Photography by Gold & Goose
Dani Pedrosa won last year’s French Grand Prix at Le Mans, the race held in wet conditions. But he wasn’t the talking point after the race. Instead, most wanted to talk about Marc Marquez, the youngster finishing third in what was his first wet race on a MotoGP bike after a ride through the field from a poor start.
For Yamaha, the return to Le Mans this weekend for the French Grand Prix is a case of “it can’t be worse than last year.” Last year Jorge Lorenzo dropped back through the field while Marquez came through, the two-time MotoGP World Champion eventually finishing a disappointing eighth. It was worse for teammate Valentino Rossi, the Italian crashing out while disputing a podium position.
This year, Rossi goes into Le Mans happy and confident, the result of a new chassis on his M1 that seems to suit him. He’s hoping to get a second new chassis soon.
"I am very happy about the weekend in Jerez, unfortunately I wasn’t able to win over [Marc] Marquez, but I managed to win over [Dani] Pedrosa and Jorge [Lorenzo]. I am also happy about the test done on the following Monday at the same track. During the test I continued to work on the new chassis and I like it, it helps me especially with the front tire. At Le Mans I will have only one new chassis, but I am confident that Yamaha will bring me the second chassis as soon as possible. I want to continue the work on this. I made good times during the test, even the "time attack" was good and so I will try to start from the front row at Le Mans. It’s a positive moment for me because I'm pretty fast, I work well in the box and I think we can be very optimistic. We can have a good race."
Lorenzo starts his weekend in Le Mans 65 points behind Marquez in the championship.
“After the result in Jerez we could analyze the data during the test on Monday and we got some good information,” Lorenzo said. “We finished that test day happy with the result and we could figure out where the problem was during the race. We found that with the soft rear tire we are much more comfortable than the hard one and therefore from now on we will be focused on this compound. We will try to get a more constant bike with the soft tire and that is why we need to improve the bike and adapt it. Now we travel to Le Mans, a new track and a new opportunity. The weather will play a big part; usually it is colder and can be tricky like it was with the rain last year. The asphalt can be slippery, but I am confident we can manage the circumstances and try to get a good result. Right now I am just thinking race by race and not about the championship. I think I will have a better pace there, I have had some wins in Le Mans and I like the circuit.”
The man everyone is chasing in the championship is Marquez, the phenom coming into Le Mans with four wins in a row. The last rider to win five races in a row in the premiere class? Giacomo Agostini in 1971 on the factory MV Agusta, the Italian winning the first eight races that season.
“After another really great weekend in Jerez and a positive day of testing on Monday, we are now on our way to Le Mans,” Marquez said in a team release. “You never know what the weather will do there so it is important to start strong from FP1. Last year we had our first wet race here and I really learned a lot, but this year I hope it will remain dry! We know that Dani, Jorge and Valentino will come back at us hard here, but we will work on our own program - as usual - and fight for victory or at least some important championship points.”
The man most likely to give Marquez trouble at Le Mans is his teammate Pedrosa, the Spaniard hoping to add to a streak that has seen him on the podium in all four races this season. He is, however, coming back from post-Jerez arm-pump surgery.
“I enjoyed the weekend in Jerez, and the battle at the end with Rossi was a lot of fun,” Pedrosa said. “After Monday’s test I had a tight feeling in my right forearm. On Tuesday morning I went to see Dr. Xavier Mir and he recommended surgery immediately. We took his advice and it seems to be healing up well but I guess I won’t know until I’m back on the bike on Friday for FP1. I won for the first time in Le Mans in MotoGP last year in a very tough race. I enjoy the circuit and we’ve had good results there in the past, but we must always pay attention to the weather. The testing in Jerez was useful and we confirmed some feelings, now we must see if they translate to the track this weekend.”
Ducati arrives in France after a one-day private test in Mugello. Andrea Dovizioso finished fourth in last year’s wet race on the Ducati with his current teammate Cal Crutchlow ending up second on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha.
“Last year I went well both in qualifying and the race here at Le Mans, and it’s a circuit where I think we can be closer to the front,” Dovizioso said. “As for results, it’s going to be difficult because this year there are many strong riders, but I think we can do well, even though the weather conditions are always an unknown factor. I am in any case happy to go to Le Mans, after fifth place at Jerez for sure it’s a positive moment for me.”
Crutchlow is still fighting the effects of his early season hand injury, but returns to the site of his best-ever MotoGP result a year ago.
“Le Mans for me is a strange circuit but last year I had a great race,” Crutchlow said. “I managed to take a podium and a second position in MotoGP. Given the conditions you never know what it’s going to be like on a race weekend, but I look forward to riding the Ducati there. After the recent bad luck run of races, hopefully we can go to Le Mans and start to have some good results. The right hand is still a bit sore, but I think we should be a lot better than we were at Jerez.”