Sunday Summary at Le Mans: Head & Heart

05/21/2012 @ 9:01 am, by David Emmett23 COMMENTS

Funny how things turn out. On a weekend that looked like being overshadowed by one subject – Casey Stoner’s shock retirement announcement and its repercussions – along came the rain and provided spectacle to cheer the hearts of racing fans of every persuasion. Rain offers new opportunities, and such opportunities light a fire in the breasts of racers being kept from running at the front under ordinary circumstances. At the same time, should that fire burn too fiercely, those same racers can fall prey to their own overreaching ambition, and fall within sight of glory.

Sunday at Le Mans saw plentiful examples of both. In three outstanding, if rain-sodden races, the fine balance between head and heart that racing requires was demonstrated several times over. Riders took the chances on offer: those who wanted it too much suffered the consequences and crashed out ignominiously; those who did not want it enough floundered around miserably at the rear; those that got it just right were richly rewarded.

Things started off well for the French crowd – over 80,000 braved the torrential conditions to watch the races – as local boy (and he is truly local, born in the city of Le Mans) Louis Rossi took his first victory in the Moto3 class. The race was an object lesson in the excitability of the junior class, with three men crashing out of the lead. From the first, we have come to expect it – why else would Hector Faubel still be in Moto3 at the age of 28? The second was also not a surprise, Miguel Oliveira crashing out of the lead. He deserved better, but it is not unusual for a 17-year-old to allow his excitement to get the better of him when he has the prospect of his first victory in the class ahead of him. The circumstances of the third were similar, though you would expect that Maverick Viñales would be used to leading races, already having 4 victories to his name.

With the three men ahead of him having fallen, all Louis Rossi had to do was to keep calm and stay upright. Easy enough if you have a lead of over 20 seconds, you would think, but that probably just made things worse. Rossi forced himself to concentrate, to maintain his rhythm, to keep braking and opening the gas at the same point of the track every lap, always holding a little bit of a margin for the changing conditions. But the last lap was long, “very, very long” he told The win was deserved, and the crowd were ecstatic. The joy of finally getting a win was visible on the podium, when Rossi sang the French national anthem at the very top of his lungs. And if any anthem feels just right being sung at the top of your lungs, it is surely the strident call to battle that is La Marsellaise.

One thing that did become evident from the massive number of riders who fell: the Moto3 bikes are much, much more difficult to bump start than the old 125cc two-strokes. Both Viñales and Oliveira tried to persuade the marshals to help them to bump start their bikes, but after a few desultory attempts, they gave up. Sandro Cortese was a fraction luckier, and a fraction more sensible, holding on to the throttle as he fell to keep the engine running, rejoining to come home in 6th and take a comfortable lead in the championship. But with engines so difficult to start, we are likely to see more riders try to hold on to the clutch as they fall. And as a possible consequence of that, more fingers badly damaged as they get caught between handlebars and ground.

In Moto2, Thomas Luthi gave an object lesson in maturity, going fast but remaining calm. His main rivals for the title both faltered, Pol Espargaro having a big moment and losing touch, while Marc Marquez managed to crash out of the race. Luthi’s win closes the title fight right up, just three points separating leader Espargaro and Luthi, with Marquez a single point behind Espargaro. Behind Luthi, Claudio Corti and Scott Redding were also rewarded for their calmness in the face of poor weather, scoring podiums while others fell by the wayside.

Others shone brightly too. For Gino Rea, the weekend had been tough, having switched to a new chassis at the event without any testing. Getting the new Suter chassis to work with the Showa suspension which Gresini uses instead of the paddock-standard Ohlins had been tricky, but when the rain came Rea seized his chance, shooting up through the field to dice at the very front. Unfortunately, a rather boneheaded move by Johann Zarco dumped Rea out, the Frenchman wiping out Rea’s front wheel after passing him in the final corner. Race direction looked at the incident, but though unfortunate for Rea, found that Zarco had not made an illegal maneuver.

