Moto2: Marquez Ends Win Drought in Le Mans

The fifth round of the 2019 Moto2 World Championship took place in Le Mans, avoiding the rain that had been forecast for Sunday, but under heavy clouds.

Jorge Navarro (Lightech Speed Up) started from pole, but it was Tom Luthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) who made the holeshot. The lead for Luthi was unrepresentative, though. Poor pace in the dry on Friday was a foreshadowing of what was to come for the four-times French Grand Prix winner, and he soon dropped back.

From there, it was Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) who took the initiative, and started to squeeze out a gap from those behind.

As the race went on, and Marquez’ advantage edged out towards one second, Simone Corsi (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2) headed to the front, and once he had arrived in second was closing down the Spaniard. The Italian had the gap down to four tenths with fifteen laps to go, but crashed at the final corner and his chances were done.

This let Marquez off the hook, somewhat. Adding to this let off for Marquez was a mistake from Jorge Navarro a few laps later. Navarro had inherited second from Corsi when the Italian fell, and was starting to make an impression on Marquez’ lead before a mistake dropped him back into the clutches of Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40), who was able to pass a few laps later when Navarro made another mistake at Garage Vert.

This would then become the biggest battle of the closing stages of the race, as the two Spaniards each tried their hardest to hand the other second place, with Fernandez running wide in Musee, before Navarro ran wide in Garage Vert once more. Eventually, Navarro was able to string a few corners together and create himself an advantage on the final lap ahead of Fernandez.

However, Marquez was imperious out front, as he took his and Spain’s first win in the intermediate class of Grand Prix racing since Motegi 2017, twenty-five races ago. It was a cool and controlled race from Marquez, with no mistakes – something we did not see from the Spaniard in 2018. He will hope this is a sign of things to come, and the start of his championship challenge.

Alex Marquez, Moto2 race, French MotoGP 2019. Image courtesy of David Goldman;/Marc VDS

Jorge Navarro’s second place was not his maximum. He had the pace to challenge Marquez, but a series of mistakes, including a repeat of the poor start that cost him the win in Jerez, meant he was unable to make the push for victory. However, it was another impressive ride from the #9, and that first Moto2 win seems to be coming closer.

The same could be said for Augusto Fernandez, who finished third behind Navarro for the second race in succession, although a strong fight through the pack this time for the #40 rider showed a different race to that which he had in Spain. Like Navarro, Fernandez is improving every weekend, and surely his first World Championship victory is not far away.

Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) took delivery of a new KTM frame for this weekend, and it seems to have been a step in the right direction for the South African, who finished fourth after overcoming Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) in the final laps, whilst Vierge came home in fifth.

Sixth place went to Tom Luthi (Dynavolt Intact GP). Starting from the front row, to end in sixth seems like a bad race, but on Friday his pace did not seem capable of even that, so these ten points can be important ones for his championship.

Marcel Schrotter at the 2019 Le Mans Moto2 race. Image courtesy of KF GLAENZEL/ Dynavolt Intact GP

Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) took seventh, and top rookie with it, finishing ahead of the injured Marcel Schrotter (Dynavolt Intact GP), Iker Lecuona (American Racing) and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46), who was running in seventh before a mistake at turn one saw him riding through the gravel at turn three in the closing stages, but managed to hold on to close out the top ten.

Tetsuta Nagashima (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) finished eleventh, ahead of Fabio Di Giannantonio (Lightech Speed Up), Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46), Joe Roberts (American Racing) and Stefano Manzi (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward) who completed the points.

Like the preceding Moto3 race, there were many retirements, with Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team) being the first to fall at turn three on the opening lap. He was followed by championship leader Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) – who holds onto his points lead – with the Italian continuing his ‘win or bin’ record of 2019, and his pointless record in France. When Baldassarri fell, he took compatriot Mattia Pasini (Petronas SRT) with him. Somkiat Chantra (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia) and Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) were the next to go, before Corsi fell. Then Bo Bendsneyder (NTS RW Racing GP) retired the #64 NTS, just before Steven Odendaal (NTS RW Racing GP) crashed the #4 bike. Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) then crashed out of sixth, before Xavi Cardelus (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) and Dimas Ekky (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia) crashed out. Dominique Aegerter (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward) was the final retirement, on the last lap, as he ran out of fuel.

Featured image courtesy of David Goldman;/Marc VDS

Moto3: McPhee Wins as Canet Stretches Points Lead

Rain was forecast for Sunday, but the Moto3 World Championship race at Le Mans took place before it arrived, instead enjoying dry, if overcast, conditions for the fifth round of the 2019 series.

John McPhee (Petronas SRT) started from pole but it was Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers) who took the holeshot, although Tatsuki Suzuki (Sic58 Squadra Corse) took the lead at turn six on the opening lap.

The pack was split on lap one, as Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) high-sided on the exit of turn ten. His bike came back onto the track, but somehow the entire field managed to avoid it.

