2016 Le Mans MotoGP Commentary |
Lorenzo Up, Márquez Down

2016 Le Mans MotoGP Qualifying Results | Lorenzo Untouchable, Earns Pole
Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo

While this round of the 2016 MotoGP season is held in the spring and is officially called the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France at Le Mans Bugatti Grand Prix Circuit, Le Mans, France, it seems they may rename the race The Fall Classic. Eight riders crashed out, and a ninth with a very famous name crashed and remounted, only to be lapped by the leaders.

Let’s see which MotoGP riders were on the Upside at Le Mans, and who fell onto the Downside.

UPSIDE

1. Jorge Lorenzo, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP. Turning a 17-point deficit into a five-point lead is a darn good day. In fact, Lorenzo had a dominating weekend at Le Mans, taking poll, the holeshot, and leading all 28 laps. Lorenzo’s consistent 1:33 lap times were robotic, but at the end he won by 10 seconds and the defending champion regains the lead in the 2016 MotoGP Championship series.

“I‘m very happy with this victory, because everything has been almost perfect,” Lorenzo said. “In the race, I knew Márquez had the chance to fight for the victory with me or, if he wasn‘t very fast, he would have been 2nd or 3rd, and that would have meant he would still have kept his first position in the championship; but, he crashed.

“Now in the championship, three riders scored zero or very little points in one race, so in some way we are starting the championship from zero again after those races, but with us being five points ahead.”

2. Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP. Starting on the third row and Yamaha's Valentino Rossi at Le Mans MotoGPqualifying 0.854 seconds behind Lorenzo was ominous for Rossi, who can’t afford to let Lorenzo and Márquez clear off in the championship fight. Even Rossi’s start was challenging, and it looked like the podium would be an unlikely result.

However, Rossi worked his way through the field quickly, moving from 7th to 5th after three laps. Andrea Iannone’s crash gave him 4th, and then he made shockingly quick work of Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso on successive laps, permanently taking 2nd on Lap 14 and cruising home with 20 championship points after the pair went down on Lap 16.

“I started quite badly from the third row, so at the beginning it was very complicated,” Rossi explained.“I had a quite good pace, so I was able to push and I was quite fast, but you have to stay quiet because it was very easy to make some mistakes. Step by step, I arrived to the back of Márquez and Dovi, and at that moment I was a bit faster.

“I‘m so happy because, when you start from 7th position and you take 20 points, it’s very good, also because they are 20 very important points. In the championship, I’m 12 points behind Jorge and seven behind Marc. This means that between us three the championship is wide open and we have to concentrate. I’m just 3rd at this moment, so I have to think race by race, and especially think of Mugello and try to be competitive there.”

3. Maverick Viñales, Team Suzuki Ecstar. While undoubtedly Viñales would have preferred to take his first podium while battling for the positions, rather than being gifted crashes by Iannone, Márquez, and Dovi, he was still the 3rd-fastest rider when the checkered flag flew.

Furthermore, Viñales impressively worked his way up from 9th on the first lap so he could take advantage of other riders’ miscues. After losing a podium in Argentina, Viñales remained patient in France and it paid off, as he held off a closing Dani Pedrosa by just enough. Viñales is still lacking some speed, as his fastest lap trailed the fastest times of Ross and Lorenzo by a significant margin. With the podium, Viñales moves up to 5th in the standings, and just four points behind Pedrosa.

Vinales on podium at 2016 Le Mans MotoGP
Maverick Vinales

“It is such a special feeling to be on the podium; we did an incredible job,” Viñales said. “Yesterday was so difficult, really difficult, as I was not feeling very good with the bike. But, this morning we found a new setup. I regained my confidence, and could start pushing again.

“Today when I started, I just tried to concentrate and overtake the riders in front of me. Finally, Marc and Dovi had bad luck, but I was riding well and at about the same pace as Valentino, so I was happy. I was on the limit many times, and when Pedrosa started to close I was having some moments. But finally, I was able to ride quite smoothly and control it.”

4. Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team. There’s no doubt that Pedrosa is benefitting from the factory Ducatis’ inability to finish races, but that’s a big part of being competitive in the standings. Pedrosa’s only DNF came when he was taken out by Dovizioso, so the Ducatis’ propensity for crashing has worked both ways for Pedrosa. In Le Mans, Pedrosa struggled early and didn’t move through the field as quickly as Viñales.

