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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, and 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.
Journey of the Jackass 2020, Chapter 5: The Donkey That Walked On Water
Two weeks after Jack Miller ended his five-year winless drought, and the factory Ducati team scored a remarkable 1-2 at Jerez, it was off to the famed city of Le Mans for the French Grand Prix, restored to its annual European Spring slot after being in the autumn in 2020, and being northern France at this time of year, there was rain forecast for the weekend, which was a highly exciting prospect for the viewers, given the conditions would make it a true test of riding skill, but there were some riders & teams, particularly those with Inline Four bikes (Suzuki and Yamahas) who would’ve been praying for dry running, because as last year’s wet French GP showed, the Inline 4s lose their cornering speed advantage in the wet, and the big V4s start to dominate.
In the news since Spain, Fabio Quartararo successfully went under the knife for arm pump surgery after the dreaded compartment syndrome cost him a certain third win of the season at Jerez, Tech3 are staying with KTM for another 5 years, and the return of the Finnish Grand Prix at the KymiRing, which was due to be the first race after the summer break, will have to wait another year after being put on ice thanks to the pandemic, with the replacement race coming in the form of the Styrian Grand Prix, to create another Red Bull Ring double header in Austria.
I don’t think Maverick Vinales will fancy another pair of races in Austria….
The places in Q1 were pretty much decided by the dry Free Practice 2 on Friday afternoon, thanks to rain in both Practice 1 on Friday morning and Practice 3 on Saturday morning, which caught out some big names like both Suzukis (Alex Rins and Joan Mir) and championship leader Pecco Bagnaia, and as it turned out, in another wet session, none of them would even come close to the Top 12, as Lorenzo Savadori on the Aprilia (After crashing to start Q1) and Luca Marini on the Avintia Ducati pulled off something resembling a giant slaying to make it through!
World Champion Mir would start 14th, Rins 15th, and Bagnaia down in 16th, with last year’s French GP winner Danilo Petrucci stuck down in 17th on the Tech3 KTM, and unless it pissed down on Sunday, there wasn’t going to be much chance for the Italians to make progress.
With Q2 starting out wet and a dry line forming by the end of the session, you didn’t know where to look as the times kept tumbling, and when time ran out with riders on their final laps, it was a Honda 1-2-3 as Marc Marquez appeared set to land a massive pole position from Takaaki Nakagami and Pol Espargaro…
As it turned out, none of them would even start on the front row, because along came Maverick Vinales on slicks to dump Marquez out, then the hometown hero, the one-lap wonder that is Fabio Quartararo thrilled the French fans who weren’t able to be trackside by taking yet another pole position by 8 hundredths of a second, in what was a factory Yamaha 1-2!
Jack Miller qualified 3rd only a tenth behind Fabio, which also set Jack’s Sunday up perfectly with a clean run for the launch control device, Franco Morbidelli started 4th, Johann Zarco 5th at his home race, then came the Honda trio of Marc Marquez, Taka Nakagami and Pol Espargaro, Valentino Rossi was back starting in the Top 10, and Miguel Oliveira was the fastest KTM in 10th.
It was Quartararo’s 13th Premier Class pole position, equalling two stalwart riders of the late ’90s and early 2000s, Sete Gibernau and Loris Capirossi.
Race (27 Laps)
With the dark clouds brewing overhead as the lights went out, Miller’s nailed the holeshot on the Ducati and led into the Dunlop Chicane from Vinales and Quartararo, the Hondas of Marc Marquez and Nakagami were 4th and 5th with Pol Espargaro right behind, until he sat himself up with a huge moment out of Turn 8, which put the Repsol Honda back into the path of Rossi and Morbidelli…
And in the first incident of the race, Morbidelli got squeezed onto the kerb at Turn 9 trying to sneak up the inside of both riders, but Franco was forced to go straight into the gravel to avoid hitting Pol, and he fell off the Yamaha clutching his left knee, although the Italian did manage to rejoin the race 4 laps down, while Rossi lost a further 4 places.
Up the front, Vinales took the lead from Miller at La Chapelle corner on Lap 2, but just behind the Top 3, Rins, who had started 15th, was into the Top 5 after passing Marquez!
Further down, Zarco, Bagnaia and Savadori had awful starts – Zarco had fallen to 11th, Bagnaia was stuck down in 19th, which spelled doom for Pecco’s championship lead, and after starting 11th, Savadori dropped to 20th.
As the teams prepared the wet set-up bikes, Miller closed in on Vinales and took the lead into Turn 1 to start Lap 4, but Quartararo cut up the inside of them both into Turn 3 with a ballsy late braking move that paid off!