That left four riders out front, although they were soon joined by three more to make it a seven-way scrap. It was Suzuki, McPhee, Gabriel Rodrigo (Kommerling Gresini Moto3), Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) and Andrea Migno (Bester Capital Dubai) who were fighting for the lead, and it stayed this way for the majority of the race.

Aron Canet, during the 2019 Le Mans Moto3 race. Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM

The change came in the closing stages, when Suzuki crashed in turn three, and collected Arbolino. This split the group, and allowed McPhee and Dalla Porta a break at the front, although it was not long before Migno arrived back with the two leaders. In fact, on the penultimate lap, the group expanded to its largest, with twelve riders now fighting for the win.

However, onto the final lap, it was clear that the win would be contested between four riders: McPhee, Dalla Porta, Canet and Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) who had benefitted from his compatriot’s crash a few laps previous.

Canet and Toba were taken out of contention on the final lap in turn eleven, when the Spaniard nearly crashed, and nearly took Toba with him, when he passed the #27 for third place. It was a move that Toba was clearly unhappy with after the race, and it was certainly on the limit from Canet, but it was fair enough on the last lap.

That left Dalla Porta and McPhee to fight for the win with three corners to go, but Dalla Porta was unable to out-brake the Scot into the final complex, and so McPhee emerged the winner.

John McPhee at the 2019 Le Mans Moto3 race. Image courtesy of PETRONAS SRT

McPhee’s triumph was the second of his career, and the first victory for a pole sitter at Le Mans in the lightweight class since Maverick Vinales bested Nico Terol in 2011. It was a classy race from McPhee, not getting involved in too much in the first part of the race, but when the race moved towards the closing stages, he was always able to put himself in the right place.

Dalla Porta finally returned to the podium after a trio of disappointing results since his rostrum in Qatar. Perhaps this result will see the start of a retaliation in the championship from the Tuscan, whose return to form has arrived just in time for his home Grand Prix in a couple of weeks.

Rounding out the podium was Canet. Unpopular with at least one of his rivals post-race, but the Spaniard’s third podium of the season came at an important moment, as the results of some of his rivals have allowed him to significantly extend his championship advantage. It was also an important result for the Max Racing Team, as Pietro Biaggi, Max’s father, died earlier in the weekend.

Gabriel Rodrigo took fourth place, having taken advantage of Canet’s move on Toba. Andrea Migno did the same, to finish fifth, whilst Toba dropped from third to sixth in the final sector of the lap. A poor qualifying and anonymous race led to a seventh place for Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46), who is beginning to make a habit of finding the top ten on Sundays. Kazuki Masaki (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) took eighth place after a decent weekend for the Japanese, ahead of Jakub Kornfeil (Redox PruestelGP) and Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) who completed the top ten.

Albert Arenas (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) finished eleventh, ahead of Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai), who incurred a 2.2 second penalty for cutting turn four and finished twelfth.

Makar Yurchenko (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) was the first rider home outside of the front group, finishing thirteenth, ahead of Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas SRT) and Filip Salac (Redox PruestelGP) who scored the first point of his Grand Prix career with fifteenth.

A plethora of retirements befell the Moto3 race: Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Ai Ogura were both down on lap one. Then, Darryn Binder (CIP Green Power) ended a miserable weekend in the gravel trap of turn three, before Riccardo Rossi (Kommerling Gresini Moto3) also crashed out. Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) spent his race riding around on his own, unable to catch the front group, and crashed on his own at turn three with fifteen laps to go.

Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers) was slow throughout the race until he retired two laps after Ramirez, possibly suffering with the after-effects of his Saturday crash. The big news for the championship was Niccolo Antonelli (Sic58 Squadra Corse) crashing, as he missed only one point compared to Aron Canet coming into this weekend. Vicente Perez (Reale Avintia Arizona 77) was the next to go, before Arbolino fell at the hand of Suzuki. Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0) joined his teammate in retirement with five to go at turn seven, whilst Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46) crashed out at turn nine on the same lap, five tours from the end of the 2019 French Moto3 Grand Prix.

Featured Image courtesy of PETRONAS SRT

Moto3: Q1 to Pole for McPhee in Le Mans

The dry weather of Friday was replaced by rain in Le Mans come Saturday morning for the fifth round of the 2019 Moto3 World Championship.

By the end of the FP3 session in the morning, the track had begun to dry, and almost the entirety of Moto3’s Q1 session was run on slick tyres. A late lap from John McPhee (Petronas SRT) took him through to Q2 as the fastest rider in Q1. The Scot was joined by Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing), Makar Yurchenko (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) and Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0).

John McPhee, Moto3, French MotoGP 2019. Image courtesy of SIC Racing Team/Petronas SRT

It was expected that, because of the sketchy conditions, those riders who advanced through Q1 would have an advantage over the other fourteen Q2 runners in the second session.

