Miller untouchable in tricky Friday conditions at Le Mans

The Australian was fastest in the mixed FP2 conditions to finish over a tenth clear of Viñales

Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) was untouchable in MotoGP™ FP2 at the SHARK Helmets Grand Prix de France as conditions dried out, with the riders negotiating a wet FP1 at Le Mans on Friday morning. On a drying track, Miller set a 1:34.356 to finish 0.144 clear of second place Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), with Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) completing the top three.

As the riders emerged for Free Practice 2, track conditions were still very tricky after the morning session was fully wet. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) was first out on slick tyres but was nearly four seconds slower than early pacesetter Mir, the Spaniard completing two flying laps on Michelin wet tyres to set a 1:43.515. Miller and Quartararo were among two of a few riders who went on slick tyres but immediately came back into pitlane – risks seemingly outweighing rewards in FP2.

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Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) – second fastest in FP1 – was then lapping on wet tyres and was over five seconds quicker than Rossi’s time, confirming that track conditions weren’t good enough for slick tyre running yet. Zarco had got his time down to a 1:40.943, nearly three seconds quicker than Bradley Smith’s (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) FP1 pace, but a brave Australian was about to move the goalposts. We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? Miller out on slick tyres in iffy conditions and setting red sector times. The Pramac star slammed in a 1:39 and then got down to a 1:37.738 to go two seconds quicker than Zarco – Miller proving it could well be slick tyre territory in France with half an hour of Friday’s action to go.

Miller was then well into the 1:36s and lapping over three seconds quicker than anyone else. This, of course, convinced some of the riders to come out on the slicks with Mir then slotting into second on the soft-soft combination – 3.2 seconds adrift of the Ducati man. With 20 minutes left on the clock Mir had chopped Miller’s advantage down to under two seconds, before Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech3) then shot up to P2 with a 1:36.967 – 0.535 off Miller.

All the riders were now out on circuit and the times were going to continually tumble. Nakagami demoted Miller to P2 before Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) then went P1. However, Nakagami then returned to the top to become the first rider to dip into the 1:35s – orange and red sector times filled the timing screens.

With around 10 minutes left, it was clear that the riders were starting to push. For some, too much. Aprilia duo Smith and Aleix Espargaro were down at Turn 12 and Turn 3 respectively, Smith suffering a nasty-looking highside but was able to walk away from the scene – albeit gingerly. Then, Dovizioso crashed. We don’t say that too often, but the Italian slid into the gravel at Turn 3 – rider ok.

In the meantime, Rossi had slotted himself into P4 behind Nakagami, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Lecuona, Miller had been shuffled down to P5. Then, the injured warrior Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) found himself at the summit, but it wasn’t for long. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and then Miller again beat the British rider’s time. Miller went 0.8s quicker than anyone to once again move the goalposts into a different ballpark.

Viñales then cut the gap to half a second to place himself P2 after running off and into the gravel a lap earlier at Turn 8. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team), third place in FP1, launched into P2 before Nakagami went quicker to sit 0.291 behind Miller with a minute to go. Nakagami set three red sectors but the Japanese rider suffered a small tip-off at Turn 11 – rider ok. Miller had no such worries though, the Aussie went faster again - the lap later getting cancelled because of yellow flags - and looked by far and away the most comfortable rider on track in the afternoon, couple that with a P4 in FP1 and Miller looks bang in form in France. Eventually, Miller finished 0.144 clear of the field with good mate Viñales slotting into P2 on his final flying lap, he too went well in both conditions after finishing P6 on Friday morning.

Completing the top three on Friday, despite the late crash, was Nakagami. Incidentally, his late crash saw Zarco's, Rossi's and Rins' final laps cancelled, seeing the trio slip down the order at the chequered flag. In the wet conditions, Nakagami didn’t fare so well after taking P17 but he’ll be buoyed by a P3 finish in the tricky afternoon session. Petrucci ended the day P4 to make it a good Friday for the Italian, he leads fifth place Crutchlow as the duo claim double top 10s in FP1 and FP2 to head into Saturday’s in good shape. Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) got his first taste of wet weather MotoGP™ action on Friday morning, and the reigning Moto2™ World Champion was impressive to finish P14 and just over a second away from Smith’s time. In the afternoon, Marquez again went well to claim P6 on Day 1.

Morbidelli and Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) finished P7 and P8 respectively, another two riders to be inside the leading 10 riders in both the wet and dry-ish conditions. Mir was able to claim P9 on the opening day to finish just over a second off Miller's time, Mir ended the wet FP1 session in P13 as the main title contenders didn't really trouble the top positions on Day 1. Zarco claimed P10 in the dry conditions to head countryman Quartararo as the title leader finishes outside the top 10 in both wet and dry conditions - a quiet day at the office for the Frenchman. 

As previously mentioned though, Friday’s running in Le Mans was treacherous. A nasty crash in FP1 or FP2 could prove costly and with the weather suggesting the rest of the weekend will be dry, no unnecessary risks needed to be taken.

Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) crashed in the latter stages at Turn 7 – rider ok.

What will the conditions bring for Saturday, and can anyone take the fight to Miller ahead of qualifying? Find out at 09:55 local time (GMT+2) when the premier class head out for a vital FP3, with the top 10 automatic Q2 places being decided. Tune in!

Combined top 10:
1. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) – 1:34.356
2. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.144
3. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) + 0.501
4. Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) + 0.698
5. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) + 0.785
6. Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) + 0.981
7. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 1.013
8. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 1.018
9. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 1.029
10. Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) + 1.052


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