As with Rea, Bradley Smith showed a similar amount of commitment and passion, firing up through the field to dice at the front, after starting from a lowly 19th spot. Smith gambled and lost, crashing out at the final corner, though he remounted to still cross the line in 10th. Though Smith’s commitment and heart cannot be questioned, they pale in the face of Julian Simon. Simon crashed in the same place, but unlike Smith, could not get his bike started again. So he picked it up, and ran, pushing his BQR bike all the way across the line. Simon has proven many times in the past to be a man of great heart, as exemplified by the magnanimity he showed after being taken out and shattering his leg thanks to a bonehead move by Kenan Sofuoglu, but pushing his bike across the line was an impressive piece of sportsmanship, passion, and an unwillingness to ever concede defeat. Simon finished 13th, scoring 3 precious points.

The MotoGP race lifted the hearts of the fans even further. Though the race was won on the first lap, by a brilliant and committed Jorge Lorenzo, the Yamaha man passing Dani Pedrosa at Garage Vert and never looking back, his performance was lost in the excitement of the battle for 2nd. That was undeserved; Lorenzo’s race was a masterclass in riding in the rain, pushing when needed, being smooth when possible, and maintaining concentration for 28 long laps. Lorenzo’s brake and clutch levers have the words “Mantequilla” (butter) and “Martillo” (hammer) engraved upon them; his race today was purest Mantequilla.

The excitement behind came from the group of four chasing, the two Tech 3 bikes of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, along with the Repsol Honda of Casey Stoner and the factory Ducati of Valentino Rossi. Both Dovizioso and Crutchlow looked in with a shot of their first podium, but both had their own problems. Dovizioso lacked traction, and so was making it up on the brakes, and wearing out his front tire, while Crutchlow had problems with power in a straight line (despite being fastest on the speed charts) causing the Englishman to push too hard into the corners. Both men crashed, but both men rejoined, the Tech 3 men proving that they are the toughest opposition behind Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa.

But the battle of the day was surely between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner. The two men whose rivalry has defined the last 6 years – and divided motorcycle racing fans into two, increasingly vituperative camps – came together with 4 laps to go, and fought a tense and thrilling battle until the penultimate lap, when Rossi finally got the better of the Australian. The result thrilled the crowd and lifted the spirits at Ducati – not least, for Rossi himself, reigniting a fire that has sometimes seemed to have guttered out in the Italian. It was gratifying to see Rossi fighting with the gusto which we know he possesses, and proving that he has not lost the skill he once had.

The problem is that the clash was exceptional, rather than ordinary. Circumstances played a massive role in bringing it about, as exciting as it turned out to be. The Ducati works superbly in the wet, paradoxically, as in the dry it lacks front-end feel and suffers from overly aggressive throttle response. That all goes away in the wet, even though logic dictates it should get worse rather than better. The paradox has baffled everyone, including Ducati, though they will take whatever they can get.

This does not mean that Ducati is out of the woods yet, however. “For sure, when you want the rain, you are in the sh*t,” Rossi told the press conference. Getting a podium had been important for morale, but more important will be the test at Mugello on Wednesday and Thursday, when Rossi will test a new engine with some modifications to tame the power delivery. If that works, then they will have made real progress, and start to get closer to the front. The first target, Rossi explained, are the Tech 3 Yamaha bikes; if the Factory Ducatis can run with them, then that will already be major progress.

While the Ducati is faster in the wet, the Hondas appear to be struggling. Both Stoner and Dani Pedrosa complained of a complete lack of edge grip, the problem appearing to be an inability to get temperature into the tires in very cold, very wet conditions. Though Honda’s engine is impeccable, and their chassis is both agile and stable, HRC appear to have completely misjudged the 2012 Bridgestone tires. In the dry, the Hondas have severe chatter where the Yamahas have very little, as do the Ducatis. In the wet, they struggle to get the tires to the correct temperature, either failing to get heat into them or else getting too much heat in, with the tires destroying themselves as a result. Honda really need more testing time if they are to fix this, but their first opportunity will come at Barcelona.

If the clash between Rossi and Stoner had demonstrated their passion – Stoner still has some, but the clash with his old rival was not enough to change his mind about racing, he said – Ben Spies appears to be almost entirely lacking. His performance has been dismal all year, and Le Mans was no different. A problem with his visor misting meant that he could not see while riding, and so he returned to the pits to get the problem fixed. He returned to the track once again, but by then, he was already a very long way down, and scored another forgettable result. Spies’ problems have just about all been attributable to misfortune this season, but even then, Yamaha will start to lose patience at some point. Spies may be paying for his incredible run of luck during his AMA years, with the misfortune now coming as bunched together as his good luck in the AMA. Whatever the reason, he needs to turn his season around fast.

