It’s nearly time for track action to get underway at the legendary Le Mans layout and previewing the weekend ahead in the SHARK Helmets Grand Prix de France pre-event Press Conference was Championship leader and home hero Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), his nearest challenger Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), his teammate and Barcelona podium finisher Alex Rins, Frenchman Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing), Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) and 2021 Ducati MotoGP™ rider Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo).
Heading to his home Grand Prix, Quartararo has a title lead to defend. The Frenchman sits just eight clear of Mir coming into the final six races of an incredible 2020 season after the pair claimed P1 and P2 respectively in Barcelona, and it’s the MotoGP™ sophomore duo who look the likely contenders for the crown – for now.
Speaking ahead of his homecoming, Quartararo was confident he can perform at Le Mans in front of 5,000 French fans after showing strong pace in 2019. “Yeah, finally it was a great moment to have my third win in Barcelona and I think that was the most important. We had some difficult moments in Misano, Brno and Austria,” began the 21-year-old.
“It was great to be back at a track that I really like. Last year here was really positive, the result was not that great but in the race we showed our pace was really fast, if we check the lap time we had the pace for the podium. That’s really good, we hope for the same this year. I’m really confident, the weather doesn’t look that bad so I’m happy and confident to be here.”
Both Quartararo and compatriot Zarco will be hoping the 5,000 local fans can give them an added boost across the weekend and discussing facing up to a home Grand Prix, Zarco joked that the pressure is on Quartararo at Le Mans.
“French GP, the pressure is for Fabio I think, not for me. I have everything to win, we have 5,000 people here on Sunday which is better than nothing and it will give us some good energy. We will see the weather, not think too much and try to perform,” said the witty Ducati rider, who was in high spirits on home turf knowing that he’s got a Pramac Racing deal in the bag for 2021.
“it makes me feel good to know where to go next year and on a winning bike,” commented Zarco. “I still have many things to learn on the Ducati and from the last races, the work was good but clearly on Sunday I didn’t get good results. I still need to put things together but I believe I’m on a good way and thanks to Ducati, all the things I’ll do this season, will be useful for next season.
“I’m also happy for Pecco that with these three races that he did, he showed the factory team was for him. I have this step with the bike, getting a new bike but similar for next year. Happy and fully motivated, one year ago this was not the situation in October, I know where I’m going and that makes my target really clear.”
Is the pressure on Quartararo? Well, yes. He’s in a title race that is entering a critical stage with two sets of triple headers coming up – and we all know how strong Mir and Suzuki are looking. Both Mir and teammate Rins were on the podium in Barcelona to give the Hamamatsu factory their first double rostrum since 2007, and Le Mans could well be a similar story. However, Mir is still remaining fully focused on trying to earn that elusive maiden MotoGP™ victory before turning his attention to the Championship fight.
“Honestly, I think in the World Championship we are really close but to fight for the Championship you need to win races and that is a fact. At the moment we are competitive, focused, consistent and fast, but we don’t have a victory yet. I am fully focused on that, fully focused on trying to get my first victory. Meanwhile it is important to score points and continue this way and like I said, just focus on the victory,” said the number 36.
Rins said that he would happily help Mir in trying to win the title if team orders had to come into play at some stage, but with the Spaniard’s recent rostrum – his first of 2020 – he’s now aiming for more of the same before trying to help Mir.
“For sure the podium in Montmelo gave me extra motivation and power,” affirmed Rins, who gave an update on the shoulder injury that has hampered most of his season. “About the shoulder, I would like to say I’m at 100% but still not 100%. I’m happy to not feel pain on the bone but with this sort of injury you have to stop and recover for 2-3 months to be perfect. We didn’t stop with this season full of races, on the bike I’m not feeling enough muscle on the right arm. So we need to finish this season and fully recover for next season.”
The pressure may be on the riders at the top of the standings to try and stay there, but if MotoGP™ in 2020 has shown us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. So many riders are capable of winning, most of the riders could have a strong argument for placing themselves as a podium contender and the weather is set to play a leading role at Le Mans too. Quartararo vs Mir is the focal point for now, especially with El Diablo racing on home soil, but that can change in the blink of an eye.
The riders have done the talking off track in France, now it’s time for them to strut their stuff on the asphalt. Tune into MotoGP™ FP1 at 09:55 local time (GMT+2) to see who holds the early advantage at Le Mans.