At the end, that left Pedrosa too far behind Viñales to make a serious podium run, not surprising for a rider 11th on the starting grid. Still, 4th place in the standings is as good as Pedrosa could realistically hope for at this point, though he is an imposing 25 points behind 3rd place Rossi in the standings.

“I cannot feel satisfied with today’s 4th place because, obviously, I would prefer be much higher up the order and have better races,” Pedrosa admitted. “I give my all, but the conditions are not always there to do well. We are also making some mistakes, and one that is hurting us most is in qualifying, because starting far back makes things more difficult in the race.

“At the beginning of the race today, we did not have good grip and it was hard to get enough of a feeling to go a little faster. The second part of the race went better, and there were some laps in which I even rode quicker than Rossi’s pace, but it was too late. What makes a difference is starting well, starting high up on the grid, and putting in good opening laps.”

5. Danilo Petrucci, OCTO Pramac Yakhnich Ducati. This was quite an impressive return from injury. Petrucci’s 7th made him the top Ducati rider, just barely edging the Avintia Racing Ducati of Hector Barbera by a quarter of a second. Petrucci’s 14th place start was not good, as he was 10th on the grid, but he hung in there and clawed his way past a few riders, and took advantage of the crashes of others. It was definitely a smart comeback ride.

“I’m very happy,” Petrucci said. “Now I can say I feel really better. It has been a difficult period and I thank all those who helped me. I did not know if I would be able to finish the free practice, and now I can enjoy this beautiful 7th place. I’m happy, but I do not want to stop here. At Mugello, I hope to be able to lap a little closer to the leading group. Thanks to a little luck I managed to gain the 7th place but I can do better.”

DOWNSIDE

1. Marc Márquez, Repsol Honda Team. In one of the oddest crashes you’ll see in MotoGP, Márquez lost his MotoGP Championship Series lead and joined the other riders in the top 5 in the standings with one crash each. To Márquez’ credit, he picked up his bike and took advantage of other crashers to finish a lap down, but with three championship points to show for it. Márquez said he had to take risks, but he also has to manage them better.If Márquez is to take his third MotoGP championship this year, he is going to have to learn and respect the limitations of the Michelin tires. He had done so in Spain, but didn’t make the smart decision to settle in France.

Honda's Marc Marquez at Le Mans MotoGP 2016
Honda’s Marc Marquez

“It was a pity about the crash today,” Márquez said. “I was having a good race, but these things can happen when you’re at the limit on every lap. I could have opted for a more conservative race, but here you can end up far back if you do that, so today I had to take risks.

“In the race, I saw that I was losing ground under acceleration, and I had to make that back with my braking. Finally, I lost the front and crashed.

“The positive is that I managed to get three points and I’m only five off Jorge Lorenzo in the standings, which isn’t a lot. Now, we have a run of tracks that we found a little tough last year, but they’re quite different to Jerez and Le Mans, so I hope to be fast and have some good races.”

2. Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team. What a disastrous year for Dovi. A 2nd place in Qatar, and only three championship points in the next four races. He has the speed, but he is not adapting to the response of the Michelins. Falling a split second after Márquez, as they both pursued Rossi, Dovizioso leaned it over too far for his speed and down he went. His championship season is over, and now he can just concentrate on being around for the checkered flag.

Ducati Andrea Dovizioso at Le Mans MotoGP
Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso

“It’s a real pity because we had guessed the right strategy and managed to start the race well,” Dovizioso said. “I was in the group following Lorenzo and trying to understand where it was possible to try and attack Rossi, but at the entry to Turn 7 the front tire lost grip and I found myself on the ground.”After analyzing the telemetry, we saw that I had a lean angle that was only two degrees higher than the previous laps.

“But, even without taking this into account, the tires were working quite well this weekend. Unfortunately, it is a characteristic of theirs to not give any warning when they lose grip, and I crashed.

“Today’s performance gave us some important feedback for the future because it proved that we can be quick, but not for the entire duration of the race. Now, we have to work to be more consistent, and then go on to find pure performance.”

