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The key to success in MotoGP is adapting to the tools you have been given. That means understanding what the bike will and won’t do, and how to get the most out of it.

It means understanding how to make a tire last, where to use the available grip, and how to save wear as much as possible. It means knowing what your crew chief needs to know to give you the bike you need. And it means understanding where a track will give you an advantage, and where to minimize your losses.

The 2019 MotoGP field is an object lesson in just how difficult this can be. Johann Zarco went from chasing podiums on the Tech3 Yamaha to competing for points on the factory Red Bull KTM.

Jorge Lorenzo went from being a red hot favorite on the Yamaha to struggling on the Ducati to winning on the Ducati to struggling on the Repsol Honda.

Their prospects of success on these bikes are down to their approach. Lorenzo learned on the Ducati that he had to change his riding style, and if he did, Ducati could tweak the bike to bring it closer to something he could use, and eventually a bike he was capable of winning on.

He is now going through that process again on the Honda. Zarco has tried and failed to get his head around the fact that the KTM will not ever be a Yamaha, and he cannot try to ride it like one. He persists in trying to be smooth, while Pol Espargaro wrestles the RC16 ever further forward.

Episode 103 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see Neil Morrison and David Emmett on the microphones, as we discuss the happenings at the French GP at Le Mans.

As usual, the guys cover the on track action at the race, as well as the goings on behind the scenes in the paddock.

The main topic of the show is Marc Marquez, who rode a master class race in France, and showed a truly unstoppable form throughout the race weekend.

Typical Le Mans weather is what we have had so far at the French circuit. Yesterday was glorious, sunny and dry. Saturday was overcast, gloomy, with a very light rain falling for most of the day.

Track conditions were changing continuously, especially during qualifying, the track drying out quickly when it briefly stopped raining, before becoming much wetter in a matter of minutes once it started again.

The fickle track conditions made life very difficult for everyone in MotoGP. The only session with consistent conditions was FP3, when it was wet for all of the session.

The amount of water on the track changed drastically during FP4, so a majority of the riders decided to sit out most of the session, only taking to the track in the last ten minutes or so to get a feel for the track ahead of qualifying. But by this time, it was clear that qualifying would be something of a gamble.

The form that gamble would take turned out to be poker. In Q1, some riders raised the stakes, some bluffed, and some folded. That process repeated in Q2, the 12 riders entering the second session examining their cards before trying to find the best way to play them.

The cards in play were whether to choose slicks or wets, whether to use the soft of the medium compound wet tire, and the ever-changing track surface as the rain disappeared then returned.

The weather is a fickle mistress to motorcycle racing. The MotoGP riders have just spent two sessions in dry and relatively sunny conditions looking for the perfect setup, and all that work is likely to be wasted.

Rain is expected overnight, and then all day on Saturday, starting from around 10am, just in time for FP3. Sunday looks like being damp, rather than wet, so even the setup found in what will probably be very wet conditions on Saturday will be of little use on race day. The race will be something of a gamble.

But we still learned plenty on Friday. We learned that Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales have the best race pace, a couple of tenths quicker than the sizable group capable of fighting for third.

We learned that Marc Márquez is still capable of impossible-seeming saves, though that is also a portent of problems with the Honda – neither Jorge Lorenzo nor Cal Crutchlow managed to duplicate Márquez’ trick, instead ending up in the gravel.

We learned that Alex Rins still can’t put a single fast lap together, despite having very good race pace. That it was a carbon swingarm which Pol Espargaro had been testing in secrecy at Jerez. And that Fabio Quartararo is a genuine competitor.

First, race pace. For once, the top of the combined Friday practice timesheet is representative of likely pace in the race. Both Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez are capable of lapping in the low 1’32s, on old tires and without too much effort.

That Márquez is quick should not come as a surprise, the Repsol Honda rider is fast, and has been at most tracks this year. But Viñales believes that Yamaha have made a minor breakthrough, and he is capable of being fast at many tracks.

Le Mans is very much a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind of a weekend. The city of Le Mans is utterly charming and sedate, its historical center full of buildings reaching back to the 12th Century.

The Le Mans circuit (the shorter Bugatti Circuit used by MotoGP and motorcycle racing events, that is) is a run down affair beside an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city.

In the evenings, the central square in Le Mans has peaceful and civilized air, where people gather to eat and drink. A few miles further south, inside the circuit and at the campsites which surround it, mayhem is unleashed, a bawdy, rowdy riot of drink, fire, and noise.

The atmosphere during the day is the opposite, almost, a friendly, lively, and especially passionate crowd roam the wooded areas around the track, enjoying some of the richest entertainment you will find at a race track anywhere around the world.

In the evenings? Well, best leave the track before the sun goes down. Though the entertainment goes on all night – a ploy forced on the organizers to keep the bike fans out of the town in the evening – the atmosphere turns from joyful to wild and chaotic. At night, things can get a little unruly.

Episode 73 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is uploaded and ready for your consumption.

Covering the French GP in Le Mans, this episode sees Steve English and Neil Morrison on the mics, talking about all the news from the MotoGP round in France, as well as what is happening in the WorldSBK paddock.

An eventful race for the MotoGP Championship lead, the guys talk about the on-track action briefly, before switching gears and looking ahead to 2019. There are a lot of lucrative seats up for grabs next season, and the very real possibility that we could see Pedrosa and/or Lorenzo without a job.

