Game on at Le Mans: who can steal the headlines in France?

Marquez, Rins, Dovizioso, Viñales, Rossi…or that fast rookie with the record-breaking pace? It’s home turf time for Quartararo

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) put on an impressive display on home turf in Jerez, riding for redemption after his crash out the lead at COTA and showing he’s certainly capable of sealing the deal in a dominant race. In doing so he also took back the Championship lead, and in terms of race wins and track records, Marquez has a solid CV at Le Mans – as is becoming true everywhere – and the reigning Champion will be gunning for his third premier class victory at the venue. But there’s one man who stole some of the headlines in Spain – as well as a few records – and now it’s his turn to race on home turf.

Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) has been an impressive rookie since he stepped up, but in Jerez he stepped it up even further. Breaking Marquez’ record as the youngest polesitter in MotoGP™ on Saturday, on Sunday he seemed on for a first ever premier class podium right behind Marquez – before the heartbreak of a mechanical failure. So, on Monday, he smashed his new lap record in testing by half a second. The Frenchman is fast and his home crowd will be behind him every lap – at a track where Yamaha have often reigned.

One man hoping to leapfrog the Frenchman a little earlier in the race this time around is Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar). The Spaniard followed up his first MotoGP™ win at COTA with a second place behind Marquez, but Rins had fought through to it from ninth on the grid. Saturday form is the chink in his armour as it stands, and the Suzuki man says he’s unsure as to why. Can he unlock that one lap pace at Le Mans? Or will he be forced to slice through the pack again before unleashing his speed? Only one point off Marquez in the standings, Rins will be pulling out all the stops on Saturday to set himself up for an assault on a second win and the lead.

Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), meanwhile, missed the podium at Jerez by mere tenths and saw himself slip down to third in the standings. Last year at Le Mans he crashed, but it was out the lead – and it’s a track that’s been kinder to the Italian than Jerez. A Ducati has never won there, but with the increasing all-round form of the Borgo Panigale factory, is now the time? As Rins surges towards the front and the likes of Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) take points off him, the Italian will be refocused to attack in France.

And what of Viñales? After his first podium of the season the Spaniard could be a key threat, and he won at Le Mans in 2017 when he famously outpaced teammate Valentino Rossi and the ‘Doctor’ went down on the final lap. Rossi, too, could be one to watch despite a more difficult Jerez, having won there three times in the premier class and boasting the usual impressive record. And Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) has an even better record there with five premier class wins. Was Spain a blip for them and France another fresh start?

Home hero Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) – on the podium in 2017 – and teammate Pol Espargaro will be hoping it is after a tougher Spanish Grand Prix than anticipated. But the Austrian factory are making huge gains to the front reading behind the positions, and the work never stops. Espargaro is also just ahead of brother Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) in the Championship too, and Noale factory Aprilia are only a point ahead of KTM in the standings so there’s plenty at stake.

That’s true of the fight to be top Independent Team rider too. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) has now been equalled on points by Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), and his teammate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) – a podium finisher at Le Mans – is only two points back. Will the Quartararo show start to pick up traction and threaten them as well as the Rookie of the Year crown? Or can the veterans start to claw back some ground…

The Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France fires up at Le Mans from the 17th to 19th May and it’s poised to be pivotal. Can Marquez extend his lead and take Honda’s 300th premier class win? Is Rins’ race day reputation set to roll on? Will Yamaha be resurgent once again? Can ‘DesmoDovi’ unleash the Desmosedici and take Ducati’s first win at the venue? Or will Quartararo steal the headlines again…

Don’t miss the MotoGP™ race at 14:00 local time (GMT +2) on Sunday.

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