3. Andrea Iannone, Ducati Team. This has to be so demoralizing for Iannone. He knows his Ducati ride will evaporate at the end of the year, and he’s not helping himself for the future by crashing out in half the races. The Maniac has always had speed, but not consistency.

Now, that inconsistency is spreading to crashing out. Five rounds in and sitting in 10th place in the standings, he is still within a stone’s throw of 4th place, but Iannone seriously needs to turn things around. Like teammate Dovizioso, Iannone blames the inconsistency of the motorcycle for his problems.

“I am very disappointed because crashing in the race, especially after a weekend in which we were always competitive and performing well, really hurts,” Iannone laments. “What happened is very strange because I pushed harder in the early laps to overtake Dovi under braking than when I was behind Lorenzo and trying to reduce the gap. But, the behavior of the front tire is always difficult to predict and you never know how much confidence you have. Despite the crash, we proved that we were quick, even though we were unable to bring home any points. Now, we really have to improve some aspects that are not allowing us to be constant throughout the whole race.”

4. Cal Crutchlow, LCR Honda. Is Crutchlow the new Randy de Puniet? Time will tell. At this point, even he is tweeting gallows humor: “Suppose it was fun while it lasted. Be positive and try again in next one …”

5. Jack Miller, Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS. Like Márquez and Dovizioso before him, Turn 7 claimed Miller, though a bit later in the race. Miller came in with two points over four rounds, and was in position to pick up six points in 10th when he fell. MotoGP is not turning out well for the six-time Moto3 winner who, perhaps unwisely, skipped his Moto2 apprenticeship. Miller finished 19th in the standings with 17 points in 2015.

He’s down in 22nd place this year, and has scored just two points.Maybe Estrella Galicia can persuade him to put in a year on their Moto2 bike in 2017 and do some maturing—Alex Márquez isn’t doing much with one of their Moto2 bikes.

“I was 18th on the grid and knew that my long run pace from Saturday was pretty decent, so I played it patient—I know, very unlike me!” Miller said. “I moved up a spot or two with some other guys crashing and then started to get more confident, getting past Stefan Bradl and Eugene Laverty to get to 12th.

“When Marc and Andrea went down, I was 10th, and afterwards I realized that would have been my best MotoGP race finish. Bradley Smith, who was ahead of me, went down later in the race—at the same corner again. Top 10 was easily achievable, so that was why I was so annoyed. Sometimes you can be disappointed when you crash, other times shrug it off a bit easier. This one might last a bit longer.”

Photography by Luciano Bianchetto

2016 Monster Energy Grand Prix de France Results, Le Mans, France

  1. Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha
  2. Valentino Rossi, Yamaha
  3. Maverick Viñales, Suzuki
  4. Dani Pedrosa, Honda
  5. Pol Espargaro, Yamaha
  6. Aleix Espargaro, Suzuki
  7. Danilo Petrucci, Ducati
  8. Hector Barbera, Ducati
  9. Álvaro Bautista, Aprilia
  10. Stefan Bradl, Aprilia
  11. Eugene Laverty, Ducati
  12. Loris Baz, Ducati
  13. Marc Márquez, Honda

2016 MotoGP Championship Standings (after 5 of 18 rounds)

  1. Jorge Lorenzo, 90 points (2 wins)
  2. Marc Marquez, 85 (2 wins)
  3. Valentino Rossi, 78 (1 win)
  4. Dani Pedrosa, 53
  5. Maverick Viñales, 49
  6. Pol Espargaró, 47
  7. Aleix Espargaró, 42
  8. Hector Barbera, 39
  9. Eugene Laverty, 33
  10. Andrea Iannone, Ducati, 25
  11. Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati, 23
  12. Stefan Bradl, Aprilia
  13. Álvaro Bautista, 21
  14. Bradley Smith, Yamaha, 20
  15. Scott Redding, Ducati, 16
  16. Michele Pirro, Ducati 12
  17. Tito Rabat, Honda, 11
  18. Danilo Petrucci, 9
  19. Loris Baz, 8
  20. Cal Crutchlow, Honda, 5
  21. Yonny Hernandez, Ducati, 3
  22. Jack Miller, Honda, 2