Motorsport

Motorsport Monday: French MotoGP

Ladies and gents, please enjoy Joan Mir producing the greatest recovery from a fall ever seen.

That isn’t flying, it’s falling, with STYLE.


2020 French Motorcycle Grand Prix


Circuit: Bugatti Circuit, Le Mans

The Bugatti Circuit is the shorter version of the 13.6km Circuit de la Sarthe, which obviously hosts the most revered, feared, prestigious races in world motorsport, the 24 Hours Of Le Mans.

For reference, the Bugatti Circuit turns off from the de la Sarthe just before Turn 4 out of the Dunlop Bridge, then rejoins at the final chicane.

Of course, there’s been plenty of two-wheeled Australian success at Le Mans – Mick Doohan won in 1994 & ’95, after which the race went to Paul Ricard for safety reasons, Chris Vermeulen won a soaked race in 2007, which was Suzuki’s only MotoGP win between 2001 and 2015, Casey Stoner won for Honda in 2011, and Jack Miller won a dramatic Moto3 race in 2014.


Journey Of The Jackass 2020, Chapter 9: Slippery When Wet

From a cold Barcelona and the fearsome game of Soft Tyre Survivor, it was off to an even colder Le Mans for Round 9 of the 2020 Championship, and even though fans were permitted to attend the race weekend, it does feel like a shame that the French finally get a MotoGP race winner and genuine championship contender in Fabio Quartararo right in the middle of a pandemic, because with a hometown hero on a bike capable of winning (Something Johann Zarco doesn’t really have), they’d have cracked a 105,000+ crowd on Sunday without raising a sweat, in May or October.

A hometown hero who has a real chance of winning is enormous – Take a look at the crowd figures at Phillip Island for the Australian Grand Prix since Casey Stoner retired, compared to when he was riding and winning there every year.

Of course, Marc Marquez won’t be able to go for the hat-trick of wins in France after his commanding performances in 2018 and 2019, and combined with Jorge Lorenzo in semi-retirement, it meant there were only 2 former winners of the French MotoGP on the grid – Maverick Vinales in 2017 (The year he set the race lap record), and Valentino Rossi, who last won the race back in 2008.


Qualifying

Friday was dominated by the wet/damp conditions, throwing up results like Bradley Smith going fastest in a wet FP1, and it wasn’t surprising to see Jack Miller take to the conditions like a pig to crap and dominate FP2 running on slicks on a damp track, although it all meant nothing, because the conditions improved to the point that FP3 was going to decide the entire Top 10.

The end result was that Quartararo, who was barely sighted on Friday, set the fastest time in the cold morning session, ahead of Miguel Oliveira’s KTM, Cal Crutchlow went straight into Q2, Andrea Dovizioso finally bypassed Q1, while Jack Miller had a massive off-throttle highside on cold tyres on an out lap at the end of the session, thankfully avoiding any injury, and luckily he was already safely in the Top 10.

Joan Mir obviously produced that utterly smooth recovery from his fall, but that was as fun as it got, because the Suzuki rider was only fast enough for 12th, forcing him into a Q1 session that included his teammate Alex Rins, Pecco Bagnaia, Danilo Petrucci and Taka Nakagami.

To save you the trouble, I’ll simply say Mir hamstrung himself again in Qualifying, and would start from a mile back in 14th.

Ultimately, it would be the Ducati pair of Petrucci and Bagnaia who progressed, leaving both Suzukis stranded down the grid, and amazingly, Cal Crutchlow would be the only Honda to appear in Q2, after Nakagami was left in 13th.

As Q2 wound down, Quartararo’s time of 1.31.665 was able to stand on top for 8 minutes, until Jack Miller put together a 1.31.537 right at the end to move to the top, which still held provisional pole as the chequered flag dropped, leaving Jack’s first MotoGP pole since Argentina 2018 in sight…

But, it never truly felt safe, especially after Dovi, Petrucci, Rossi were seen firing in fastest sector times, and although they all missed, Quartararo nailed his last flying lap, taking pole position on his home track by 2-tenths to the Queenslander.

Petrucci returned to the front row for the first time since his win at Mugello last season, Crutchlow started as the best Honda in 4th, easily the best performance from Cal in his injury-riddled year, showing signs that he’s slowly coming back up to speed, while there were a total 5 Ducatis in the first 3 rows, with Dovi in P6, Bagnaia P7, and Zarco P9.

A bad final sector cost Rossi, while Morbidelli and Oliveira just plain struggled, with Bagnaia taking issue to Oliveira apparently holding him up and not looking when the Ducati was behind him in a flying lap, which Miguel responded to by calling Pecco “Childish”, although they both resolved the matter in person afterwards.