This proved to be the case for John McPhee, who took pole position with his penultimate lap of the session. It will be important for McPhee – who has mostly disappointed in the opening four races of the season – to turn this good Saturday result into a good position in the race.

The Scot will be joined on the front row by Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers), who has been fast all weekend, and the rookie Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia).
Fresh from his first World Championship podium two weeks ago in Spain, Tatsuki Suzuki (Sic58 Squadra Corse) took fourth on the grid for the French Moto3 Grand Prix, with Gabriel Rodrigo (Kommerling Gresini Moto3) and Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) joining him on the second row.

The Spanish Grand Prix winner, Niccolo Antonelli (Sic58 Squadra Corse) crashed for the second time this weekend at turn three which limited the Italian to seventh.

Eighth fastest in Q2 was Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team), but a penalty for irresponsible riding in FP2 will see the Spaniard start twentieth. Instead, Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia) will start from the middle of row three. This should have put Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) in ninth, but the Spanish rookie also took a twelve-place penalty and will start twenty-second. Because of this, Andrea Migno (Bester Capital Dubai) who will start from the back of the third row.

Makar Yurchenko will start Sunday’s race from tenth, with Romano Fenati (VNE Snipers) and championship leader Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) who completes row four.

Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) crashed at turn three on his final flying lap in Q2, and will start thirteenth, ahead of Albert Arenas (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) and Kazuki Masaki (BOE Skull Rider Mugen Race) who also crashed in Q2; whilst Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46), Alonso Lopez (Estrella Galicia 0,0) and Filip Salac (Redox Pruestel GP) comprise row six.

Spanish GP podium finisher Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) could only manage nineteenth on the grid, and will start alongside the penalised Fernandez, and Jakub Kornfeil (Redox Pruestel GP) who will be hoping for fewer motocross memes after this year’s French Moto3 Grand Prix.

Can Oncu, Moto3, French MotoGP 2019. Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM

The penalised Garcia will have former joint championship leader Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) and Ayumu Sasaki (Petronas SRT) alongside him on row eight; whilst behind on row nine will be Vicente Perez (Reale Avintia Arizona 77), Riccardo Rossi (Kommerling Gresini Moto3) and Can Oncu (Red Bull KTM Ajo). Tom Booth-Amos (CIP Green Power) was the slowest qualifier, but will start second-last as his teammate Darryn Binder (CIP Green Power) was also penalised twelve positions, which puts him last on Sunday’s grid.

Moto2: Navarro Takes Wet Le Mans Pole

Qualifying for the fifth round of the 2019 Moto2 World Championship got underway in difficult conditions, with light rain presenting the intermediate class riders with their first competitive session in the wet of the season.

Jorge Navarro at Le Mans Moto2 2019. Image courtesy of Speed Up Racing

In Q1, it was the second-placed rider in the championship, Tom Luthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) who topped the session to move through to Q2. The Swiss was joined by returnee Jake Dixon (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team), Lukas Tulovic (Kiefer Racing) and Spanish GP runner-up Jorge Navarro (Lightech Speed Up).

The experience of the track conditions benefitted Navarro, especially, who took pole position for the second Grand Prix in succession. It was Navarro’s start which let him down in Jerez, and cost him the win, so it will be interesting to see if he has rectified that issue for this weekend.

Tom Luthi also made the most of his Q1 experience, to qualify second. After a difficult Friday, this is important for the Swiss, who lies second in the championship. Alex Marquez (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) lines up tomorrow at the back of the front row, as he goes in search of his first win of the season.

After impressing with a fourth place finish when replacing Augusto Fernandez at the Flexbox HP 40 team in Austin on the Kalex, Mattia Pasini was unable to repeat the same form for the Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team in Jerez when replacing Jake Dixon on the KTM. However, now back on the Kalex, for the Petronas SRT squad, the Italian is back on the pace, and qualified fourth. Xavi Vierge (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Andrea Locatelli (Italtrans Racing Team) join Pasini on the second row.

Championship leader Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) struggled mostly in the wet on qualifying day at Le Mans, in FP3 and qualifying, but he managed to put together a lap in Q2 to take seventh on the grid.

The new KTM chassis has seemed to be a positive step this weekend for Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo), although perhaps he was missing some experience with the bike in the wet as he qualified only eighth, ahead of Lukas Tulovic who, after advancing from Q1, took his best qualifying in the World Championship.

Brad Binder, French Moto2 2019. Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM

Tenth on the grid will be the injured Marcel Schrotter (Dynavolt Intact GP), ahead of Jake Dixon (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) who will start eleventh on his GP return thanks to some impressive speed in the wet. The injured Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) will complete the fourth row.

Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) heads up row five, ahead of Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) and Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46); whilst row six is comprised of Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team), Bo Bendsneyder (NTS RW Racing GP) and Simone Corsi (Tasca Racing Scuderia Moto2).

Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) continues his devolution since the championship’s return to Europe, and was the first Q1 rider to be eliminated, qualifying nineteenth. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Lightech Speed Up) and Steven Odendaal (NTS RW Racing GP) complete the seventh row; whilst Iker Lecuona (American Racing), Somkiat Chantra (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia) and Stefano Manzi (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward) make up row eight.

Dominique Aegerter (MV Agusta Idealavoro Forward) starts from the head of row nine, ahead of Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), who was expected to move through to Q2 before a crash limited his chances. Marco Bezzecchi (Red Bull KTM Tech3) completes row nine; whilst Dimas Ekky (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia), Joe Roberts (American Racing) and Xavi Cardelus (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) comprise the tenth row.

Tetsuta Nagashima (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) and Philipp Oettl (Red Bull KTM Tech3) start from the back row in thirty-first and thirty-second respectively.

MotoGP: Marquez on Le Mans Pole Despite Crash

Whilst Friday was dry and FP3 on Saturday morning was distinctly wet for the MotoGP riders at the fifth round of the 2019 series in Le Mans, the qualifying session was run in dreadful conditions, with neither compound of wet tyre, nor any of the slick tyres, offering the perfect solution to the track conditions.

Surprisingly, Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) made a gamble at the start of Q1 by going for slicks straight away, whilst everyone else went for wets. Whilst the Italian’s first laps were slow, he built temperature in his tyres, which brought confidence, and he managed to get himself through to Q2.

When everyone else went to slicks, they couldn’t build the temperature, nor the confidence, and so quickly went back to wets, which also failed to provide the grip they needed. That meant that it was Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) who joined Rossi in advancing to Q2, after the satellite Yamaha riders was the fastest of the wet tyre runners in the first part of the session.

The conditions worsened for Q2. However, the difference was barely noticeable. This convinced all the Yamaha riders apart from Morbidelli to go out on slicks at the start of the session. This turned out to be a mistake and as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was setting his pole time, the Rossi, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) were busy swapping bikes.

Marc Marquez post MotoGP qualification at Le Mans 2019. Image courtesy of Box Repsol

The pole for Marquez came at a minor cost. The lap after he set pole, started well as he set the fastest sector one time of the session, but just a second later the Spaniard was on the floor. He didn’t come back to the pits, though, and continued circulating on his crashed bike, whilst getting nowhere near his fastest time to that point. It was a strange session, especially for Marquez, but his time in Q2 gave him his fifty-fifth pole position, which brings him level with Rossi on all-time premier class poles, and three behind Mick Doohan.

Second to Marquez was Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team), who also set his time early on. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) did the same to qualify third, although like Marquez his session was tainted by a crash, this time for Miller at turn three. With two Ducatis equipped with the holeshot device starting on the front row tomorrow, alongside Marquez, getting to turn three first could be a challenge for the reigning World Champion.

Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) did important work for their respective championship bids in Q2, qualifying fourth and fifth, respectively, and thus giving them a decent shot at a good result tomorrow. Morbidelli will make row two an all-Italian affair.

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU) was another who suffered a crash, but still qualified seventh, ahead of Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who completes row three.

Fabio Quartararo was visibly disappointed with qualifying tenth for his home GP, but not as disappointed as Maverick Vinales was to qualify eleventh after seeming to be the only rider who can challenge Marquez in Le Mans for much of the weekend. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completes the fourth row.

Johann Zarco at Le Mans MotoGP 2019. Image courtesy of Marcin Kin/KTM

Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) was the fastest of the Q1 riders to miss out on Q2, and he will head up the fifth row, from home favourite Johann Zarco (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL).
Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) will start from sixteenth, ahead of Karel Abraham (Reale Avintia Racing) and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). It was the first time this season that Mir has out-qualified his teammate, Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), as the #42 – who lies just one point off the championship lead – qualified just nineteenth, and will be joined on the seventh row by Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) and Hafizh Syahrin (Red Bull KTM Tech3). Andrea Iannone (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was the twenty-second and final qualifier.

Featured image courtesy of Box Repsol

Moto2: Who Can Stop the Balda Attack?

The Moto2 World Championship heads to France this weekend, for round five of the 2019 series from Le Mans.

Although famed mostly for cars, Le Mans also has a good history with motorcycles. Indeed, the 24 Heures Motos this year (just a few of weeks ago) was a classic endurance race, and one that people will speak about for a years to come with the battle for the win between SRC Kawasaki and Honda Endurance Racing going down to the last minutes. In comparison to this, though, the Moto2 class has never produced a race with a winning margin of less than one second at Le Mans, but with the Triumph engines of 2019, compared to the Hondas of the past, that could change this year.

Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) has – mostly – dominated the Moto2 World Championship so far this season. Despite a DNF in Texas which was only partly his fault the Italian has not lost the lead of the championship since he claimed it when he won in Qatar at round one and, with his win last time out in Jerez, he has done similarly as Jorge Prado in the MX2 World Championship this season, and won every race which he has finished.