It was also pleasing to see James Ellison score his first points, also finishing as the first CRT bike. Though the practice of wheeling the first CRT bike into Parc Fermé serves more to underline the separate status of the class, disparaging the bikes rather than promoting them, having Ellison there was a moral victory for the Cumbrian. Two weeks ago, team boss Paul Bird had told British Eurosport that he would be moving Ellison aside to make way for Shane Byrne. That idea failed utterly to address the problems which Ellison was having, which center around chatter, and would merely have put another rider in exactly the same situation. Fortunately, PBM got help, in the form of a new set of electronics settings, from Aprilia which went a very long way to curing the problem. With the new electronics and a bit of help – not least from Randy de Puniet, who highsided on the grid when his launch control failed to deal with the treacherous conditions created by a pool of water – Ellison showed his boss just how wrong his thinking had been. The head, it is clear, is just as important as the heart.

Photo: Ducati Corse

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • I’m curious, why can’t you print “For sure, when you want the rain, you are in the sh*t,” as “For sure, when you want the rain, you are in the shit,”?

    Are we still that Puritan in America?

  • Great article BTW.

  • David is British, and therefore has much better manners than us Yanks.

  • loki

    Good analysis, but it has to be said that in the Moto2 race Zarco clipped Rea’s front wheel not in the last corner but in the first, the Dunlop curve. And I also stand on Johann’s side on this one: he had the interior, Rea saw him as they were alongside and he still tried to close the door on him. So, sorry Gino.

  • Henry

    Is this whole site now just reproducing articles? Not only are you just glomming off of David Emmet’s work, you don’t do a very good job of giving him credit for it. It’s a little shady how you bury way at the bottom that the article was originally published on It should be prominently displayed at the beginning of the article. It’s also a little suspect that you put Emmett’s name in the By Line as if he writes for You don’t really seem to go too far out of your way to let people know that this is not original A&R content.

  • Hi Henry,

    Jensen publishes my work with my express permission. We had a series of conversations about how to do this before coming to an agreement, and I am very happy for Jensen to publish my work here, and the way that he handles it. My only regret is that I do not really have the time to monitor the comments under these articles, it would be more courteous of me to respond to those of you making comments.

    And to “Twat” I asterisk the word so that readers on my website don’t find corporate internet filters blocking the site.

    David Emmett

  • Gray

    Jensen and David –

    First off, thank you both for publishing great work. I visit both of your sites regularly. Second, as Ben Spies is the only current hope for American success in MotoGP, it is very disappointing to see his performance this season. It is very difficult to get a clear idea as to what exactly is going on from just the press releases, as not much else has been said about his troubles. It would be great to see what the insider information has to say about his situation. If one of you could find time to bring light to the subject, it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again for the excellent sites you run.

  • Mike

    Ah RDP. He continues to amaze in his ability to hang onto a ride — not literally of course. He has the most remarkable quick/stupid ratio in the paddock. But rather than say it myself, I’ll leave it to longtime MotoGP reporter Julian Ryder: “Unfortunately, Randy managed to crash before crossing the start line, which must be a record. He got on his spare bike and managed to crash that too. Which must be a record.”

  • Andrey

    Great article, thanks for posting. Watching the race it seemed pretty clear to me that Rossi, now knowing the Ducati is competitive in the wet, had the intent and desire to push to the front because of the Ducatis’ abilities here…. and he set out to do so… In a nutshell he felt he had a chance.
    The last few laps surely showed he has at least as much, if not more, ability than Casey.
    I think this race will put more pressure on Rossis’ team to give him the bike he needs… he can and will push it hard if he feels he has a chance.

  • Westward

    @ David Emmett

    I have always like your insights and articles, but have never commented much on any of them at MotoMatters. I am not sure why, but am glad you allow them posted here, as I am more app to read & comment on them now. The combination of Beeler and your articles makes for a more complete experience.

  • Westward

    Amazing to me is the fact that Lorenzo dominated the day and took the lead in the championship by 8 points, yet the story of the weekend, was Rossi & Stoner’s battle for the 2nd position. MotoGP and the halo effect motoracing is experiencing with the presence of Rossi will be missed, when he retires.

