There have been eight races since we were treated to the last MotoGP™ wet encounter on a Sunday, but at the world-famous Le Mans, it looks incredibly likely that we’ll be seeing a weekend drenched with rain. It’s something that isn’t fazing the riders though, and in the SHARK Grand Prix de France pre-event Press Conference, title chase leader Francesco Bagnaia was joined by Ducati Lenovo Team teammate and Jerez winner Jack Miller, home heroes Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing), Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) to share their thoughts on the weekend.
A lot of the talk has been about the weather forecasts for the three days in northern France. Rain looks set to play a leading role in the proceedings, but the good news for the riders is that – unlike last year’s French GP – there should be plenty of wet weather running before Sunday’s race. World Championship leader Bagnaia heads into Round 5 as the man to beat, and the Italian lands in France in a buoyant mood having claimed three podiums in four races so far in 2021.
“Yeah I’m the leader for just 10 days so I don’t know. It’s good, it’s nice but we have only done four races, it’s too soon to think about it. We just thinking race by race, this is a track that I like. I’ve had three podiums here, one in Moto3 and a victory and second in Moto2 and it’s a track that suits our bike very well,” began Pecco, who knows that last year’s wet weather winner was Danilo Petrucci, riding a factory Ducati. Bagnaia explains that he hasn’t got much experience riding in adverse conditions, but acknowledges his package works well in the rain.
“I’m prepared to ride here but we need to see the weather forecast, because it looks like it will be rain and in the wet I’ve done just six races, I think, in all categories in MotoGP, so let’s wait. Last year I struggled in the second part of the race, after 12/13 laps because at the start I started well but I was behind, then I recovered positions to 8th, 9th and then they came back. In the wet our bike is very strong, but it’s not easy with these tyres because they give you a lot of grip and it’s not easy to manage.”
Inspired by his emotional victory in Jerez, Miller is ready to attack a circuit he’s got a “love-hate” relationship with. As we know, the Australian is fond of tricky conditions and was going well in last year’s race before his Ducati packed in, and confirms he and the team are prepared to fight at the front in all conditions.
“Yeah, I think it's a whole mix of everything you know, relief, but also it makes you more eager for the next one. At the end of the day, bike racers, we're always looking for what's next and what we can try to do more, you know, we always want more so for sure just looking at coming here and trying to do a strong weekend like we did in Spain,” said Miller, explaining how it’s been since winning his first race in factory red.
“I mean it's been a pretty calm week to be honest, I've just stuck to what we've been doing the last few and just been training and doing what I can. Thankfully there was some decent weather in Spain and Andorra over the week and I was able to get out on the bicycle but doesn't look like we will have much of that this weekend, so no, I think we're prepared for all conditions that are coming this weekend. I’ve been known to be pretty good in the wet so if that comes it comes, I feel like I've got a score to settle with Le Mans, you know after last year.
“I have a kind of love-hate relationship with France, with Le Mans especially. I've had a win here and in Moto3, I nearly died here at Turn 1, and then last year I did feel like I died as well, when the bike cut out with like seven to go. I think we’ve got a good package as the boys said.”
Former World Championship leader Quartararo could have had so much more in Jerez, however, arm pump had other ideas. Despite the disappointment in Andalucia, the Frenchman is in high spirits ahead of his home Grand Prix and confirms he doesn’t think he’ll struggle on the bike despite recent surgery.
“Yeah it was, yeah. Pretty frustrating during the race and you have the pace to do it, but you don’t have power,” started Quartararo, chatting about the events that happened on Sunday in Jerez. “Every single lap you have more difficulties to brake until the moment you just have normal power. There was still more than 10 laps remaining.
“The first moment was losing the opportunity to win, but then it was just tyring to finish the race in the points. So it was the right time to have a second surgery on the arm. I’m feeling great, the scar is stretching a little bit. I cant wait for tomorrow to ride. I’m feeling great and I don’t think there will be any issues while riding.”
No issues while riding? That’s music to the ears of all his fans cheering him on this weekend. The spanner in the works for Quartararo and his competitors is the weather though, but factory Yamaha star is buzzing to try his YZR-M1 in the wet conditions, as it will be a good comparison to see if he’s quick in all conditions – not just when it’s dry.
“Yes, I’m really looking forward to testing the bike in the wet. Last year was a little bit strange because the really wet conditions we only really had it on the Sunday, also FP1, but yeah. I’m feeling great in the dry conditions in every single track so I’m excited to test it in the wet, I hope it’s working as, you know, two years ago I was always feeling really good with the bike. I think this feeling is going to be well, a great opportunity to ride in the wet, not just in one session but for all the weekend. And yeah, just want to take as much experience as I can and to do my best.”
Fellow Frenchman Zarco is also hoping for a dream home Grand Prix weekend, and knows that this track suits his Ducati well. “Yeah, true that in Jerez I got few points, and it was good enough for me, but with the high potential of the Ducati, and the victory of Jack, the second place of Pecco in Jerez, the leadership of Pecco, it really gives high motivation also to do a great result here in France,” commented Zarco.
“As Pecco says the tracks fits the bike well here, or better than Jerez. In Jerez, the pace was interesting of the Ducati, so I'm pretty happy to have this package with me. We don't have the fans, we are used to almost, and it's on some side sad, because less funny things around the track but to stay focused and almost get the weekend as a normal weekend, that's pretty good so for the work and for the target to be on podium, it can help.”
All eyes will be looking towards the skies on Friday morning for MotoGP™ FP1 in France. If the forecasts are to be believed, it’s going to be the first of many sessions at Le Mans for the riders to get to grips with the wet conditions. It should be a fascinatingly unpredictable spectacle, wet or dry, for Round 5 of the season. Who’s ready for it? Everyone.