To say that the French GP got off on the wrong foot might be the understatement of the season. Between the statements between riders about each other, and the Casey Stoner/Randy de Puniet punch incident, the pre-race antics were at a fever pitch in Le Mans. The off-track drama in MotoGP is clearly seeping into the on-track racing action, and accordingly the French GP was filled with several incidents that should give the pundits something to talk about for the coming three weeks before the Catalan GP.
Meanwhile qualifying showed that the Hondas ruled the roost, with the firm’s four factory supported bikes sitting in the top four spots on the starting grid. With Casey Stoner commencing from the pole position, Marco Simoncelli qualified just barely second to the Australian, while Andrea Dovizioso rounded out the front row.
Directly behind Stoner was Dani Pedrosa, who has had some tremendous starts from the second row in the past, and surely couldn’t be counted out of today’s race. Eyes were also on Randy de Puniet, who counted Le Mans as one of his least favorite circuits, despite it being in front of his home crowd.
Not to be uncounted with the Honda dominance, Jorge Lorenzo made his presence felt as the green flag waved for the start of the French GP, as the Spaniard mixed it up with the four Hondas, and took a fifth place position going into the first corner. With Pedrosa leading, Casey Stoner followed intently, with Andrea Dovizioso and Marco Simoncelli in hot pursuit. Though the French GP had several moments that will be talked about in the coming weeks, the first happened on the second lap, as Simoncelli passed Dovi for third, leaving the Repsol Honda to fall prey to Jorge Lorenzo as well. Barging through the corner, the World Champion ironically dropped a move on Dovi that Lorenzo has criticized others in the past for making, yet no comment was made from Race Direction.
Meanwhile towards the end of the lap, Casey Stoner made a pass on Dani Pedrosa for the race lead, and the Australian never looked back. Though Stoner would have Pedrosa lurking on his tail for the next dozen laps, Stoner marinated some more secret sauce, and began gapping the Spaniard, effectively checking out from the racing action behind him.
Perhaps one of the best battles was for the 11th spot, with Hector Barbera, Toni Elias, Loris Capirossi, and Karel Abraham all mixing it up. Elias seemingly had the best stuff of the group, and rode a great race, before finally having a moment and losing all the ground he made on the other three riders. His result in the day’s standings certainly don’t justify the way he rode, which was refreshing to see from someone who was once such a promising star in MotoGP.
SuperSic moved into the third place position wit 25 laps to go, cleanly getting around Jorge Lorenzo, perhaps one of the most vocal riders of Simoncelli’s riding lately. Once free of the World Champion, it took Simoncelli 14 laps to catch Dani Pedrosa, and make his move on the pint-sized Spaniard. Passing him cleanly as well, Pedrosa answered back almost immediately, passing Simoncelli on the inside of the next turn. As both riders went to apex, Simoncelli made contact with Pedrosa, who had not fully passed by the Italian. The result saw Pedrosa crashing into the gravel trap, and grabbing his right shoulder (not the one that had previously been injured). He would learn later that he had sustained a broken collarbone.
In response to the incident, Race Direction levied Marco Simoncelli a ride through penalty for his illegal passing maneuver, essentially costing the Italian the podium with very little restitution once he came back to the pits. Pundits will have plenty to argue over in regards to whether Simoncelli a) deserved a penalty in the situation, b) if he deserved that harsh of a penalty, c) whether the penalty is a result of the other riders complaining about him earlier in the weekend, and d) why other riders making similar passes were not levied penalties like Simoncelli’s. We’ll let you decide in the comments which way you lean on this.
As for the rest of the race, the crash instantly put Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso, and Valentino Rossi into podium contention, which didn’t bode well for the reigning World Champion. Watching both his former teammate, Valentino Rossi, and the Repsol Honda of Andrea Dovizioso squeak by him, Jorge Lorenzo had to satisfy himself with a fourth place finish. Meanwhile Dovi lurked behind Rossi, waiting to make his move.
Getting by The Doctor with three laps to go, Rossi answered on the penultimate turn before the final lap. His move wouldn’t stick though, as Dovi answered on the second apex, taking second place from Rossi and holding it through to the finish. Dovi was ecstatic after the race having beaten the G.O.A.T., and Rossi was equally pleased with his first podium on the Ducati Desmosedici.
Less emphatic was Randy de Puniet who crashed on the second lap. He would later be joined by teammate Loris Capirossi, as off-road excursions came in pairs this weekend. The Tech3 Yamaha team was not immune from this, as both Cal Crutchlow and Colin Edwards had falls, with both satellite Yamaha riders showing strong performances up until their crashes. Edwards would rejoin the field after fixing a broken footpeg, gaining a couple Championship points.
Racing comes in three weeks’ time, as MotoGP heads to Barcelona for the Catalan GP.
Race Results from MotoGP at the French GP in Le Mans, France:
|1||27||Casey STONER||AUS||Repsol Honda Team||Honda||–|
|2||4||Andrea DOVIZIOSO||ITA||Repsol Honda Team||Honda||+14.214|
|3||46||Valentino ROSSI||ITA||Ducati Team||Ducati||+14.564|
|4||1||Jorge LORENZO||SPA||Yamaha Factory Racing||Yamaha||+21.075|
|5||58||Marco SIMONCELLI||ITA||San Carlo Honda Gresini||Honda||+31.245|
|6||11||Ben SPIES||USA||Yamaha Factory Racing||Yamaha||+31.609|
|7||69||Nicky HAYDEN||USA||Ducati Team||Ducati||+35.566|
|8||7||Hiroshi AOYAMA||JPN||San Carlo Honda Gresini||Honda||+51.502|
|9||8||Hector BARBERA||SPA||Mapfre Aspar Team MotoGP||Ducati||+1’03.731|
|10||17||Karel ABRAHAM||CZE||Cardion AB Motoracing||Ducati||+1’03.885|
|11||24||Toni ELIAS||SPA||LCR Honda MotoGP||Honda||+1’04.068|
|12||19||Alvaro BAUTISTA||SPA||Rizla Suzuki MotoGP||Suzuki||+1’04.192|
|13||5||Colin EDWARDS||USA||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||Yamaha||2 Laps|
|65||Loris CAPIROSSI||ITA||Pramac Racing Team||Ducati||7 Laps|
|26||Dani PEDROSA||SPA||Repsol Honda Team||Honda||11 Laps|
|35||Cal CRUTCHLOW||GBR||Monster Yamaha Tech 3||Yamaha||22 Laps|
|14||Randy DE PUNIET||FRA||Pramac Racing Team||Ducati||27 Laps|
Source: MotoGP; Photo: Honda