So, on paper, it looked like a Ducati vs Yamaha showdown.


Race (27 laps, reduced to 26)


Rain was forecast to hit during the race, and wouldn’t you believe it, 5 minutes before the race started, it started to pour down!

That forced the red flag and the declaration of a wet race before the race began, delaying the start by 5 minutes, making it a flag to flag race (Riders can come in and change bikes), the first since Germany 2016, and the first wet MotoGP race since Valencia 2018.

Marc Marquez was probably crying at home, thinking about what he could’ve done in the conditions.

There were several riders who had never competed in a wet MotoGP race, including Championship rivals Quartararo and Mir, along with Pecco Bagnaia, Miguel Oliveira, and Alex Marquez.

One of them took to the wet conditions like a duck to water….. It wasn’t either championship challenger.

Anyway, the race began at 1:10pm local, and Miller rocketed into the lead with the Ducati launch control, Quartararo fought with Crutchlow, Dovi and Petrucci to maintain 2nd place, while Rossi fell on his own at the Dunlop Chicane, his third successive retirement, which also took Vinales and Mir out of contention by avoiding the incident, dropping them to last.

With the Yamaha & Suzuki advantage wiped out by the slower conditions, the V4 Ducatis took over out of the Dunlop Bridge, as Miller led from Petrucci and Dovi, but ‘Petrux’ took the lead from his former Pramac teammate at Turn 6 and led after the opening lap, the first time I can recall Petrucci leading a race at all since he won at Mugello last season.

You can’t say he didn’t look confident riding in the wet…

Prior to this season, Pol Espagaro had KTM’s only MotoGP podium in that aforementioned wet Valencia race in 2018, and the Spaniard made a move on Fabio to start Lap 2, Dovi passed Miller for 2nd, putting the factory Dukes in 1-2.

Looking like the only inline-four rider comfortable in the conditions, Rins was up from 16th to 6th by the start of Lap 3, and got by Quartararo and Crutchlow to move into the Top 5 that very same lap, and was ahead of Espagaro to end Lap 4.

Two riders thriving in the wet were Alex Marquez, inside the Top 10 on the Repsol Honda, as was Bradley Smith on the Aprilia, going from the last row of the grid to 8th and challenging Quartararo’s Yamaha.

The Yamaha rider was dropping like a stone in the wet, and meantime, the Ducati trio had cleared out the pack, with their only realistic challenger being the Suzuki of Rins, who was 2.7 seconds behind Miller and comfortably ahead of the Espagaro train in 5th, but the Spaniard got stronger on his Medium wets as the track dried up, and started eating into the margin with repeat fastest laps.

Still Free Fallin’, Quartararo was passed by Nakagami and fell out of the Top 10 after 10 laps, and it was like he lacked the confidence, moreso than the experience, to attack in the wet conditions.

Another rider who had made a terrible start was Johann Zarco, who fell to as low as 14th after starting the race on a Medium-Medium Michelin Wet combination, the same as Rins, which would slowly come home to roost as the race hit halfway.

As the rain remained steady, Rins was setting some fantastic pace, which forced the Ducatis to respond, while Smith fell badly at the final corner on Lap 9, the same place he high-sided on Friday, ending what was looking like being a surprisingly good result for Aprilia.

10 laps in, Pol Espagaro was starting to fire up in 5th, exchanging fastest laps with the leaders, as Rins dipped into the 1.44s laps on Lap 11, some 7 tenths faster than Miller ahead of him.

In fact, the pace of the likes of Crutchlow and Marquez were faster than the Ducatis, who eventually got the hurry-up message.

On Lap 13, Rins had caught up to the Top 3, and with the better traction decided to attack Miller, but the Suzuki ran slighty wide at Turn 5, allowing Jack to maintain 3rd for the time being.

Meanwhile, having been taken out of race contention avoiding the Rossi incident, Mir was down in 16th in a fight with fellow stragglers Morbidelli and Vinales, but was starting to come to terms with the conditions.

Rins finally made his pass stick on Miller to start Lap 15, but Miller got him back at Turn 7 as the rain remained steady, and just behind them, Alex Marquez was STILL setting fastest laps, and was some 1.2 seconds faster than Petrucci!

Was it Marc in Alex’s helmet, or was it really the same Alex Marquez who made this amazing save in the Motegi downpour last year…

Yes.

Yes it was.

Stuck down in 17th, Franco Morbidelli went off just before the Dunlop Bridge to start Lap 17, eventually being forced to retire after being shown the black & orange flag.