Discussing those possibilities, and the rest of the rider market, the MotoGP Silly Season is truly in full-swing.

Switching paddocks, the conversation then turns to the WorldSBK Championship, and what contracts are on the tables there. Could Jonathan Rea switch to Ducati? Sykes to Yamaha? What about the Ducati Corse team.

There is some enticing smoke coming from the World Superbike teams, so it will interesting to see what fire comes of it.

Of course the show ends with the guys picking their biggest winners and losers from the weekend’s events, which isn’t as obvious this week as one would think.

We think you will enjoy the show. It is packed with behind-the-scenes info, and insights from teams and riders in the paddock.

As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on FacebookTwitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Looking back, it is always easy to identify the pivotal moments in a championship. Last year, it was the Barcelona test, when Honda brought a new chassis which gave Marc Márquez the confidence he had been lacking.

In 2015, it was arguably Motegi, where Valentino Rossi stayed ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, but the effort it took in the difficult conditions left him drained at the start of a long and exhausting set of flyaways.

In 2012 it was Misano, where a tire warmer got stuck to Dani Pedrosa’s brake disc, forcing him to start from the back of the grid, and leaving him in a position to get tangled up with Hector Barbera, and crash out of the race.

In the midst of a racing season, however, such pivotal points are much harder to identify. Or rather, all too easy to misidentify. After Estoril 2006, everyone thought that Nicky Hayden’s championship challenge was over.

Valentino Rossi’s heartbreaking engine blow up at Mugello looked like it would put paid to his shot at the 2016 title, but he still kept the fight alive for a long time.

Anything can happen during the course of a season, so when we look back at a season we can easily overlook the drama of a single race that seemed important at the time. 2015 is a case in point: there were so many twists and turns that it is hard to pinpoint a single turning point, so fans and followers tend to pick their own.

Looking at it now, just five races into a nineteen-race season, it is easy to believe that the races at Jerez and Le Mans will be the turning points we look back at when the bikes are packed up for the final time after Valencia.

The three-rider crash at Dry Sack two weeks ago, in which Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa managed to all take each other out without any obvious culprit being to blame, had a huge impact on the championship.

And Sunday’s drama-packed race at Le Mans will surely be spoken of in the same terms. Not just because of who didn’t finish the race. But also because where some riders finished is going to have a profound impact on their futures.

Pressure comes in many different varieties in motorcycle racing. There is always the internal pressure to perform, of course, but that is natural. Without that, there are no results.

There is external pressure from the team, who want to succeed just as badly as the rider does. There is pressure from sponsors, who want to know their money has been well spent.

There is pressure from friends and family, who want to see a rider succeed, and from the fans, who will on their favorite riders. How a rider handles this pressure is usually the difference between success and failure in MotoGP.

Then there are occasions when the pressure rises to bursting point. When fighting for a championship, for example, when riders both need to win, but at the same time, they can’t afford to fall off.

Or at a rider’s home race, when the fans, the media are all willing you on to win, and show a lack of understanding if that doesn’t happen. How a rider handles this pressure is the difference between being a very good rider and being a great champion.

Riding at home can create extra pressure, especially if you are the only rider representing your country of birth. When it comes to home races, Spanish and Italian riders are at an advantage.

The pressure they have on them is much less than some of the other nationalities in MotoGP. Firstly, they have multiple attempts at getting it right at their home race. With four races in Spain and two in Italy, riders know that if they don’t do well in their first home race, they will get another shot at a second race.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there are plenty of riders to share the stress with. At Mugello in two weeks’ time, fans will come to see Valentino Rossi win, but will be just as happy if Andrea Dovizioso wins, or Andrea Iannone, or Danilo Petrucci, or even Franco Morbidelli.

Two weeks after that the fans will be cheering for Marc Márquez, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, the Espargaro brothers, Alex Rins, Tito Rabat. There isn’t the focus on one rider, who has one race to get everything just right.

Andrea Dovizioso’s manager arrived in Le Mans on Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon, the Italian had a new two-year contract with Ducati, provisional pole after FP2, and a new lap record.

Not a bad start to the weekend, and a harbinger of good things to come, you might think. This is after all not particularly a Ducati track, yet here he was, on top of the timesheets.

Perhaps having his future settled helped, but Dovizioso has been an expert at excluding distractions from his race weekends.

The simple fact is that the Ducati man was quick at Jerez, and is quick here, because he is in good form, and the bike is working really well. Dovizioso heads into qualifying feeling confident.

But there is a fly in the ointment, and it is Márquez-shaped, as always. Dovizioso had been pretty quick throughout the first part of FP2, just a couple of tenths behind the leader Márquez.

Then in his final run, he fitted a new soft rear slick, dropped six tenths of a second off his best time and set a new lap record around Le Mans. It was an impressive showing of blistering speed.

Dovizioso had demoted Marc Márquez to second place, yet that still left Dovizioso much to fear. Márquez may have been nearly two tenths faster than Dovizioso, but Dovizioso had set his quickest lap on a new soft rear with just four laps on it.

Márquez had set his best time on an old hard rear tire with twelve laps on it. In terms of outright race pace, Márquez looks very hard to beat.

But it is still only Friday, and the difference between the soft and the hard rear tires is not as great as you might think.

After all, Dovizioso had set a 1’32.562 on an old soft tire with nineteen laps on it, or about two-thirds race distance. Race pace for both Dovizioso and Márquez looks to be very strong indeed.