Qualifying at Le Mans was full of surprises. Efren Vazquez grabbed his first ever pole in Moto3, Jonas Folger bagged his first Moto2 pole after just five races in the class, and Pol Espargaro secured a front row start as a rookie. Andrea Dovizioso posted another impressive performance, grabbing third in qualifying, and Ducati’s first front row start of the year.
The two Movistar Yamahas were relegated to the second row of the grid, and Dani Pedrosa will start from way down in ninth. If you’d put money on that sequence of events, you could have earned yourself a very tidy sum indeed.
You certainly wouldn’t have earned much by betting on who would take pole. Marc Marquez is turning into the very antithesis of surprise, at least if you judge him by the timesheet.
France will continue to host MotoGP for at least another seven years. Today, Dorna announced that an agreement had been reached to extend the contract with race organizer Claude Michy through 2021, adding five years to the deal which was due to expire after the 2017 round.
The new deal does not guarantee that the race will continue to be held at the Le Mans circuit, however, as the contract is with the organizer, who negotiates separate deals with the Le Mans track. The chances of it being moved elsewhere are slim, however. The two alternative circuits capable of hosting a Grand Prix in France are Magny-Cours and Paul Ricard.
Both feature interesting layouts, but suffer with location, as neither are very close to large population centers. Paul Ricard is better situated, close to the French coast, and therefore with accommodation reasonably nearby. But Paul Ricard suffers the disadavantage of having all of its gravel traps replaced with hard asphalted run off, ideal for cars, but not so good for motorcycles.
Who can stop Marc Marquez? By the look of the FP2 timesheet, maybe Andrea Iannone can. The Pramac Ducati rider ended Friday just 0.007 behind Marquez, the closest anyone has been to him on a Friday since Qatar.
Looks are, of course, deceptive, and if you dig a little deeper you see that Iannone’s fastest lap, though impressive, was made using a tow from Dani Pedrosa, just as the Repsol Honda rider was setting his fastest lap of the session. Iannone also benefited from using the extra soft rear tire which Ducati is allowed to use, making it that little bit easier to post a quick lap.
Iannone should not be written off too quickly, however. Pedrosa slowed up to let Iannone past immediately after the pair had set their quick laps, and on the next clear lap, Iannone got into the 1’33s again, posting a time equal to Pedrosa’s best lap, but this time, all on his own.
Whether he can convert that to consistent pace in the race remains to be seen. The Italian appears to be circulating around the 1’34.3 mark. Fast, but not fast enough to match what Marquez appears to be capable of.
For real race pace, you have to look a little further down the timesheets. Jorge Lorenzo appears to have refound his mojo, and is starting to grind out the laps. The Movistar Yamaha rider put in 16 full laps during FP2, 5 of which were 1’34.1s, plus a single lap of 1’34.054. This is the Lorenzo of old, working on consistent pace and slowly ratcheting up the pace.
Lorenzo’s pace is still no match for Marquez – the Repsol Honda man seems capable of banging in 1’33.8s at will – but it is clearly the best of the rest. It has taken four races for the real Jorge Lorenzo to make an appearance, but at least he is finally here.
As the MotoGP circus descends upon the charming French town of Le Mans this weekend, there is one question at the front of everybody’s minds: can he do it? Can Marc Marquez continue his incredible string of poles and victories by winning at Le Mans?
On the evidence of the 2014 season so far, you would have to say he can. But Le Mans is a different circuit, and one where a gaggle of Yamaha riders have gone well in the past. This could possibly be the first race since Qatar where Marquez is made to work for it.
Marquez has a lot going for him in France. Leaving aside his form – a perfect record of poles and wins this year, as well as being fastest in over half the sessions of free practice so far – the track looks to play to the Honda’s strengths, on paper at least.
The stop-and-go nature of the Le Mans track sees the bikes spend a lot of time under hard acceleration, with slower corners needing hard braking. The Honda’s ‘V’ approach to the corners – brake late, turn hard, stand the bike up quickly and get on the gas – seems to be a much better fit to the Le Mans circuit than Yamaha’s ‘U’ style – brake early, enter faster, carry more corner speed and smoothly wind on the throttle.
And yet Yamaha riders have won four of the last six races at the circuit. Jorge Lorenzo has won the French Grand Prix at Le Mans three times, and each time with a very comfortable margin over his competitors. Valentino Rossi has won here twice on a Yamaha, in 2005 and 2008, and finished second behind Lorenzo in 2010.
It’s even a track where Colin Edwards has shone in the past on a Yamaha – and where perhaps he can do well once again, despite hating the current Yamaha chassis he is riding at Forward Yamaha. This is the first in a series of circuits where Yamaha riders have dominated in the past.
If Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi want to start fighting back against the might of Marquez, Le Mans is as good a place to start as any.
The first round of the 2014 Endurance World Championship is in the bag, as the 24 hours of the Bol d’Or at Magny-Cours are now in the bag. Taking the top step on the podium was last year’s Bol d’Or winner, SRC Kawasaki, but the win didn’t come easily for the Kawasaki factory team.
“The week got off to a bad start. With Fabien Foret out and the crash for Matthieu, I wouldn’t have fancied us to win,” admitted SRC Kawasaki Team Manager Gilles Stafler. “The best win we ever had in a 24-hour race was our first in Le Mans in 2010. But this one was the toughest. There was also a luck factor in the choice of the tyres and we had the support of really top-notch technical staff.”
Because of Matthieu Lagrive’s crash during the free practice session, this meant that SRC Kawasaki teammate Gregory Leblanc and Nicolas Salchaud had to pretty much split the racing duties for the 24-hour race. At one point, SRC Kawasaki was in the 20th spot, after an early crash, but the team rallied together, and capitalized on the misfortunes of others to bring home another Bol d’Or win.
Finishing five laps down, in second, was the Yamaha France’s factory-supported team: Yamaha Racing GMT 94 Michelin; and in third was the Superstock Class leader, Junior Team LMS Suzuki, which was 11 laps down at the finish.
Noticeably absent from the finishing board were the usual suspects of Honda Racing, Yamaha Austria Racing Team (YART), and the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT), all of whom had to retire mid-race because of mechanical troubles, but had strong showings prior to their retirements.
The Endurance World Championship season is about to start, with the 2014 Bol d’Or 24-Hour race kicking off in just a few hours in Magny-Cours. But woe is you, you have no way of watching the race, right? Pssh…Asphalt & Rubber has you covered, my endurance loving friend.
Well actually, the FIM does…we are just making things putting-on-pants-easy for you in terms of watching the live stream and timing on your computer box. Sit back, relax, and watch 24-hours of motorcycle racing goodness from the comfort of your monitor’s warm glow. Go ahead, take your shoes off. We won’t mind. Racing starts 6am Pacific time, 9am Eastern.