2016 Le Mans MotoGP Preview
After five rounds in 2016 MotoGP, there was only one repeat winner – Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez. The 23-year-old Spaniard earned back-to-back wins at Argentina and Circuit of the Americas, rounds two and three, respectively.
The other two winners were from the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP squad – five-time World Champion Jorge Lorenzo won the season opener in Qatar, and nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi two weeks ago at Jerez.
Due to his podium finishes at all rounds, four-time World Champion Marquez holds the points lead. The RC213V rider, who had struggled throughout the preseason, has 82 points heading into round five of 18. Lorenzo trails by 17 points, and Rossi 24 points.
When past performance at Le Mans is considered, there is no absolute favorite between these three “aliens.” Marquez only has two wins – one each in MotoGP and Moto3; Rossi has four (three MotoGP, one former 125cc class); and Lorenzo the most with five (four MotoGP, one former 250cc class).
Marquez earned the pole last season at Le Mans’ Bugatti Circuit, but experienced front-tire issues. He was able to finish fourth, but is hoping to do better this season.
“I like the Le Mans track although it requires that you be ready to deal with many variables. To begin with, the weather: you never know what it will do there. Last year the temperature rose significantly on Sunday and we suffered a lot with front grip in the race. Rain also isn’t unusual there,” Marquez says.
“In addition, the track has a stop-and-go layout, with many slow turns where braking and acceleration are crucial. We’ll see if we find ourselves in a situation similar to Austin, where acceleration out of slow corners was a lot better than expected, or if we have to face a bigger challenge. During the last test in Jerez, we worked a lot on electronics and the chassis setting to find more grip, and on the balance of the bike to reduce wheelying. It’s always a compromise but I think we’ve gathered useful info for Le Mans and, knowing how far we’ve come since this winter and how quickly we’ve been able to react to many situations, I feel confident and look forward to starting the next racing weekend.”
Lorenzo, the future Ducati rider who finished second behind his teammate at Jerez and followed this with a positive one-day test at the Spanish circuit, will look to regain the points lead this weekend at Le Mans.
“Jerez was a good race, not perfect because of the result, but at least we could add one more podium to our tally. This season it’s going to be crucial to keep scoring the maximum number of points every race, like we did in Jerez, so we can now focus on Le Mans, where we intend to do the same,” Lorenzo says.
“France is often tricky because of the weather, so we need to be prepared in case it rains. Anyway my target is to try to get another podium and be a constant at the front, though it’s still uncertain how we will be able to manage with the new tires. Every race is different but we need to be focused the whole weekend and try to get the maximum from our package.”
Rossi’s last win arrived at the 2008 French GP, and the last time the 37-year-old Italian scored back-to-back victories was in 2009, the year he also earned his last title.
“Le Mans is a track where the YZR-M1 usually goes very well. The negative thing about Le Mans is the weather, it is always very uncertain. It can rain, it is often cold and so there are many factors that you must be careful of,” Rossi says.
“Last year I had a good race but I was not able to beat Jorge, I’ll try again this year. First we will start the weekend in the same way as we did in Jerez. There we found a good set-up on Friday and this has helped us to be competitive in the race. We will do our best also in Le Mans.”
With all eyes on the top three runners, Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa – not considered too much of an alien this season – made some progress at the Jerez test regarding setup of the RC213V. But his best finish so far in 2016 MotoGP was third in Argentina; he suffered a crash, though, at Circuit of the Americas. He is currently fourth in points, 18 behind Rossi.
Following in points are the Team Suzuki Ecstar riders of Maverick Vinales and Aleix Espargaro. Le Mans is a special circuit for Vinales; the Spaniard earned his first World Championship victory there in 2011. The tight layout of the 2.6-mile circuit caters to the GSX-RR as both him and Espargaro, who earned two top-five finishes, chase the podium.
Struggles continue for the Ducati Team of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone. Dovi began the season off quite well with a podium, but disaster followed at rounds two-four; while in podium contention, Dovi crashed after Iannone hit him. Dovi pushed his bike over the finish line for 13th, but suffered a crash at COTA and a DNF in Jerez due to technical issues (water pump on the D16). Iannone’s luck is no better; he crashed out of the opening two rounds, but earned a podium at COTA and seventh in Jerez.
In other Ducati news, Danilo Petrucci will return to the grid with Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati. He didn’t start one race this season due to aggravating a pre-season hand injury during Qatar practice. MotoGP reports that Petrucci will attempt to ride during practice and assess his condition as the weekend progresses.
The only French rider on the MotoGP grid – Avintia Racing Ducati’s Loris Baz – has had a rought season so far, suffering to DNFs and a best-place finish of 13th at Jerez.
The on-track action begins at 9:55 local time Friday, May 6, for the first free practice. Qualifying follows Saturday ahead of the 28-lap French Grand Prix.
2016 Le Mans MotoGP on TV
beIN Sports will provide live broadcast coverage of 2016 Le Mans MotoGP beginning at 7:55 a.m. ET.
2016 MotoGP Point Standings (after four of 18 rounds):