Just as Fabio took the lead, the white flag waved to signal the pit lane was open, and it was time for the first flag to flag race in MotoGP since the Czech Grand Prix in 2017!
Miller retook the lead by the end of Lap 4 after an attempt at Garage Vert ended with Quartararo giving him a solid bump, and with the grip fading as the rain fell, Vinales dropped back to 5th behind Rins and Marquez, who was probably licking his lips at the thought of utterly crushing everyone in a flag to flag race, as he’s done several times previously.
The rain and high winds began belting down on Lap 5 with the riders still on slick tyres, creating track conditions akin to an ice skating rink, and the first rider to be caught out was Miller, who went into the gravel at the Bleu Esses and dropped to 4th, but luckily stayed in the race, as the riders finally dived in to change bikes!
Marquez and Quartararo rode in together elbow to elbow, but the Spaniard emerged out in the lead as Quartararo had a slow bike change (We later found out why), which allowed Rins into 2nd, as the rest of the pack eventually made it into pit lane after dropping a good 10 seconds behind.
But in a double disaster for Suzuki, Joan Mir fell out of the race before he’d even made it into pit lane, and immediately after exiting the pits, Rins immediately fell at the Dunlop Chicane!
The great flaw of Alex Rins – An extremely fast rider who could easily contend for a championship, but he’s turned into the ultimate win it or bin it rider, with Sunday’s fall making it a hat-trick of falls this season, although he did make it back into the pits and rejoined the race several laps down.
After everyone had swapped bikes, the major winners were Johann Zarco back into 5th place, Alex Marquez, who had climbed up to 6th place from outside the Top 10, Danilo Petrucci was 8th, and Pecco Bagnaia was back into the Top 10.
Showing his best form since last year’s accident, Marquez took the lead from Quartararo and opened up a 1 second lead, with Miller some 5 seconds back, but it was about to get even worse for the Aussie, because BOTH the Factory Ducatis were hit with DOUBLE LONG LAP PENALTIES for speeding in pit lane!
In a dry race, a double long lap penalty would be an effective death sentence for your hopes of a podium finish, but in the wet, Miller would only lose 2 seconds for both penalties, he was a good 2 seconds a lap faster than Quartararo, he had a 13 second gap to Nakagami in 4th place, and there was still well over half the race to go, so his chances of 2nd place were still pretty good, although Pecco wasn’t as fortunate, having fallen to 11th, albeit only a few seconds off the Top 5, which left him with even more to do!
In the next major shock of the day, Marc Marquez, who was looking so good early on in pursuit of his first win since Valencia 2019, WENT FLYING OFF HIS HONDA AT THE FINAL CORNER OF LAP 8!
Minus one half of the front aero ducts, Marquez survived the high side and rejoined the race, and had a realistic chance of finishing in the Top 10 if he could regain his old pace.
Now into 2nd, Miller served his first long lap penalty on Lap 9, and only dropped back to 2 seconds behind Quartararo, which he immediately recovered before serving his second penalty next lap, and by Lap 12, the leading Ducati became the race leader once more, thanks to a textbook pass at La Chapelle, right as Quartararo was investigated by the stewards for a bike swap infringement!
The replays showed Fabio had pulled into Maverick Vinales’ side of the Yamaha garage and was about to jump onto Top Gun’s No.12 Yamaha, an incident that explains why he lost time compared to Marquez and Rins in the pits, and it was an error that earned the French rider a long lap penalty, although he would comfortably retain 2nd place, as Miller now had a commanding 4 second lead!
The next riders to depart stage right were Lorenzo Savadori, who had worked his way back to 12th before his Aprilia engine went pop on Lap 12, Miguel Oliveira on the factory KTM, who went down from 9th place at Turn 3 next lap, ending a miserable day for Suzuki, Alex Rins fell for a second time at Turn 3, and he kicked the air in frustration.
Despite his fall leaving him scrapping for a point, Marc Marquez was the fastest rider on the circuit halfway through the race, lapping some 2 seconds faster than Miller, which could only make you think what could’ve been for the 6-time champion, but the key rider in the closing laps would be Zarco on the Ducati, who had gone for the Medium/Medium Michelin rain tyre combination, which he used to great effect in the wet last year to finish 5th, and he was looking good for another home podium after reeling in Nakagami and passing him for 3rd into Turn 3 on Lap 15.
It looked like Taka might have to endure another 4th placing in MotoGP…. thankfully a lack of grip spared him the pain.