Lap 18 was a thrill a minute – Dovi made a pass for the lead into the Dunlop Chicane, Crutchlow fell from 7th in a disappointing end to his race, while Turn 9 was just mad.

Rins made a bullet pass up the inside of Miller and went very deep, which almost wiped out Petrucci and Dovi, Miller went in way too deep on outside, but the biggest loser of them all was Dovi, who dropped from the lead to 4th, while Miller moved his way up to 2nd, after briefly going off the track and ceding the place to Rins, before attacking him again.

But just as I got excited again at the thought of a ‘Jackass’ victory in the wet…

Miller had to pull off after smoke poured out of the bike, forcing him out from 2nd on Lap 19!

There was only one word.

CRUEL.

The issue, according to Jack on his race blog, was caused by an issue on his primary bike, and compounded by the weather:

“We had an issue with the engine that sprung up in the warm-up, so we swapped to the second bike for the race, but then when it rained just before the start, we had to switch back to the original bike with the wet set-up, we didn’t have time to fix anything, so we just had to cross our fingers.

“And then the inevitable happened and it died on me.”

“Just one of those days…”

If that wasn’t enough….

RINS FELL FROM 2ND TO START LAP 20!

WHAT ON EARTH.

He rejoined, but was shown the black & orange flag after riding around with a marshal’s strap attached to the rear camera.

So quick thinking, the Spaniard pulled over, ripped it off, and continued in the hope that more riders would fall.

The Ducatis were back into a 1-2, with Petrucci now leading by 2.5 seconds from Dovi, AND ALEX MARQUEZ WAS 3RD, and wasn’t without a chance of victory!

With 5 laps to go, the rain had stopped, coinciding with Dovi making a charge back at Petrucci, cutting the gap to 1.6 seconds, as the Top 5 riders were now all within 4 seconds of each other, and I hadn’t noticed either Oliveira or Taka pretty much all day, but they were both plugging away into 5th and 6th.

By now, Zarco was absolutely flying in 7th, setting fastest laps for fun, and were it not for a poor start, he could’ve been challenging for a podium at home.

Sensing the moment, Marquez attacked Dovi and made his cutback stick into Turn 5 to take 2nd place with 3 laps to go, as it looked like Dovi had no rear tyre left, because Espagaro mauled him for 3rd, and Oliveira was all over him, as Ducati’s double podium hopes were toast.

Julia Marquez can’t believe it

The story of the last 4 years – Marquez leaves Dovizioso in the dust.

As the final lap began, Petrucci led Marquez by 1.2 seconds and had the win in the bag, Zarco took 6th when Nakagami ran wide, as a major battle in the championship took place when Mir, Quartararo and Vinales scrapped for 9th place, but the Frenchman would manage to finish ahead of both his immediate title rivals, on an afternoon where he never looked comfortable.

But in the highlight of the day, Petrucci, who hadn’t had a Top 6 result IN 15 MONTHS, HAD WON, after leading at the end of every lap!

The first Ducati win at Le Mans, after 17 years of trying!

Yep, it wasn’t Casey Stoner, it wasn’t Dovi, it wasn’t Jorge Lorenzo, it was Danilo Petrucci, sitting in a lowly 14th in the World Championship, and already canned by the Corse for 2021.

Petrux definitely loves Le Mans – 2nd on a Pramac Ducati in 2018, 3rd for the factory team in 2019, and now a win in 2020.

As crazy as it sounds, Marquez probably topped him for ride of the day – 18th to 2nd for his maiden MotoGP podium, after Honda hadn’t seen the podium all season, combined with having never ridden in a wet MotoGP race, and, just as it was in the last wet MotoGP race in 2018, Pol Espagaro finished 3rd on a KTM, for his third podium of 2020.

In the space of an hour, Alex Marquez proved why he got a MotoGP seat – And it had nothing to do with his surname.

Dovi would hold on for 4th, while Flying Frenchman Zarco also passed Oliveira for 5th at the penultimate corner, capping off a super day for the Ducatis, and the V4 bikes (Ducati, KTM and Honda) in general, who utterly crushed the Inline-fours in the wet, mostly because they couldn’t utilise their cornering advantage in the stop and go slower conditions.

The first 8 bikes home were V4s.

That is an absolute pasting.


Post Race


That’s now 7 different winners, and 15 different podium sitters from 9 races in this bonkers 2020 season, and on a very tough day, Fabio Quartararo pretty much lost nothing in the championship race.

But, all I can think….

JACK COULD’VE WON THAT RACE.

I’m deadset gutted – On the night we had Daniel Ricciardo finally back on the podium in F1 we could’ve had Jack winning.

