Le Mans is a truly legendary venue for racing, in the Loire region of France and only a couple of hours Paris. The Bugatti circuit, where the MotoGP™ paddock race, only adds more to that legend every year as the engines fire up and the annual tour de force of the world’s fastest motorcycle racing Championship rolls into town. Some classic races have been won and lost on French soil, and 2017 promises another memorable rendezvous. In amongst the history, the track has also been resurfaced for 2017 – another extra challenge for the teams and riders as the Championship gains traction in Europe.
Fastest on Friday, pole on Saturday and race win on Sunday – that was Jerez for Repsol Honda Team’s Dani Pedrosa, and the ‘Baby Samurai’ extended his winning streak to sixteen seasons in a row as a race winner – a record. Pedrosa will be confident ahead of Le Mans – a venue he’ll be hoping has echoes of 2013 once again, as that year he also won Jerez and then took victory next time out. Teammate and reigning Champion Marc Marquez, second at home in Spain, will also be pushing hard to take another win this season – and won at Le Mans only a year after Pedrosa, in 2014. One eye is on the big prize for Marquez, too, and the number 93 is now dialed into the long game with a title to defend – only four points off the lead. Pedrosa? He’s ten points off the top, after Jerez saw the field close up.
Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) was another who showed in Jerez that a Champion can change their colours but not their talent, as he got the Ducati on the podium at a notoriously tough venue for the Borgo Panigale factory. Lorenzo will also be aiming high in Le Mans, where he has six wins – the most successful rider at the venue – including the last two years in MotoGP™ and a stunning wet weather win in 2009. Teammate Andrea Dovizioso will also be putting up a fight on French soil, after another top five in Spain – and some good pace in Le Mans.
Yamaha are the factory looking to bounce back. With a tough time in Jerez for Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) and Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), the venue is a good one for the marque on paper, and temperatures are sure to be lower – with tyres sure to be affected. In addition, Rossi still leads the Championship from his teammate by two points, and both have good records at Le Mans. Viñales took his first ever win in the 125 World Championship at the venue in 2011, and it also staged his first MotoGP™ podium in 2016. The ‘Doctor’ is of course a previous winner at the track, too – and will be looking to extend his lead in the standings as a minimum.
The home crowd have a tricolore of home heroes to cheer for, too. Superstars rookie – and top Independent Team rider last time out in P4 – Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) lines up alongside Loris Baz (Reale Avintia Racing) and another very familiar name as 2014 WorldSBK Champion Sylvain Guintoli returns to MotoGP™ to replace injured Team Suzuki Ecstar rider Alex Rins. Following some testing in Jerez, Guintoli will be hoping to join his compatriots in putting on a real show.
Sharing the box with Guintoli is Andrea Iannone, who had some good pace in Jerez and had big positives after the Jerez test – someone to watch as he learns his way around the Hamamatsu factory machine. Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) is a constant improver, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) a perennial frontrunner, Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing), Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and Alvaro Bautista (Pull&Bear Aspar) dark horses in the battle – the grid is deep in 2017, with incredible competition throughout and so many names hitting the front.
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing got closer to that front battle again in Jerez. Taking a huge leap forward with a new engine, closing in on Q2 and in the top ten in two practice sessions with Pol Espargaro, the Austrian factory scored more points with Bradley Smith in Jerez and are well on their way to making a real dent in the grid – committed as ever, and ready to race.
MotoGP™ get going at 9:55 (GMT +2) on Friday in France, and the lights go out for another piece of the legend at 14:00 on Sunday.