    I wonder which got the better of Stoner at LeMans, Rossi’s ambition or his talent…

    I have always said, the machine does not measure up to the man in this case. All Rossi has ever lacked last year and even now, is a capable bike to show his true skill. Rossi is 100%, however the bike is not…

    If Yamaha are smart, they would lure Rossi back to the factory squad, and lease factory bikes to Tech3. When 2013 rolls around, four M1’s would dominate the top five spots at every circuit. Rossi, Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Crutchlow, and even Spies (one of the last three should be on a satellite bike somehow)

    The sponsors would return, and Yamaha would rule for the next two -three seasons, unless Honda’s Marquez proves to be the next great talent…

    Thats is of course, if Ducati doesn’t produce an engineering miracle before the season ends, this would be my hope for the future…

  • mxs

    Hmmm … I thought Stoner was very clear about it and it was evident in the race as well. He ran out of tire or the tires stopped working the moment it stopped raining. If that didn’t happen Rossi’s talent or ambition would never be put into the same equation as the reason for a 2nd place, Stoner would be gone chasing Lorenzo, yet the opposite happened, Rossi was able to close up … but no it was not just be his sheer talent, he got help … as almost always is the case.

    I wish people would stop the endless Rossi this and that. Look he’s back, he just needs a better bike and more rain or snow would be even better ….

    Just let the races be races without the constant Rossi logic implying this and that. The only good thing about Stoner’s retirement is that people will have to find a different topic to talk about when mentioning Rossi. I am waiting in amusement to see who or what will this be.

  • Nice summation of the weekend.

    I was traveling this weekend, so I only just got to watch all three races. Moto3, indeed, showed the chaos of a huge field all vying for a podium. Luthi in Moto2 once again proved why he’s one of my favourite riders. He not only showed a master’s grasp of riding in adverse conditions, he’s proving himself to be a sponsor’s dream of eloquent representation. And, finally, it was great to see Rossi and Stoner dicing it out. Moreover, I remain ever hopeful that as the season progresses, the CRT bikes will be less of an aside and more in the main event itself.

    Qualify the comment as you like, the fact remains that CRT bikes are finishing ahead of at least the satellite bikes now. There’s a delicious sense of pressure this will put on the more established teams, while at the same time giving the CRT bikes incentive to keep pushing hard for the results.

    All in all, a big, wonderful race weekend.

  • Minibull

    Regarding the Rea/Zarco incident, look at how far across Zarco comes after clipping Rea’s wheel. Zarco is almost at the edge of the track. How Rea is supposed to avoid that in the wet conditions is beyond me.

  • zipi dachimp

    re westward: rossi wouldn’t go back because lorenzo is faster on equal equipment. ducati need to get their act together for him. spies and hayden should be demoted to wsbk, johnny rea and a few others promoted to moto gp. my 2 cents, not that it matters. ciao!
    ps: golden boy marquez got a bit tarnished this weekend. probably won’t last. also zarco touche’ !

  • JoeD

    My Uncle Frank told me some 40 years ago that “if that is the kind of language one must use to express one’s self, it shows a lack of education.” Decency and manners. Two things sadly lacking today. Great race and fantastic results for Ducati and Rossi. Shame that Nick was bottled up mid pack. I think he has a better grip on the Ducati and would have made the podium ahead of Vale.

  • Westward


    I think the main reason many may have a problem with Stoner, is his lack of accountability. Every time he loses out he always blames everything and everyone but himself. If it’s not his arm pump issue, it’s the tires, etc. etc.. In contrast whether it is true or not, Rossi too will give his assessment as to why, but always seems to add [so-and-so] was simply faster this time.

    When is it ever Stoner’s fault?

    @zipi dachimp

    I challenge you to prove that point. When has Lorenzo ever proved that he could beat Rossi over the course of a season on equal machinery, when Rossi was healthy?

    Besides, Rossi brings sponsorship money with him, that Lorenzo can not. Also, why risk letting him go to Honda, where he would affect global marketing even more, than it already has…

    It’s a business decision with nothing but positives…

    Admittingly, Rossi’s move to Ducati has more to do with ego (being the first to win championships with 3 different manufacturers), than Lornezo’s capabilities on a Yamaha…

  • Neil

    @ Gray….

    You are familiar with Nicky Hayden, yes ???

