Felice Monteleone – FMPhotoSport MotoGP News
DORNA SPORT SL Official News, Monster Energy Grand Prix de France Preview
No clear favourite in ever tightening MotoGP™ championship
Valentino Rossi may have been untouchable in Jerez, but the MotoGP™ Championship is building towards an all out brawl.
Heading into the Spanish GP, riders in the MotoGP™ World Championship were playing catch up to Marc Marquez. The Repsol Honda rider had vanished into the distance at the Circuit of the Americas and everyone was left wondering if he’d do the same at home in Jerez. Or would it be Jorge Lorenzo who reclaimed the Spanish track as Lorenzo’s Land? Both, along with Valentino Rossi, had set the pace all weekend and the trio were in a league of their own. Qualifying saw them line up on the front row together for the third race in a row and with under two tenths of a second dividing them, everything looked set for a titanic clash.
However, there was no battle, no last corner do or die moves nor any unbelievable comebacks. Valentino Rossi proved, as any good role model does, that hard work pays off. He and his crew inside the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP garage prepared perfectly for the race and Rossi mastered the rising track temperature while his rivals struggled. Neither Marquez nor Lorenzo could hold a candle to ‘The Doctor’ as he ran away with victory, crossing the line over two seconds ahead of Lorenzo. For the first time in his premier class career, Rossi took a flag to flag victory from pole position, the 113th win of his long and illustrious career. Victory pulled Rossi up to third in the championship, but he’s still 24 points behind rival Marquez. Rossi needs to start winning, or at least beating both Lorenzo and Marquez but you can guarantee it will be tough. The three have always been at the top but in 2016 they’re truly ahead as the rest of the field plays catch up with the new rules, now one of them needs to assert themselves.
Marquez has so far been the only rider to finish on the podium in all four races; both Rossi and Lorenzo playing catch up after falls in Austin and Argentina. It’s this consistency that has Marquez at the head of the championship with 82 points, his maturity prevailing in Jerez to keep his lead alive. In years past Marquez would have likely pushed his Honda RC213V to breaking point in Jerez, producing a thrilling battle but also exponentially increasing his chances of crashing with each corner. Not so in Jerez, with tyre life rapidly fading he stayed safe and brought home 16 points with third.
As with Marquez, Lorenzo experienced severe tyre issues in Jerez, his rear wheel spinning down the straight and forcing him to roll off. Lorenzo was left to lament the tyre issues that removed any chance of challenging Rossi he had, second place allowed him to close the points difference to Marquez but the 2015 MotoGP™ World Champion had wanted more. Since 2012, Lorenzo is the only rider in the leading three to take more than a single victory in Le Mans, Rossi not having won there since 2008.
Weather often plays a major role in the French GP and could likely result in a fourth different winner of the season. The MotoGP™ World Championship remained in Jerez on Monday after the race for a one day test, a number of riders making significant improvements to their setup and heading to Monster Energy Grand Prix de France more prepared than ever.
For years Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) has been considered an alien, at the front in almost every race but the new rules and current Honda have seen him off the pace. He’s been in the top five but hasn’t had the pace to challenge for victory in any races. Testing offered some much needed track time to Pedrosa and his crew who tried a number of setting changes to relieve the situation, the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France will show if the solutions worked.
One to watch is definitely Maverick Viñales (Team Suzuki Ecstar) who ended the test as the third fastest rider. Viñales has threatened the podium on several occasions this season and seems to be on the cusp of great things. Le Mans is a special circuit for Viñales as it was where he took his first World Championship victory in 2011 and one where he almost always goes well. The tight layout of the Le Mans circuit should suit the sweet handling GSX-RR well, but if recent rounds are anything to go by, Viñales may not be the only Suzuki in the podium hunt.
Only a single point behind his teammate in the championship, Aleix Espargaro (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is showing increasingly well with each passing round. He arrives in France with two straight fifth place finishes, his best ever successive results in the premier class. With the disappointing start to the season behind, Espargaro is back to showing his junior teammate how it’s done in MotoGP™.
Jerez proved to be a disastrous weekend once again for Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), a water pump issue ending his race early. Ducati riders have always gone well at Le Mans, especially in the wet and it could be the lifeline Dovizioso needs to save his season. Both Dovizioso and teammate Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) come to France having not only tested in Jerez, but also privately in Mugello.
It wasn’t just Dovizioso who had a tough weekend in Jerez, all of the Ducati riders had significant grip issues and like Lorenzo had problems with rear wheel spin on race day. None were hit worse than Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) who went on to finish a full minute behind Rossi. Both he and Dovizioso are looking for a much needed bit of good luck. Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Yakhnich) looks set to make his GP return, having withdrawn in Qatar due to aggravating his pre-season hand injury. He will attempt to ride during practice and assess his condition as the weekend progresses.
As the only French rider on the grid, Loris Baz (Avintia Racing) will be a popular man over the weekend. He’s had a rough start to the season, first corner incidents forcing him to spend multiple races playing catch up. His home debut in 2015 saw him take 12th on the Open Yamaha, his best finish from the first five races of the season. Now on a much more competitive machine, he could give the home crowd something to cheer about.
They may not have any French riders, but the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 squad are nevertheless excited for Le Mans as it is the team’s home race. Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is currently fifth in the championship and leading the Independent Team rider battle and looking in much better form than in previous years. Le Mans was where Espargaro took his first and so far only MotoGP™ front row start in just his fifth premier class race. Teammate Bradley Smith has had a much more difficult time in 2016 and is looking to return to fighting with his teammate.
It’s no longer a matter of playing catch up; it’s now about asserting dominance. The Monster Energy Grand Prix de France commences on the 6th of May, the first MotoGP™ session starting at 09:55 Local Time.