MotoGP Le Mans Preview

© Bruce Allen

Marquez under pressure from young guns 

How many readers noticed that Marc Marquez, at age 26, was the oldest rider on the front row and on the podium at Jerez? Me neither. But fellow scribbler Haydn Cobb did, despite being burdened with a misspelled first name for life. Sure, Marquez is King of the Moto Universe, but there are some youngsters on the grid entertaining visions of taking him down in the foreseeable future. Le Mans seems like a good place to start. 

Suzuki rising star Alex Rins, 23, finished second last time out. Maverick Vinales, (despite being in jeopardy of flaming out of MotoGP after taking wins at three of his first five races with Yamaha in 2017) took the third step on the rostrum in Jerez and is just 24. And French rookie heartthrob Fabio Quartararo, were it not for a simple mechanical issue, might have stood on the Jerez MotoGP podium at the tender age of 20.

Wait, there’s more!

Joan Mir* (SUZ)               21       Pecco Bagnaia* (DUC)                     22

Jack Miller (DUC)            24        Franco Morbidelli (YAM)                24

Miguel Oliveira*               24        Lorenzo Baldassarri (MOTO2)        22

*First year in MotoGP

Seems like yesterday that we were marveling at the feats of a 21-year old Marquez. Today, we acknowledge the impact that Valentino Rossi’s VR46 riding academy has had on Italian motoracing, as all three of the Italians listed above are alumni. At the same time, despite the wealth of talent embodied in this year’s crop of rookies, none of them sits higher than 13th in the championship chase, a stark indicator of how different MotoGP is from Moto2 and the attendant difficulty of making it into the upper echelons of the sport.

Want to win a MotoGP world championship? Start young.

The Other Side of the Coin 

As has been observed elsewhere, the bevvy of ascendant young riders highlights the relatively advanced age of several more familiar names. Motorcycle racing is a young man’s game. Over the next few years, we should expect to endure the farewell tours of some veteran campaigners, as follows:

Valentino Rossi (YAM)                40

Andrea Dovizioso (DUC)             36

Cal Crutchlow (HON)                 33

Jorge Lorenzo (HON)                 32

And while this may constitute a changing of the guard, it will take place in slow motion, incrementally. A rider a year for the next five years. Comparable to winning the Polish national lottery—ten dollars a year for a million years. 

Recent History at Le Mans 

The record books show that Jorge Lorenzo, who had announced his departure for Ducati at the end of the season, won the 2016 French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi.  Maverick Viñales, starting to flex his muscles, did what no Suzuki rider since Loris Capirossi in 2009 had done—put a GSX-RR on the podium, thanks to eight riders crashing out in perfect conditions, three of whom probably would have beaten him.  Michelin, the new tire supplier for MotoGP, had a miserable day, as the consensus in the paddock was that nobody was in control of their machines on that track on that rubber.

Zarco was a debutante here in 2017, leading the race for the first six laps until Viñales stole his lunch money on Lap 7 and Rossi followed suit on Lap 23. [Rossi, looking like his old self, went through on Viñales on Lap 26, but unaccountably laid it down on the last lap, to the dismay of those who still thought he had another championship in him. Rossi’s brain fade promoted Viñales to the win and Zarco to the second step of the podium. At the end of the day, rather than looking like his old self, Rossi simply looked old.] Marquez having gone walky on Lap 17, Dani Pedrosa was there to claim third place. 

With Yamaha having dominated the proceedings in France for the past few years, many fans, especially those with French accents, expected Johann Zarco to waltz into racing history last year, starting from pole with those dreamy eyes. Alas, his unforced error on Lap 9 landed him in the gravel. Dovizioso’s “own goal” on Lap 6, crashing out of the lead, left the day to Marc Marquez. Joined on the podium by Danilo Petrucci and Rossi, #93 enjoyed a post-Dovi walk in the park on his way to a 36-point lead in the 2018 championship race.

Zarco’s Woes

KTM Chef der Chefs Stefan Pierer took time out of his busy schedule last week to pummel Johann Zarco in the press, calling his performance to date on the KTM “unacceptable,” and stating with Teutonic certainty that the problem is entirely in the Frenchman’s head. As if the two KTM teams, four bikes with their total of 35 points, would be in contention—for something—were it not for the weak, depraved Zarco.

Right.