The #7 was fortunate in Jerez, though. Although Baldassarri and his side of the Pons team did well to bounce back from a difficult Friday when he suffered two breakdowns and a couple of crashes, it is no secret that Jorge Navarro (Lightech Speed Up) was poised to win his home Grand Prix had it been run to its full length.

A crash at the start involving several riders caused a red flag and cut several laps off the race distance. Navarro was on Baldassarri’s tail on the final lap of the fifteen-lap restarted race and, had he had the full allocation of laps, there is little doubt the Spaniard would have overcome his Italian rival. The biggest lesson, though, for Navarro was that he had to improve his starts. Going from pole position he dropped a lot of positions at the start and, whilst Baldassarri was escaping at the front along with Flexbox HP 40 teammate Augusto Fernandez, Navarro was fighting his way back through the pack. If Navarro can introduce a strong start into his already impressive mix of race pace and qualifying speed, he could be on for a first career Moto2 win this weekend.

Despite still suffering with his wrist in Le Mans after his practice crash in Argentina at round two, Augusto Fernandez was able to secure a first career Moto2 podium in his home GP. This weekend, though, will be the Spaniard’s first time at Le Mans, so the first sessions will be revelatory ones for the #40.

Finishing fourth in Jerez, it is Tom Luthi (Dynavolt Intact GP) who is second in the championship going into this weekend. Luthi’s history in Le Mans is good, with two wins in the Moto2 class – coming in 2012 and 2015, as well as two wins in the 125cc race back in 2005, on his way to the World Championship that year, and 2006. Additionally, Luthi has podiums at Le Mans in 2016 and 2017, finishing third on both occasions. Perhaps this weekend, the Swiss can add to his COTA win back at round three, and make some in-roads into the lead of Baldassarri to take the momentum of the Italian away two weeks before the Italian GP in Mugello.

When Alex Rins took pole position for the Pons team back in 2015, Sam Lowes set an equal time to the Spaniard when he was riding for Speed Up. Now on the Kalex, and with the Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 squad, the Brit will be hoping to get onto the podium for the first time this season, after a tough start to the season.

Brad Binder, Spanish MotoGP 2019. Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM

In similar situations to Lowes are Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46). Like Lowes, both Binder and Marini came into this season with expectations of winning the championship, but none of the three have so far lived up to these expectations. Whilst Lowes has struggled thus far to translate what has often been decent pace in practice into race results, Binder has been let down by his KTM machinery. Whilst the Austrian manufacturer are no doubt working hard to fix the issues with their Moto2 chassis, it would be a surprise to see Binder find a magic bullet this weekend, especially at a circuit which has been so tough for the KTM Moto2 frame in the past. In comparison, Luca Marini’s problem has so far been his recovery from shoulder surgery in the winter. He was improving his results round-on-round in the opening three races, but clearly struggled in Jerez and managed only eighth place. Although it seems unlikely that any of these three riders will be able to fight at the very front this weekend, it will be important for each of them to score good points in France to keep themselves alive in the championship.

Returning from injury this weekend is Jake Dixon (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team), but that doesn’t mean Mattia Pasini is lost from the grid, as the Italian veteran is now in at Petronas SRT to replace the injured Khairul Idham Pawi. Back on a Kalex, as he was in Texas when he fought for the podium and finished fourth for Sito Pons’ team, it will be interesting to see what impact Pasini can have on the 2019 French Moto2 Grand Prix.

Moto3: Championship Wide Open Ahead of Le Mans

“Inconsistent” remains the adjective of choice for the Moto3 World Championship as the 2019 season heads to Le Mans for the fifth round of the season at the French Grand Prix.

Jaume Masia (Bester Capital Dubai) looked to be making his mark on the series as he led going to Jerez, joint on points with compatriot Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team), but a crash at the end of a weekend in which he struggled for pace in Andalusia proved that this season in the lightweight class of motorcycle grand prix racing will continue to be unpredictable.

Jaume Masia, at the Spanish Moto3 2019. Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM

The crash for Masia, along with a fourth place for Canet, means the #44 arrives in France – a track which he won at in the Junior World Championship in 2015 but is without a podium at in the World Championship – leading the World Championship by one point. The man who is second in the championship is Niccolo Antonelli.

Antonelli was the cause of emotional scenes in Jerez, when he took the Sic58 Squadra Corse’s first victory in the World Championship, fifteen years on from Marco Simoncelli’s first GP win back in 2004 at the same track. In fact, it is possible to say that Antonelli has been the most consistent of the front-running riders this season, with a record of 8-4-5-1 in the first four races of the season and now with his first win since Qatar 2016 under his belt he will hope to be able to build on his Spanish Grand Prix result this weekend, at a circuit where Simoncelli won ten years ago by nearly twenty seconds, in the wet ahead of Hector Faubel in the 250cc class.