With 11 laps to go, Marquez picked off Iker Lecuona and Marini, as the teams began weighing up a switch back to dry bikes after the rain stopped falling and a dry line emerged, and Aprilia joined Suzuki with a double retirement after Aleix Espargaro’s bike suffered a mechanical failure on Lap 16, robbing him of 6th place, and it was
Approaching the final 10 laps, Miller’s lead was a steady 4.8 seconds to Quartararo, with Zarco on the Medium wets absolutely hurdling at the factory Yamaha, ripping 6 seconds out of his compatriot in 4 laps as the Soft front tyre on the Yamaha started hitting the cliff on the drying track, while Miller would have to manage his own Soft rear, but the issue with pitting for a dry bike was it would take several laps to warm up the slicks on a cool track, and there was only a handful of laps to reel in the leaders and negate the time loss.
Ultimately, nobody changed back to slicks, and changing bikes again wouldn’t be an option for Marc Marquez, who had recovered back to 11th, but went down and out for good after losing the front Turn 6 on Lap 18, ending his disappointing afternoon.
The same couldn’t be said for younger brother Alex, who became the leading Honda on circuit after passing his LCR teammate Nakagami for 4th on Lap 19, and Petrucci and Bagnaia went with him, as Taka’s Honda just simply ran out of grip.
Just to make life even harder, the sun started shining on Lap 20 and would’ve sent the wet tyre temperatures soaring, as Miller pushed his lead out past 6.5 seconds with 6 laps to go, and he needed every bit of it, because Zarco had reeled in Quartararo, and with the superior grip, got the drive out of the final corner and passed the Yamaha for 2nd to begin Lap 22!
With 2nd place decided, Bagnaia’s fantastic rescue job continued when he passed Petrucci for 5th on Lap 23, then he moved up to 4th past Alex Marquez on the pit straight to start Lap 24, although the gap to Quartararo (8.5 seconds) was just a bit too much with a handful of laps to go, even as Fabio was praying for the chequered flag with his front tyre looking like a dog’s chew toy.
Approaching the final lap, Zarco had cut Miller’s lead down to 4.2 seconds, and all Jack had to do was just stay upright on his used carcasses, which is always easier said than done, but despite all of my fellow Australian viewers clenching our backsides with nerves and pessimism, the JACKASS FROM TOWNSVILLE MADE IT TO BACK TO BACK WINS IN 2021!
Bloody hell, we waited 5 years for another Jack Miller victory, and he ends up winning twice in a fortnight… What’s that saying about waiting for London buses?
In another Ducati 1-2 finish, Zarco finished 2nd for Pramac Ducati, and Quartararo was utterly pumped just to finish on the podium, not only because it meant a double podium for the French riders at their home race, but he also reclaimed the Championship lead by a point over Pecco Bagnaia, who overcame his own issues to come from 16th + two Long Lap penalties to finish 4th, and in Tech3 KTM’s best result of the year, Petrucci finished 5th, and Iker Lecuona grabbed Vinales on the line to finish 9th!
It would also be remiss of me to not mention Alex Marquez, who came from 19th to 6th and backed up his wet weather performance at Le Mans last year, as every rider that finished on the lead lap scored a point, and unsurprisingly, the V4s dominated in the wet, as the factory Yamahas ended up being the only Inline Fours in the Top 10.
And a night like this wouldn’t be complete without a shoey!
It was Jack’s third Premier Class win, matching the win totals of the late Jack Findlay, Daryl Beattie, plus ‘The Slide King’ Garry McCoy, and it’s amazing how the world turns…
Before Spain, Jack was at the bottom of the shitheap and barely clinging to a factory ride for 2022, now he’s back in the title hunt and riding a massive wave heading to Ducati’s home Grand Prix at Mugello, the Corse lead the Constructors’ championship, and the factory team leads the teams’ championship, although there’s still a long way to go before anyone starts celebrating title wins, with barely a race win’s worth of points covering the Top 5 in the riders’ championship!
And you can say the exact same thing for Remy Gardner in Moto2!
Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster
Having finished off the podium for the first season this year with a 4th placing at Jerez, Remy Gardner retained a 3-point lead over Sam Lowes in the Moto2 World Championship, with the Top 5 riders (Gardner, Lowes, Raul Fernandez, Marco Bezzecchi & Fabio Di Giannantonio) split by only 17 points.
Having already enjoyed his maiden Moto2 win at Portimao, rookie Raul Fernandez would land a maiden pole position during a wet qualifying session on Saturday, firing in a 1.50.135 on his final flying lap to finish 0.248s quicker than Marco Bezzecchi, as Gardner and Lowes were left with a bit of work to do, as Gardner started from 7th, Lowes was down in 10th, and Jerez winner Di Giannantonio was stuck down in 15th.
Somikat Chantra qualified 26th, but was docked six places for crashing under yellow flags in FP2, dropping him to last.
