2017 Le Mans MotoGP Conference

Ahead of the pre-race press conference for the French Grand Prix at Le Mans, the six-riders present, including nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, held a giant sign that read “Thinking of You Nicky #69.”

The 2006 MotoGP Champion Hayden was obviously on top of everyone’s mind following his cycling crash in Italy Wednesday. Hayden, who just beat Rossi to the 2006 MotoGP title, is currently in an intensive care unit of Cesena’s Bufalini Hospital in Italy due to “serious cerebral damage.”

Rossi began the Le Mans MotoGP conference off by saying: “It was very bad news from yesterday. The first hours it’s difficult for it to sink in, but I spoke with a doctor who is a friend of mine, and he said to me that the situation was very difficult from the first moment.

2017 Le Mans MotoGP Press Conference: Get Well Nicky Hayden
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“Now with a bit more time you start to understand it and it’s a great shame because Nicky is a great friend and great rider; a World Champion and always at the top, but also a great guy. Coming from a family of racers, from his father to his brothers, he’s always a good guy and always smiling. I think the situation is very difficult but we all hope for the best.”

From there, the focus turned to Le Mans, which was recently repaved. Rossi was the first to speak, followed by the reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Jerez winner Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team), Jerez podium finisher Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) and home heroes Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Loris Baz (Reale Avintia Racing Ducati).

Heading into round five in France, Rossi continues to lead the championship with 62 points – only two ahead of teammate Maverick Vinales and four ahead of Marquez. He is looking to put Jerez behind him; the 38-year-old Italian claimed 10th there after finishing on the podium in the opening three rounds.

2017 Le Mans MotoGP Press Conference: Valentino Rossi
Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi

“In Jerez I was upset for me and the team, considering the result of the first three races and last year’s race in Jerez,” Rossi says. “We lost the advantage we had, but I’m still in front on points, which is positive. We need to understand it, it looks like the marriage between the M1, the tires and the track was very bad.

“We don’t know what to expect from this weekend. Usually in the past the M1 was always good here in the last few years but we have to wait. We hope for a good feeling, but the weather could be bad and we expect some rain – so it will also be an important test in those conditions. We did one day of testing here before Jerez to understand the new track surface. The conditions weren’t great but I think they’ve done a very good job. The asphalt is great and a lot better on the bumps – almost no bumps. The tires worked well I think it will be positive for everybody.”

Marquez was next to talk. He finished second at Jerez, and has zero testing experience on the track’s new surface.

2017 Le Mans MotoGP Press Conference: Marc Marquez
Honda’s Marc Marquez

“Jerez was a great surprise for the Honda team because normally we expect to struggle more there but even though it wasn’t one of my best weekends, I was able to fight for the win until the last laps. And I’m happy about the Monday test too because I did a lot of laps and tried many things,” Marquez says.

“In Le Mans we’ll see, the track surface is another question mark – this year is different, we have a different bike so we’ll try to do our best. We have some data from Cal Crutchlow from when he tested here, so we’ll try and use that. I like the circuit, but although it’s a track I like, for some reason the results sometimes don’t arrive. We’ll see. A podium result here would be a good one.”

Pedrosa is looking to carry his winning momentum into Le Mans: “In the last two races we made some improvements and were getting better practice by practice. And in the last test we had a good day, and we need to test the new surface here but I think the riders that tested it said the grip was good. So it’s about learning how the feeling in the corners is, where the new bumps are or aren’t. But I think after the last test our base is quite good so we hope we’ll start the weekend with the bike we had in the last two races. We’ll check the track and the weather, we need track time to test the tires but maybe tomorrow will be raining.”

2017 Le Mans MotoGP Press Conference: Dani Pedrosa
Honda’s Dani Pedrosa

The Jerez win was Pedrosa’s 146th podium, which equals him with Lorenzo. The three-time MotoGP Champion Lorenzo claimed his first-ever podium with Ducati in Jerez after claiming third, and is looking forward to more positive results at Le Mans.

“For me Le Mans has always been a good track, from 2003,” Lorenzo says. “So a magical track for me, and it can be a good track for Ducati as we’ve seen. Let’s see with new asphalt, how the grip is and the bumps. And the weather, it looks like it will rain but it changes every day. It’s been a long time because I got used to having good results so I wasn’t used to recovering positions and struggling. But I trust myself and my team and the potential of the bike. I need more kilometers. It’s not over yet, there’s work to do, but I feel much more natural with the bike now.”

2017 Le Mans MotoGP Press Conference: Jorge Lorenzo
Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo

Zarco arrives as a home favorite in his rookie year of MotoGP: “It’s a special weekend, after a great debut and a good race in Jerez. All the fans are pushing me to get on the podium – and I want it too but I need time!

“We have new asphalt, in wet or dry if we have better grip that can help me to have good confidence, because the bike is good in many conditions at the moment. So if I have something more, why not stay with the top riders? I’m still learning, and when I analyze the last race I still have a lot to learn – so why not, because I think the potential of the bike is to be on the podium. The fan reaction is quite a surprise. It’s nice to see that being good in MotoGP, people love it and support you. So I want to enjoy it and stay motivated to keep pushing.”

2017 Le Mans MotoGP Press Conference: Johann Zarco
Yamaha’s Johann Zarco

Also racing before a home crowd is Baz, who is optimistic about positive results at Le Mans: “I remember coming here as a child and I remember my first race here two years ago, I think it’s something you remember forever. Racing is quite famous in France, a lot of people come here, so it’s very special and I love riding at home every time. This year is going much better than last year.

“It could be better but I think we’re doing a good job and working well with the bike we have. We can always score points, and in some other tracks the pace was really good – so let’s hope this track is good for us like Argentina was. The bike is really strong on the brakes and there’s a few places here like that.”

2017 Le Mans MotoGP Press Conference: Loris Baz
Ducati’s Loris Baz

The first free practice begins Friday at 9:55 a.m. local time, ahead of Saturday qualifying and Sunday’s French GP, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. local time.

Photos by Luciano Bianchetto