Whilst Antonelli will be quite content with a repeat of the result in Jerez this weekend, his teammate, Tatsuki Suzuki, will be keen to reverse the positions, having taken a debut Moto3 World Championship podium at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Celestino Vietti, third in the Spanish Moto3 2019. Image courtesy of Gold and Goose/KTM

The third podium finisher in Jerez, Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) will be hoping his French Grand Prix weekend goes more in the vein of his Spanish Grand Prix weekend than in that of his CEV outings at Le Mans. In 2017, Vietti was thirtieth in the Junior World Championship race at Le Mans, while last year he DNF’d.

The reigning Moto3 Junior World Champion, Raul Fernandez (Sama Qatar Angel Nieto Team) has a better record than Vietti in Le Mans, and was second to Aleix Viu at the French track last season on his way to the title. He will certainly want a better result this weekend than he achieved in Spain, when he lost control of his KTM on the entry to the Dani Pedrosa Corner and cleaned out rookie Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0), who took fourth place at Le Mans in the 2017 CEV race.

MotoGP: Le Mans Awaits, France Expects at Round Five

This weekend the MotoGP World Championship heads to the Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans, the home of the 24 Heures Motos and 24 Heures du Mans.

In the last two years, it has been Johann Zarco aboard a satellite Yamaha who has been the poster boy on which the hopes of the French fans have been pinned. However, with the #5’s transfer over the winter to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, which has yet to yield much other than frustration for both parties, it is Fabio Quartararo on the Petronas Yamaha SRT YZR-M1 who is the home fans’ best hope of a podium this weekend.

Johann Zarco at Jerez 2019. Image courtesy of Philip Platzer/KTM

Indeed, a podium this weekend for the #20 would be his first in the premier class, although it should have arrived two weeks ago. Assuming the Frenchman’s rear tyre was not about to suffer a similar fate to that of his Petronas Yamaha SRT teammate, Franco Morbidelli, Quartararo was on for third place at least in Jerez a fortnight ago. A gear shift problem halted his charge, and forced him to retire. But between taking pole position and seeming to be on for a debut rostrum in just his fourth MotoGP start, it was a stunning weekend for the star Frenchman, who twelve months ago finished eighth in the French Moto2 Grand Prix, nearly fifteen seconds behind dominant winner Francesco Bagnaia. After the devastation of Jerez, Quartararo will be more determined than ever to arrive on the rostrum this weekend, and maybe even climb to the top step.

The Frenchman was certainly more competitive in Jerez than his Yamaha stablemates, especially the ones in the factory Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team: Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi. Whilst Vinales was impressively able to make a rostrum – his first since Australia 2018 – out of a severely messy weekend, Rossi was only able to salvage sixth from thirteenth on the grid. There were several issues for both the factory Yamaha riders throughout the weekend, so Vinales’ third place was a positive sign, especially at a track which has been so tough for the factory M1s since 2016. Compared to Jerez, the Yamaha riders have been strong in Le Mans in the last few years.

In fact, Yamaha’s history in Le Mans is impressive in general. Since 2008, Yamaha have won seven times in France, and have had a rider on the podium at the French GP every year since 2008 with the exception of 2011 when Jorge Lorenzo was the top Yamaha in fourth. Still without a win in 2019, the YZR-M1 riders will be targeting the top step this weekend and, especially for Vinales and Rossi, it will be important to win for their respective championship chances.

Marc Marquez en-route to his 2018 Le Mans win. Image courtesy of Box Repsol

The championship chances of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) are rarely in doubt, and he reclaimed the championship lead he surrendered in Austin last time out in Jerez with a dominant win. When Marquez won in Jerez in 2018, he backed it up with a win in Le Mans, a circuit where it was not expected that he could win. It was Marquez’ second premier class win in France, after he took victory in 2014, and continued the run of Spanish winners at the French track which stretches back to Lorenzo’s wet weather victory in 2012.

Last year’s win for Marquez was easier for him than it perhaps should have been. It was not easy, by any means, hence the widely-shared slow-motion shot of him losing the front through the first part of the Dunlop Chicane, but Andrea Dovizioso was expected to put up more of a fight. The Ducati Team bikes will look a little different this weekend, as they will be without their Mission Winnow sponsorship, but for the first time since Qatar we are arriving at a circuit where the Ducati is expected to be one of the best-suited bikes, if not the best. However, the factory Ducati team has not had a podium in Le Mans since Dovizioso was third behind the two factory Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.

On the other hand, Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) was second for the Pramac Racing Ducati team last season, two seconds behind Marquez and three in front of Rossi. Additionally, Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) had the pace for third last year, to be in front of Rossi, but a series of mistakes let the veteran Italian off the hook. Certainly, the signs are good for Ducati this weekend but, as always, the task of defeating Marc Marquez will be a tough one to negotiate.