Race (25 Laps)
Flag to flag races aren’t possible in Moto2 or Moto3, and while the Moto3 race was declared wet, the Moto2 race would be declared a dry race, which would’ve thrown off a few riders, who had barely any running in dry conditions all weekend.
At the start, Bezzecchi took the lead from Raul Fernandez, Xavi Vierge almost speared himself and Gardner out of the race at the Dunlop chicane, which caused a ripple effect and allowed the Top 6 to make an early break, while Aron Canet’s promising weekend went down the toilet when he was sent flying off his bike from 3rd place at Turn 9 on the opening lap!
Last year Canet lost part of his finger thanks to a fall at Le Mans…. Thankfully he hobbled away with the other digits intact.
Down the field, Lorenzo Baldassarri made up 6 places to move to 7th, and last year’s Moto3 runner up ‘Tiger’ Tony Arbolino was finally coming to grips with Moto2, climbing from 19th to 11th by Lap 2, as Augusto Fernandez became the next 3rd-placed casualty when he fell at the end of Lap 2, just as Lowes passed Gardner and set a fastest lap.
There was a point in on Lap 4 where the Top 4 riders in the Championship were separated by 9 points on the live standings, but that all changed at Garage Vert, when Lowes tried a move up the inside of Vierge, lost the front and took both riders out, while directly ahead, Baldassarri had his own moment and went straight into the gravel and fell out of the race!
I believe they call that a Loweside.
With another podium & race win contender biting the dust, Joe Roberts, who had just passed Raul Fernandez and was putting pressure on Bezzecchi, lost a golden chance to potentially claim his maiden Grand Prix win, after misjudging his braking line into Turn 9 and losing the front end, nearly taking Bezz with him, but all the Californian could do was kick himself.
After nearly being taken out, Bezzecchi ended up losing the lead to Fernandez on the same lap, while Gardner had moved up to 4th place behind the Dutchman Bo Bendsnyder (On for a career-best Top 5 finish) with Abrolino close behind, while Hector Garzo was sent tumbling out of the race on Lap 7 after DiGi tried an ambitious move up the inside and sent the Pons Kalex out of the race, earning the Italian rider a long lap penalty.
As Casey Stoner once said, his ambition outweighted his talent.
Other noteworthy performers were Cameron Beaubier in 7th and at one stage setting the fastest lap, Chantra had gone from last on the grid to 9th, as Fernandez broke away and opened up a 1 second lead over Bezzecchi, who began falling back into the clutches of Bendsnyder, Gardner and Arbolino, and just to rub salt into the wound, Di Giannantonio was handed another Long Lap Penalty for cutting the white line while serving his original penalty at Garage Vert, dropping him from 11th to 14th.
Gardner was content to trail Bendsnyder for a few more laps, until he made the pass on the Dutch rider at Turn 11 on Lap 16, and Arbolino followed him into 4th place next lap, by which time the Aussie had broken the shackles and started closing in on Bezzecchi with the fastest lap on Lap 18, and it turned out the Italian would pretty much gift Remy 2nd place after running wide at Turn 8, forming a Red Bull KTM Ajo 1-2!
Cameron Beaubier’s great run ended when he fell from 6th at the Dunlop Chicane on Lap 21 after the front folded away, with his sliding Kalex thankfully not hitting another rider as it slid back onto the racing line, but other than that, it was a fairly quiet ending to the race.
Gardner did close the race lead down to 1.5 seconds with 5 laps to go, but Raul had the situation under control and kept the margin consistent all the way through to the end, converting his maiden Moto2 pole into a second race win of the season, Gardner made it a 1-2 for Aki Ajo’s team to retain the smallest possible lead in the Moto2 standings, with Bezzecchi dealing with a late track limits warning to finish 3rd, as Arbolino (Who hadn’t finished in the Top 10 prior to Sunday) and Bendsnyder secured career-best Moto2 results in 4th and 5th respectively!
You’ll also noticed there was only 2 seconds between 6th and 13th, with Marcel Schrotter heading the train ahead of Ai Ogura, and Di Giannantonio got himself back into 8th after his penalties, with Simone Corsi the best non-Kalex in 9th for MV Agusta.
Aki Ajo has long been a superb judge of young talent in Grand Prix racing, and this year’s proving to be one of his best yet, with Gardner and Fernandez currently 1-2 in the Moto2 standings, and throw in the 16-year-old rookie Pedro Acosta in Moto3, who had worst result of the season in 8th at Le Mans after a 2nd placing and 3 wins to start his career….. And he still pushed his championship lead out past 2 race wins!
I would think KTM’s MotoGP set-up are watching them both with great interest…..
Next up: The Italian Grand Prix at Mugello to end the month of May!