to stop and rest, but for the riders it’s the best thing, because racing almost every weekend is what we live for."
The Spaniard took second at the season opener in Qatar, and then won at Jerez, giving him 45 points in the championship, four points ahead of nine-time World Champion Rossi. And Lorenzo has luck at Le Mans; the two-time 250cc Champion took the win last year, and finished second in 2008, his debut year in the premier class.
Due to rain, last year’s conditions were not appealing to the high-horsepower, two-wheel machines, but Lorenzo still likes competing at the 2.6-mile circuit with 13 turns: "this is a track I like and all the predictions say that it’s not going to rain this weekend, so I’m happy to be at this wonderful track enjoying this wonderful weather."
Rossi has won at Le Mans three times in the premier class, having set the circuit record there in 2008 with a 1:34.215, but only finished in 16th position due to battling with setup and rain. The Italian is almost fully recovered from a motocross-training accident, Rossi injuring his shoulder, which gave him much discomfort during Jerez.
Valentino Rossi says: "My shoulder feels a lot better. For sure still not 100 percent again, but it’s definitely better than it was in Jerez. In Le Mans I’ve had a lot of different results. Sometimes I’ve had great races with great victories, while some other times I’ve had some bad luck and some bad results as well. Last year was the worst weekend of my season; I was never fast enough to stay at the front and I arrived last in the race. It was quite a bad feeling!"
"This track is always very tricky, because you need a strange setting for good stability in braking. There’s always a problem with wheelie under acceleration from the tight hairpin, but at the same time you need to have a fast bike for the last part and good agility."
Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa, who currently sits in third in the championship with 29 points, has never won at Le Mans in the premier class, but has three victories there in the 250cc and 125cc classes.
Dani Pedrosa says: "On one side this track is very fast, but on the other it’s very hard because there is a lot of hard braking and a lot of overtaking points. Here the racing is always good and in past years we’ve also had a lot to deal with, because we’ve had to change bikes or the weather was in between, so it was fun."
This week will also be extra exciting for Pedrosa – after starting the race, he’ll become the youngest rider to have 150 GP starts across all classes, taking the record from Marco Melandri, who came in second at last year’s Le Mans race ahead of Pedrosa.
Pedrosa’s teammate Andrea Dovizioso trails Pedrosa by three points in the championship after two of 18 rounds. Last year at Le Mans he finished fourth, but is more confident about the refined chassis on his RC212V for this year’s event.
Andrea Dovizioso says: "It’s a circuit that I like and where I always tend to get good results so I’m confident for this race. After the improvements we found during the Monday test in Jerez, I think we will be very competitive. In fact we will use the new chassis we tested in Jerez and I’m very positive about our potential. Le Mans is a slow racetrack."
The Kentucky Kid Nicky Hayden rounds out the top five in the championship race, the Ducati Marlboro rider tied with Dovizioso. The "stop and go" track has proven difficult for Ducati, with the Italian manufacturer only having two podiums there, Casey Stoner in 2007 and Loris Capirossi in 2006.
Nicky Hayden says: "Le Mans is probably the most difficult circuit on the calendar for me because I think it is the only place I’ve never been on the podium or the front row at, so it will be interesting to see how we go this year. As I have said a few times we have made a good start to the season and put two good races together but we have to keep our feet on the ground and keep working because our objective is to consistently perform at a high level and close the gap even further to those front guys."
Lorenzo’s confidence is high following a successful post race test at Jerez, where he was able to focus on rectifying the starting issues that forced him to fight his way through the field in the first two races of the season.
Jorge Lorenzo says: "We tested some electronic parts in Jerez after the race and also some things to improve our first laps, but mainly we tried some starts. I’ve had to push too much in the races this season to make up for the start, so this and the first few laps is what we have been working to improve."
Randy de Puniet says: "Of course, Le Mans is a big event for me and the team. You always want to do your best in every race, but having so many fans urging you on is an extra boost, so I want to get the best possible result for all the people who support me all year round. I think we can have a good race here because we made some good improvements to the bike during the tests. I like Le Mans – it’s quite stop and go and there’s a lot of hard braking into the hairpins, which I enjoy. Then the weather is perfect… we can finally have a dry race in Le Mans!"