  • Bryan

    Well said.
    Rossi is bad for the long-term future of the sport. (apart of course Dorna’s terrible input)
    Rossi will not be back this year. Rain is a leveler, and setup of the bike is key. ANYONE can have a good day due to rain (e.g. Westy in moto2). It’s a poor conclusion most people are making that in the dry the bike is crap, but in the wet, Rossi is good. It’s backwards. Not objective. (Rossi logic)
    They all have won in the wet, on the day of having a good setup. It’s a fine line. But they all can ride.

  • @Westward: A lack of accountability with Stoner? I disagree. Stoner has been pretty forthcoming on a number of occasions that he came up short. Since when isn’t arm pump HIS issue? It sure as heck isn’t the bike’s arms, nor are they the arms affixed to the rest of the team. When he dumped the bike in practice this weekend, he laid the responsibility squarely at his own feet.

    Part of the issue may be that, as with a (large?) number of other top-level, team-oriented people, he generally talks in the “royal we”. That goes for when he wins, too, not just when things are in the dumpster. A lot of riders/drivers over the years have gone with this form of expression as, long ago in a generation far, far away, it was considered good form for sponsors. When Stoner says “We just weren’t able to make the tires work and were spinning up the rear in every gear,” he’s not blaming the tires or the team, he’s making an objective statement of fact that doesn’t lay blame anywhere. Whether you like that style of discourse is a matter of taste. Sponsors tend to love it. Fingerpointing and guilt serve no purpose. Results do.

    For the record, I love the show with Rossi in top form, and I really hope Ducati manages to deliver a bike that Stoner isn’t the only one capable of riding.

  • Dr. Gellar

    Until Rossi can get this kind of a result on the Ducati in a dry race, he isn’t truly back just yet as so many folks on the internet are claiming. People seem to forget that he also podiumed last year in the rain with a 3rd place at Jerez, after he so infamously punted Stoner and himself off the track. Considering that the rest of his season didn’t go quite so well after that race…what’s to say it will be any different now? It’s possible…yes, but that is about it at the moment. When a Ducati-mounted Valentino can duplicate this result in the dry, then you’ve got something to talk about…

    The funny thing is…Rossi actually did win at LeMans this last weekend! It’s just that….it wasn’t Valentino… :-)

  • Gray

    I have heard of Hayden, hahaha. I’m not sure which you are implying though. If you’re saying that he is an American hope in MotoGP: Right now, he is not. He is riding the same machine that Rossi can’t make fast, and the successor of the machine that Stoner could barely manage. Unless Ducati comes up with some fixes soon, it’ll be a long time before any rider has a hope on it. I’m not saying that Hayden isn’t a good racer, just that he doesn’t have the right tools at the moment. Maybe he would do better on another bike, but until that happens…
    If you’re saying that the situation with Spies and Hayden is similar (blast onto the scene and then wallow in the middle), I can see the similarities, but I’m still curious to hear the paddock rumors on Spies. Cracked frame? Makes sense. Can’t see through your visor? Makes sense. The excuses for the other two races are a bit weak though. How much is bad luck, and how much is in his head?

    Stoner does have an excuse for everything, even when he wins! The risk of Rossi going back to Yamaha isn’t that he can’t keep up with Lorenzo, or that his sponsorship money is needed, but that factories, teams, and sponsors don’t like having as much public tension between their racers as there was between Rossi and Lorenzo. That makes for a bad image. I would definitely agree that they do risk him going to Honda instead, but there were many bridges burned in that relationship, and HRC has a long memory. Both Yamaha and Honda will be carefully weighing and measuring all the risks and rewards of bringing him back. However, if Lorenzo jumps ship to Honda, you can bet Yamaha will go to Rossi with a sweet offer.

    @zipi dechamp

    I don’t think there is any evidence of Spies and Hayden needing to go to WSBK. Spies showed up there and mopped the floor with many of the same riders who are at the sharp end now. Hayden is either with or in front of Rossi (you know, the GOAT?) at every test and race this year. The first person you have to beat is your teammate, right? He is doing a good job so far. At worst, they deserve satellite rides. Plus, look at Melandri. He was almost destroyed by the GP11 (physically, mentally, AND public image), yet he goes to WSBK and hands BMW their first win. Granted, there are some other factors in all those situations. For the most part, and with some exceptions, the best motorcyle racers in the world are in MotoGP.

  • Neil

    I say let Rossi go elsewhere, Nicky can stay with Ducati (they would re-sign him just out of respect) and make Bayliss his teamate in 2013