For Suzuki, Le Mans is a circuit of good memories. In 2007, Chris Vermeulen won in the rain for the Hamamatsu marque’s first MotoGP win. Nine years later, Maverick Vinales scored his first MotoGP podium for Suzuki, which was also the first of the GSX-RR since it was introduced in 2015. Now, as Team Suzuki Ecstar look to be entering into their first championship fight since their return to the World Championship just four years ago. They arrive in Le Mans, two weeks after a second place about which they would have been excused for being disappointed, and will no doubt be targeting the victory with their emerging star, Alex Rins. Le Mans also holds good memories for the Spaniard, who has four podiums;  including a win in the Moto2 race back in 2016, which was one year on from his debut Moto2 pole position in 2015.

Whilst Rins has a good history in Le Mans, Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) has the best history of anyone. No one has seen more success than Lorenzo in Le Mans. Perhaps that seems strange – such a stop-start track should surely suit a hard-braking rider, but Lorenzo’s wide, sweeping, arcing lines combined with his obsessive focus on corner exit means he is able to maximise the straights, and get onto them better than anyone else. Jerez did not go to plan for Lorenzo, he admitted he is still not comfortable with the RC213V, but perhaps Le Mans will be the place where he finally discovers his potential on the Honda.

WorldSBK: Rea Demolishes Rivals for First 2019 Win

Although rain is expected for the second race on Sunday, there were good conditions for race one in Imola, for the fifth round of the 2019 Superbike World Championship.

Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) took pole position in the twenty-five-minute Superpole session with an out-right lap record, and he took the holeshot in race one, too. His lead did not last long, though, as Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) moved to the front at the entry to the Variante Villeneuve.

In fact, Davies’ race as a whole was over before the first lap, as a mechanical saw him drop out on the run down from Piratella to Acqua Minerale. The Welshman was able to get his Ducati back to the pits but what looked like a certain podium and a possibility to win was taken away before he had even gotten going.

That let Rea off the hook. Mostly, the Northern Irishman had held a pace advantage over the whole field for the whole weekend, but if anyone was going to go with the reigning World Champion it was going to be Davies. With his only potential challenger out, Rea had a comfortable run from lap two to the flag.

His first race win of 2019 was perhaps not how he imagined it, but Rea’s performance was more dominant than any of those he produced in his World Championship years, probably mostly out of his want to prove a point. His point is considered proven, as he took a dominant win by 7.832 seconds, although he slowed over the line on the final lap, and at one point his lead was as large as nine seconds.

The retirement of Davies meant that Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) had a straightforward run to second place. It was his first defeat in WorldSBK, but it came in a track he didn’t know, and where he was struggling with the stability of his bike. It will take some big changes to remain in the top two in sunday’s two races.

Alvaro Bautista finally loosing his winning streak at Imola WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Ducati

Third place was the most hard-fought position. Whilst Rea and Bautista were apart from each other as well as the rest of the field, the battle for third was strong. Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) held third early on after Davies retired, before a mechanical problem befell his S1000RR. That left Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK), Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK), Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) to fight over the last podium position.

Lowes eventually dropped out of the fight. He did not retire, so it is possible that the illness he has been carrying this weekend led to his drop in pace in the second half of the race. However, between Lowes’ factory Yamaha teammate, van der Mark; Haslam and Razgatlioglu, there was some quite spectacular fighting.

In particular, towards the end van der Mark and Razgatlioglu were throwing some big moves at each other, and one from van der Mark stood out: a big dive in Rivazza 1, similar to the one he tried on Marco Melandri last year which cleaned both riders out of the race.

This time it stayed clean, though, and the battling between the Turk and the Dutchman allowed Haslam, who ran on twice in the Variante Alta, to keep in touch.

On the final lap, Razgatlioglu pulled away, and left van der Mark to fend off Haslam for fourth, a task which the #60 was up to.

It was Razgatlioglu’s first podium of the season and, after his call up for the Suzuka 8 Hours, one which came with good timing for the #54 after a difficult first part of the season. It will be interesting to see how the all-action Turk can handle the races tomorrow, scheduled to take place in the rain.

Having come so close to the current model R1’s first podium in Imola there will be some disappointment at fourth place for both van der Mark and Yamaha, but after what has been a tough weekend a fourth place in the opening race of the weekend is at least something to build on for Sunday.

Haslam will have been disappointed to come off worst in the three-way battle for third and end up fifth, especially to be beaten by a satellite Kawasaki, and especially when the pilot of that satellite Kawasaki is heavily rumoured to replace him in the factory team in 2020.

Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) was able to pass Alex Lowes late on for sixth place, whilst Lowes came home in seventh, a couple of tenths shy of his Yamaha stablemate.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi (BARNI Racing Team) had an awful day. He crashed in the morning which meant his team had to rebuild his bike. In Superpole, the Italian had an oil leak on his back tyre, which meant that, when he changed from the left side of the tyre to the right side in the middle of the Variante Villeneuve, the Ducati flicked him and caught fire in the gravel trap. Another rebuild job faced the BARNI Racing Team but it was one they were able to achieve and, despite starting from the back and suffering pain in his neck, Rinaldi was able to fight his way to eighth.