He was riding superbly, playing the long game, had worked his way up to 2nd, and then the bike just shit itself.

The tear-off thing was just bullshit luck, but this… this was like getting hit in the balls with a school bus.

Well, on the bright side, at least an Aussie did feature on the Le Mans podium!


Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster

I did miss the Moto2 report last time out in Barcelona due to time constraints, and mostly because Remy had a stinker but I sure as hell ain’t missing this weekend.

On Friday, Championship leader Luca Marini suffered an all-time highside out of the Dunlop Bridge, directly in front of Gardner, who probably remarked that he’d seen more spectacular crashes… most of them involving him.

It was probably a direct result of that accident, but Marini ust didn’t look competitive at any point in the weekend.

So in Qualifying, America’s No.1 two-wheeled hope ‘Smokin’ Joe Roberts took pole position, getting within a tenth of breaking Pecco Bagnaia’s Moto2 track record from 2018, aso becoming the first American rider to claim 3 pole positions in a Grand Prix season since Nicky Hayden in MotoGP in 2005.

The Kentucky Kid was smiling down through the clouds.

Brit Sam Lowes started alongside Roberts, with Gardner on the front row again in 3rd place.

With the race starting later in the afternoon so MotoGP could avoid a clash with Formula One, the cold track had dried up enough for the entire field to change from slicks to wets on the grid just before race start, but in a massive shame, the Roberts Tennor American Kalex had to be pushed into the pits due to an issue changing the rear wheel.

Then, instead of starting from the rear of the actual grid, Roberts was only rounding the final turn when the lights went out, effectively giving him a rolling start better suited to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Somehow, Roberts was already up 4 spots (5 if you count the Safety Car) by the end of the opening lap, as he rocketed himself back through the field like Evel Knievel over those buses at Wembley Stadium.

So among the 28 riders that did start on time, Gardner had the best getaway and led after the opening lap, but the race would turn into a fight between the British compatriots Lowes and Jake Dixon, as Gardner settled into a fight with Marco Bezzecchi and Lowes’ teammate Augusto Fernandez.

Lowes held the early race lead, but Dixon took control for the majority of the race on Lap 6, after Lowes locked up the front tyre and went straight on at Turn 8 into the penalty loop area, but Lowes appeared to suffer no loss of tyre performance.

So as those two battled on, Xavi Vierge high-sided out of the race right in front of Gardner on Lap 5, Luca Marini wasn’t even in the Top 15, but wasn’t losing many points to Enea Bastianini, who would be penalised later in the race, while Roberts was into the Top 10 by Lap 15, and there was the case of Gardner’s teammate Kasma Daniel, who:

  1. Came into the pits to check on his bike.
  2. Was given a ride-through penalty for speeding in the pits
  3. Was black flagged and disqualified for speeding in the pits, while serving his ride-through.

Hilarious.

Anyway, what happened to decide the race wasn’t hilarious, it was a wee-bit tragic.

With only 5 laps to go, Dixon, who had been trading fast lap times with Lowes, lost the front end out of the final turn and fell out of the race, handing the lead back to his compatriot Lowes, who could only watch in shock as Dixon made what appeared to be a simple error to lose a golden chance for his first Grand Prix win, and what would’ve been the first British 1-2 in any Grand Prix since the days of John Surtees, Mike Hailwood and Barry Sheene.

It may have been luck, but nevertheless, for the first time since Aragon 2016, Sam Lowes was a Grand Prix winner, on what was the former MotoGP rider’s 100th start in Moto2.

Just behind the victorious Lowes, Gardner, who had cleared Fernandez and inherited 3rd, made a superb pass on Bezzecchi to take 2nd place at the penultimate corner, equalling his best Grand Prix result, and the son of the Woolongong Whiz was thrilled.

Contrast those scenes with those in the Petronas garage, as poor old Dicko was on the verge of bursting into tears, having seen the best performance of his Moto2 career came to naught.

Don’t be sorry Jake, because you have nothing to be sorry for.

Anyway, fantastic work from Remy after that tough triple-header, in which he didn’t score any points thanks to that highside at Misano that sidelined him with injury, and a grid penalty + long lap penalty in Barcelona.

Have a look at that – Roberts ended up 6th after starting from what felt like 40th.

What could’ve been if he’d actually started on the grid.

Crucially for the championship, Bastianini was demoted from 9th to 11th after copping a 3-second penalty for short-cutting Turn 3 on the final lap, meaning Marini now leads by 15 points, as Lowes now stands just


Next up: A double-header at Aragon starting this weekend!

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