MOTOGP de France : Marquez: strategic victory… and yet another save!
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) took a record-breaking victory at the HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France, which sees the reigning World Champion equal Casey Stoner’s 38 premier class wins - and surpass Mike Hailwood's win record. Alma Pramac Racing’s Danilo Petrucci was a superb second to take his first podium of the season - and from the front row - with Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) returning to rostrum in third place after a more difficult run of races for the 'Doctor'.
Sadly, however, the French fairytale wasn't to be for Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), as the home hero crashed out at Turn 8 on lap eight after re-passing Marquez for second in the fight at the front. Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was another rider to crash, falling out of contention on lap one at la Chapelle after making a good start. In yet more drama for the standings, Championship contender Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) made a rare error at the same corner four laps later, making Le Mans another pivotal race in the Championship.
At the start, it was Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) who got the holeshot from the second row, repeating his incredible launch of the Spanish GP to take off in the lead – and hold onto it. Zarco dropped from pole but then struck back almost immediately into the chicane to take second, with Petrucci, Dovizioso, Marquez and Rossi all close at the front until Iannone crashed out – leaving a gap back to Marquez as the two Ducatis and Zarco stayed close together at the front.
The Frenchman then headed slightly wide and Dovizioso struck, honing in on teammate Lorenzo in the lead and not leaving long before trying an attack. Getting the job done quickly, it seemed the Italian was then going to unleash his pace shown in practice – but he suddenly slid out of the lead and into the gravel, leaving the number 99 of Lorenzo’s Ducati out front.
Zarco and Marquez closed in before the reigning Champion shot past the Frenchman for second – but Zarco, in signature style, was quick to respond. The second bolt of drama was about to hit the race, however, as the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider then slid off at Turn 8 – leaving Marquez vs Lorenzo in the lead.
On Lap 10, the number 93 made his move before Petrucci followed the Honda rider through a lap later. Rossi and Miller soon carved their way past the five-time World Champion, who started the race on softer rubber, with Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) waiting in the wings.
The gap between Marquez, Petrucci, Rossi and Miller stayed consistent, with all four exchanging quickest laps. That was until six-time World Champion Marquez pulled the pin on Lap 16, setting the fastest lap of the race to bridge to gap to a second over the chasing GP18. From there, Marquez was able to stretch the gap tenth by tenth, with Petrucci also keeping nine-time World Champion Rossi at bay. Pedrosa was later able to pass Lorenzo for fifth, with the Ducati rider having to settle for sixth.
Further down the order, after failing to get the start he was looking for, last year’s winner Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) made his way back up to seventh after being outside the top ten for the first half of the race. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) had a great ride, holding onto eighth until the last lap but then coming home ninth. Passing him on the last lap was a superhuman Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), who had a magnificent ride battling to P8 from 13th on the grid – riding through the pain barrier after a huge highside on Saturday.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) battled with Viñales and Espargaro throughout the race, eventually rounding out the top ten in his first ride at the track in the premier class, having missed the event in 2017 due to injury. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) picked up another solid result in P11 for some more good points for KTM, with Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) eventually getting the better of Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) to finish as top rookie.
That’s it for Le Mans, and it’s now time to gear up for Mugello. Marquez extends his Championship lead to 36 points but the Italians will be out in force to try and stop him – can his momentum be stalled?
The Championship leader was victorious in Le Mans, but there was more to it than just your typical race win
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) continued to stamp his authority on the 2018 World Championship at the HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France, taking his third straight victory of the season to extend his overall standings lead to 36 points over compatriot Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP).
His Le Mans victory also meant he equaled Casey Stoner’s 38 premier class wins record, a great achievement for the six-time World Champion, but there was more to Marquez’ victory than the 25 points he earned. The number 93 was the only rider on the grid to race with harder rear Michelin compound tyre, something that he tried in the morning warm up. “The first move was on the tyre choice, I was the only rider with hard rear, this morning I feel really good and this was key for the race, I was able to keep a constant pace,” explained a strategic Marquez.
That was his first “move”, in a race where the reigning Champion reminded everyone he has the tactics as well as the speed. After getting edged out by Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) at Turn 3, then almost hitting Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) when the Italian fell at la Chapelle, Marquez told himself to keep cool, and wait for his tyres to reach optimum temperature.
“Then we started the race, I knew the first two laps I would struggle because it takes time to get the correct temperature. Then everything becomes more difficult, Johann overtook me on the third corner, I was wide then Iannone overtook me, then he crashed on Turn 5, I nearly hit him, two riders overtook me and then I say ok, cool down a little bit.”
Then, Marquez admits to having his radar firmly set on Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), before the Italian crashed out of the lead. “And then I was pushing hard, trying to get the correct temperature in the tyres. I was looking at Dovi, because he had the best pace all weekend, he crashed and then my approach to the race changed a little bit,” expressed the Repsol Honda rider. “Then I was more clam, I took my time, because I saw that the front tyre was so critical.”
Turn 3 was a particular corner Marquez was approaching with caution during the race, after the Spaniard crashed there during FP3. That fall though, as he explains, helped him save another potential lowside during the race. “Yeah in Turn 3 I had a moment like I did in FP3, I crashed there, and this crash helped me to save (this one) in the race, because when I crash in Turn 3, since that moment during the race I was always careful there. My elbow was so stiff, it was like a stick and then yeah when I lost the front I just put the elbow (down) and I picked up the bike.”
The race in Le Mans was another that, like Jerez, played right into the hands of Marquez. But next up its Mugello and a very different track – on very different turf. Can he extend his lead again in Italy? Find out next time out on 3rd June.