Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) has been incredibly close to his first premier class win a number of times, and now it’s time to return to the Frenchman’s home turf as MotoGP™ heads for the classic Bugatti circuit at Le Mans. Heaped in history and having hosted some memorable battles, the HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France will surely be another showstopper.
As we head north, there are still shockwaves going through the title fight after the three-rider incident that saw Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) and Ducati teammates Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo collide. As well as eventual Jerez winner Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) taking home 25 points as those three scored zero, Zarco then went past and took second place and 20 points – moving him up to second overall at the head of the pack chasing Marquez.
If that wasn’t enough, Le Mans was also the stage for Zarco’s first premier class podium after coming home second last season – as a rookie. That was behind the battle royal at the front between Movistar Yamaha MotoGP teammates Valentino Rossi and eventual victor Maverick Viñales, with Le Mans often suiting the M1 and the two in a league of their own. After a tougher start to the season this year, both will be aiming to repeat their 2017 feats, although Rossi would like to write a different ending.
For those in the Jerez incident, a different ending to their frontrunning pace is exactly the ticket. Pedrosa won at the venue in 2013 and he’ll be stronger once again as he recovers from his broken wrist, and Dovizioso hailed big steps forward in pace found in Jerez – even saying their competitors should start getting a little nervous. Lorenzo, too, made a huge leap forward – leading more than half the Spanish GP and some updates making a difference for the ‘Spartan’. He’s also won at the track five times in the premier class, including by two huge margins: 17.7 seconds in mixed conditions in 2009, and 10.6 seconds in 2016 in the dry. For the Majorcan, it’s a good place for the paddock to return to.
There’s a lot of competition this season, however. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) will be gunning for the front after a crash in Jerez despite starting on pole, and Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) and teammate Jack Miller are doing much more than making up the numbers in the front fight. And what about Team Suzuki Ecstar? Alex Rins crashed out in Spain despite showing great pace, but Andrea Iannone took his second podium in a row for the first time in his career, making it three rostrums in a row for Suzuki for the first time in a decade. The Hamamatsu factory are on a roll.
In Jerez, that was also true for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. The Austrian factory fielded test rider Mika Kallio as a wildcard in Jerez on an early 2019 version of the RC16 and the results were impressive. Although that won’t be rolled out just yet, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith both showed big progress in Andalucia back on more familiar ground – could another top ten be on the cards?
Zarco leads the charge on home turf from Friday 18th May, with lights out for the race on Sunday at 14:00 (GMT +2) as the Frenchman guns for his first win.