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“The level is very high – and everyone is very close!”

The pre-event Press Conference set us up for another corker of a weekend in the French GP

Prior to the action getting underway at the HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) spoke about how close this year’s World Championship is in the pre-event Press Conference. The Italian was joined by Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), home hero Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini).

The ‘Doctor’ comes to Le Mans in “a difficult moment” on board his M1, however, history points towards he and his Movistar Yamaha team having a successful weekend. The competition for the podium this year is incredibly tough though, something the nine-time World Champion is very aware of. “The level is very high and everyone is very close,” said Rossi. “Even to be in the top five you need performance that is comparable to the victory.”

French GP: Watch Thursday's Press Conference in full

Why then is the competition so tight this year? One reason could be Honda improving their package, especially when it comes to the acceleration of the RC213V - a point Marquez makes in the Press Conference. “Last year our weak point was acceleration and we were losing too much, trying to recover in the corners,” explained the World Championship leader. He continued, “but this year we’ve improved that a lot. I hope the general weekend will be different this year. But Yamaha will be strong, and Johann will have extra motivation…and Ducati. And Suzuki, everything is very close.”

There’s no hiding how successful Suzuki’s start to 2018 has been, picking up three podiums from the opening four rounds. Iannone, who is searching for his third consecutive podium this weekend, explains he and the Hamamatsu factory arrive in Le Mans in completely different shape compared to 2017. “We arrive from a good period for us, this year we’ve started in a good way and from Austin on I think we’ve improved in every practice, the feeling, the results and verything,”  expressed the Italian. “Last year this track was difficult for us but this year we arrive in a completely different situation, the bike has improved a lot in the winter.” 

Will Zarco's dream become a Marquez nightmare?

One name that no one will be discounting this weekend is Zarco. The Frenchman will have “extra motivation” in front of his home fans, and is dreaming of his first premier class victory. “I keep dreaming about victory. It’s a good track for me and last year the Yamaha was working so well. Our bike is similar to last year so I just need to make it work and do everything perfectly.”

The competition for the podium looks to be a fierce one this weekend, will Rossi be proven right? The premier class riders will be out on track on Friday morning for FP1 at 09:55 local time (GMT +2), tune in at!