Lorenzo Zanetti (Motocorsa Racing), wildcarding this weekend, took his CIV-spec Ducati to ninth place, ahead of Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) who completed the top ten.

Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) finished eleventh, ahead of Eugene Laverty’s replacement at Team GoEleven, BSB joint-championship leader Tommy Bridewell who impressed with twelfth place and four World Championship points despite not riding in FP3 due to a technical problem.

Ryuichi Kiyonari at Imola WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Honda pro racing

Hector Barbera (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) finished thirteenth, ahead of Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) was fourteenth and Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) was the final finisher and took the final point in fifteenth.

Rinaldi’s oil leak seemed to start in the second part of the Variante Villeneuve in Superpole. When the session was restarted, Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) hit this oil that hadn’t been cleaned up and went down. The German was fine but Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) also went down and was hurt. The Englishman had to go to hospital and missed the race, but it is possible that he can return for Sunday.

After Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies went out, it was only Cortese who retired, with a crash in Acqua Minerale five laps from the flag.

Featured image courtesy of Ducati

BSB: Brookes Doubles Up in Oulton Race Two

The fastest lap of race one and therefore race two pole position went to Tommy Bridewell (Oxford Racing) at the second round of the 2019 British Superbike Championship.

As in race one, the race took place in the sun, and as in race one, there were problems at the start. Peter Hickman’s Smiths Racing BMW S1000RR fell foul of the tyre pressure rule, so was wheeled into pit lane before the warm up lap and had to start from the back of the grid.

Tommy Bridewell 2nd in race 2 at Oulton Park 2019 BSB. Image courtesy of Ducati

At the front of the grid, Bridewell did not make the start he needed, and it was Josh Brookes (Be Wiser Ducati) who took the holeshot for the second race of the day, this time followed into turn one by fellow Aussie and the man who replaced him in the McAMS Yamaha squad for 2019, Jason O’Halloran. This did not last long, however, as Bridewell made his move on O’Halloran into turn three on the opening lap.

The similarities to race one did not end before the start of the second race, as the two Panigale V4Rs of Brookes and Bridewell stretched away from the rest of the field, as the only man who could get near their pace – Danny Buchan (FS-3 Racing) – was fighting through the pack after an average start.

As Buchan was moving forwards, Jason O’Halloran was moving backwards, losing out to Christian Iddon (Tyco BMW Motorrad) early on, and then to Buchan as well on lap four. On the same lap, O’Halloran lost six tenths to Scott Redding (Be Wiser Ducati), who in turn had Tarran Mackenzie (McAMS Yamaha) – who had made a much better start than in race one where he fell to seventeenth – or company.

Further back, Hickman was charging through, and by the start of lap six he was up inside the points. At the same point, the start of lap six, Scott Redding made a pretty late lunge on O’Halloran – who was by now clearly struggling compared to the first race – in Old Hall, and took fifth place from the Australian.

At Druids on lap seven, Buchan was able to pass Iddon for third. There was a gap of around two seconds between the Ducati of Bridewell in second back to Buchan’s Kawasaki.

By lap eleven, Brookes was creeping away from Bridewell, hundredth by hundredth. This would set the tone for the second half of the race, a race which Brookes would win by 2.686 seconds to take the double. It was noted by Brookes before the weekend that, realistically, his championship started in Oulton Park due to his misfortune in Silverstone and, in that case, it was the perfect start to his championship.

Bridewell sealed his second podium of the weekend and of the season to go 2-2 in Oulton Park, and to be joint points leader as he leaves Cheshire.

Buchan took third to make the race two podium identical to the one of the first race.

Scott Redding took fourth, ahead of Tarran Mackenzie who had a much better second race and leaves Oulton Park as the championship leader on race wins after a fifth in race two.

Christian Iddon got a finish under his belt in the second race and a top six at that, ahead of a no-doubt-disappointed Jason O’Halloran who missed a lot of pace compared to race one in the second outing and finished seventh.

Eighth went to Keith Farmer (Tyco BMW Motorrad) who was quite close to O’Halloran towards the end but was unable to put a move on the Yamaha rider, although his return to BSB thus far has been a positive one.

The weekend was less positive for Honda Racing, although their #18 rider Andrew Irwin was able to take a top ten in race two, ahead of Ryan Vickers (RAF Regular and Reserves Kawasaki) who once again impressed by rounding out the top ten.

Bradley Ray at Oulton Park.BSB 2019. Image courtesy of Suzuki Racing

After starting last, Peter Hickman was able to recover to eleventh, ahead of Brad Ray (Buildbase Suzuki), Dan Linfoot (Santander Salt TAG Racing), Luke Mossey (OMG Racing) and Josh Elliott (OMG Racing) who completed the points.

There were only three retirements in race two, as Shaun Winfield (Santander Salt TAG Racing) crashed out, whilst Dean Hipwell (CDH Racing) and James Ellison (Smiths Racing) retired down pit lane.