Photography by Gold & Goose
Honda’s Marc Marquez bounced back after crashing in the final free practice session to score the pole for Sunday’s French Grand Prix at Le Mans, the Spaniard turned a stunning 1:33.187 on his Repsol Honda halfway through the final qualifying session to displace Yamaha rival Jorge Lorenzo from atop the timing charts. Lorenzo made a late session bid to get back on top, but could only manage a 1:33.217 – good enough for second on the grid.
Maybe the biggest surprise of qualifying was the flyer turned in by factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso, the Italian rider clocking a 1:33.603 to put Ducati on the front row for the first time this season.
Honda’s Dani Pedrosa crashed on the brakes entering the Dunlop Chicane (the same place teammate Marquez had crashed earlier). Pedrosa looked unhurt in the incident and was able to resume qualifying on his backup bike, but he ended up qualifying sixth.
It was an extremely tight session with the top eight riders within .8 of a second. The session was run under threatening skies causing most riders to go out and try to run as fast as they could early in the session.
Top American was Nicky Hayden, who qualified 10th fastest with a 1:34.242, a second down from Marquez’ pole time. Colin Edwards qualified 17th on the Kawasaki-powered FTR.
Championship leader Marquez admitted the earlier crash did affect his confidence early in the session.
“I go with my second bike and with the crash to take again and get the confidence it was quite difficult,” said Marquez, who earned his second pole of the season. “It takes time. I take one or two laps, but then it was qualifying practice and I pushed like before. My rhythm… I’m happy, not so bad, but Jorge had a very good rhythm. We will see tomorrow with the weather and everything. We will try to do our best.”
For Lorenzo the goal was to find better feeling with the factory Yamaha YZR-M1 and he said that was accomplished.
“All weekend we’ve been working pretty much, to improve the feeling on the front tire,” Lorenzo explained. “We had some difficulty at Jerez. We’re trying to make the bike easier to keep a constant pace. I think we got it. I concentrate also to make a very fast lap, but unfortunately I could not beat Marc today he was very fast. But our main target was to improve the bike for the race and I think we got it. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Having a Ducati on the front row was a surprise even for Dovizioso.
“We knew our bike was working better on this track,” Dovi said. But I didn’t expect first row, especially before the qualifying. My pace was not too bad, we were closer to the fastest riders and competitive at this track, but I didn’t expect this lap time. And also when I saw the speed I did in our laps I was really surprised. We had the possibility of doing a better lap time and here we have a better pace. So I’m confident for tomorrow to have a good rhythm. This is our target. I hope we have a dry race, but also in the wet the Ducati is working so we’ll see tomorrow.”
French fans were thrilled when local star Randy DePuniet topped Q1, edging out teammate Aleix Espargaro with both Aspar Aprilia riders making it through to the final session. Espargaro ultimately qualified 11th, DePuniet 12th.
LeMans MotoGP Qualifying
1. Marc Marquez Honda 1m33.187s
2. Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 1m33.217s + 0.030
3. Andrea Dovizioso Ducati 1m33.603s + 0.416
4. Cal Crutchlow Tech 3 Yamaha 1m33.609s + 0.422
5. Stefan Bradl LCR Honda 1m33.634s + 0.447
6. Dani Pedrosa Honda 1m33.639s + 0.452
7. Alvaro Bautista Gresini Honda 1m33.984s + 0.797
8. Valentino Rossi Yamaha 1m34.009s + 0.822
9. Bradley Smith Tech 3 Yamaha 1m34.222s + 1.035
10. Nicky Hayden Ducati 1m34.242s + 1.055
11. Aleix Espargaro Aspar Aprilia 1m34.754s + 1.567
12. Randy de Puniet Aspar Aprilia 1m35.086s + 1.899
13. Andrea Iannone Pramac Ducati 1m35.062s + 1.875
14. Michele Pirro Ducati 1m35.228s + 2.041
15. Hector Barbera Avintia FTR-Kawasaki 1m35.714s + 2.527
16. Danilo Petrucci Ioda-Suter-BMW 1m35.770s + 2.583
17. Colin Edwards Forward FTR-Kawasaki 1m36.221s + 3.034
18. Karel Abraham Cardion Aprilia 1m36.271s + 3.084
19. Claudio Corti Forward FTR-Kawasaki 1m36.330s + 3.143
20. Michael Laverty Paul Bird PBM-Aprilia 1m36.596s + 3.409
21. Bryan Staring Gresini FTR-Honda 1m36.714s + 3.527
22. Lukas Pesek Ioda-Suter-BMW 1m36.768s + 3.581
23. Yonny Hernandez Paul Bird Aprilia 1m36.961s + 3.774
24. Hiroshi Aoyama Avintia FTR-Kawasaki 1m37.523s + 4.336