Marco Melandri says: "Things are looking much more optimistic after the last race at Jerez and I was happy with the test we did there on the Monday. I think my feeling with the Honda RC212V is much better compared to the first two races and we are starting to learn about the things we need to change to improve it. We´re heading to some circuits where we have no winter testing data so it will be more difficult for every body to find a set-up. You also have to consider that the weather can be decisive at Le Mans so is important to find a race setting as quickly as possible in practice. Le Mans is traditionally my strongest circuit in MotoGP – I won there in 2006, I was on the podium in 2007 and 2009 and only just missed out in 2005 so I have lots of good memories of France. Naturally I´m not going to Le Mans feeling totally convinced we will come away with a great result but I feel confident that I can put up a fight, like I did at Jerez, but this time higher up the order."
Marco Simoncelli say: "I was a little disappointed to have an extra weekend off because I wanted to race straight away. I´m confident after the work we did at Jerez, especially the test because we improved a lot under braking and that will be decisive at Le Mans. I can´t wait to go racing again and I head to France in high spirits and hopeful of improving on my race from Jerez. I had fun in Spain and even though I would have obviously preferred to finish at the front of the group I was fighting with it was a great battle. Maybe with a little more determination I could have finished seventh and if I could make that my objective at Le Mans it wouldn´t be bad. It isn´t one of my favourite circuits but I always seem to have done well at Le Mans, including one of my best results of the 2007 season, a second place in 2008 and a victory last year, so I am confident. You never know what will happen with the weather but with the new track surface it should be less of a concern."
Mika Kallio says: "The result of Jerez has given me enormous confidence for this season, I wanted to send a signal to those who always supported me even in difficult times and I think I did. I’ve heard a lot of trust around me even after the bad Saturday qualifying laps, starting in last place is not exactly the best thing, but I had a great race pace that allowed me to close in the seventh position. I would like to confirm this position even in the next Grand Prix, even managing to get a better starting position. I have a fairly good feeling with this track of Le Mans, where I had good results in the past: I got the podium twice, I was second in 2006 and third in 2005. In both occasions I was driving a 125 cc. Last year, unfortunately I had some problems throughout the weekend, I started in fourteenth position, I was able to move up to tenth position but on the eleventh lap I retired from the race. "
Aleix Espargarò says: "I look forward to the Sunday race to try to finally get a result that can repay the trust and confidence that the team has placed in me during the beginning of this season. The weekend in Jerez has been unlucky and difficult for me, I slipped both in qualifying and in the race, undermining the work done on my bike to get a good result. I still wanted to prove that I could be fast on the track, so I went back on track even if I had been lapped several times. I raced in Le Mans just three times till now getting a ninth place as best result in 2008 driving a 250 cc. I hope to have an immediate good feeling with the track so that I can try to have better lap times. "
Casey Stoner says: "Because of the "stop and go" nature of the circuit at Le Mans you need a bike that is very stable on the brakes but also agile and quick in corner exit, especially in the slow sections. In the past we have usually managed to be fast and run at the front but we’ve never come away with the results that we would have liked. This year I think we can have higher expectations than the past two seasons there and we will certainly give our best to meet them."
The French Grand Prix will be aired on SPEED TV at 8 a.m. Sunday, May 23.
MotoGP Standings after Round 2:
1. Jorge Lorenzo, 45
2. Valentino Rossi, 41
3. Dani Pedrosa, 29
4. Andrea Dovizioso, 26
5. Nicky Hayden, 26
6. Randy de Puniet, 17
7. Colin Edwards, 12
8. Casey Stoner, 11
9. Ben Spies, 11
10. Marco Melandri, 11
11. Marco Simocelli, 10
12. Mika Kallio, 9
13. Hiroshi Aoyama, 8
14. Loris Capirossi, 7
15. Hector Barbera, 7
16. Alvaro Bautista, 6
17. Aleix Espargaro 1