Pol Espargaro has accumulated 21 of those 35 points on his own; he would likely be in the 30’s or 40’s with a top four brand. Miguel Oliveira, with the same seven points Zarco holds, is the fair-haired child, recently gifted with a contract extension. No word on how Pierer feels about the hapless Hafizh Syahrin, with a goose egg to show for his efforts this year. For those of you who’ve never had a stiff German or Dutch boss, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

Your Weekend Forecast

With two French riders on the grid for the first time since, like, The Korean War, the locals can be expected to turn out in force this weekend, nationalism being the iron the blood of MotoGP. Historically, the Bugatti circuit has been friendly to the Yamahas and downright hostile to the Ducatis. Thus, Yamaha will be seeking its 10th (?) win here while Dovizioso & Co. still seek their first. Given the reversal of fortune between the two factories over the past three years, Ducati may finally break the ice on Sunday. Perhaps not in the race, but at least in qualifying.

The extended weather forecast for the area calls for temps in the 60’s all weekend, with Friday starting out wettish, Saturday looking rather comme-ci comme-ça, and a dry track on Sunday. Perfect conditions for the Yamaha contingent, as the M1 doesn’t like hot weather. Round Five appears to present one of the best remaining opportunities this century for Valentino Rossi to capture a win, and we know teammate Vinales loves this place, too. With Marquez a virtual shoe-in for a podium spot, I can visualize all three on Sunday’s rostrum. But my dream sequence has the Spanish national anthem, not the Italian (or La Marseillaise), blaring in the background.

We’ll return on Sunday afternoon with results and analysis. Visit Motorcycle.com later on Sunday for some great high-rez images, complete with snappy captions. À bientôt!

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13 Responses to “MotoGP Le Mans Preview”

  1. Vrooom Says:

    I’m gonna predict Quartaro on the podium, it’s time. Marquez goes in the gravel, finishes the race, in 13th. A guy can dream.

  2. Mark Nadolski Says:

    I’m going with the old man, Rossi, preferably in first, with Dovi on the podium, like Vrooom says, a guy can dream.

  3. Old MOron Says:

    Fabio makes good this weekend.
    So do the factory Yams.
    Marquez pips Dovi for 4th.

    • Bruce Allen Says:

      I expect young Fabio to get over-stimulated on Sunday and crash out of a podium spot later in the race when his tires go up. Besides, when was the last time I tagged Rossi for a possible win?

      • Old MOron Says:

        Well, he is awfully young. Could crash out under pressure.
        On the other hand, his recent DNF has given him a taste of the “bin” side of the “win or bin” paradigm. I’m hoping he’ll keep his head.

  4. Old MOron Says:

    I think the retirement rate of the old guard will depend on the rate of up-and-comers in Moto 2. I think the Moto 2 graduation candidates are Badass Baldassarri, Berserker Bezzecchi, Jorge “the real black mamba” Martin. The likes of Alex “Meathead” Marquez and Brad “big teeth” Binder haven’t lived up to expectations.

    • Bruce Allen Says:

      This year’s rookie crop was a bumper. Perhaps one or two kids will move up from Moto2 next year. And the KTM riders in Moto2 are working at a real disadvantage these days. Bezzecchi may have to defect to Kalex before he is deemed ready. (And I love your “padawans” reference.)

  5. Old MOron Says:

    I’ve been waiting for this preview to post on MO.
    Doh! I forgot. No previews.
    Those morons.

    • Mad4TheCrest Says:

      Yeah, it’s shortsighted. Previews build anticipation which also boosts review comments because you’ve made more people interested and invested in the discussion. Don’t get me started, but the world is more full of pennywise, pound foolish moves like this than ever before.

  6. Old MOron Says:

    Wow, how about those qualifying sessions? The Doctor pulls of a stroke of genius in Q1, then sticks it on the second row to prove it wasn’t just the tires. Miller crashes out and still makes the front row. Marquez falls off his bike and still gets the pole.

    Vinny looks brilliant all weekend, then can’t manage better than 11th during Q2, right behind Fabio who doesn’t look particularly fabulous. But most surprising is poor Alex Rins. He may have spared himself the ignominy of starting from the very last row of the grid, but not of starting behind Karel Abraham.

    • Gruf Rude Says:

      . . .and Lorenzo seems to be edging his way out of the wastelands on a stock Honda seat and despite the mixed wet/dry conditions.

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