A spectacle in Le Mans

Le Mans Qualifying:

Ever changing track conditions at Le Mans caused for some spectacular qualifying. For a few moments it looked as if Marc Marquez (Honda) was going to grab his first pole since 2019! But local boy – Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) had other ideas and snatched it away. Leading from Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) and Jack Miller (Ducati) on the front row. Marquez started 6th place on the grid.

Courtesy of: Superbike-news

Uncharacteristically, the championship leader – Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) qualified low down the grid in 16th place.

Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha), looked in good form and had a flying lap, which would have taken him to front row, but an almost high-side in the last corner, removed those hopes. He slotted into 9th place.

The unpredictable track conditions had meant that Sunday’s race had been declared a flag-to-flag race. The first one in four years – meaning some of the riders had never experienced this before.

This was going to be interesting:

Race:

Le Mans had it all – rain, sun, bike swaps, crashes, penalties! As the drama unfolded in-front of us, one thing was for sure – Miller gave yet another ‘Thriller’ race!

As the riders lined up on the grid, the dark grey clouds loomed overhead. Weather forecasts predicted the rain wouldn’t emerge during the race. Just in-case though it had been declared a flag-to-flag event, meaning the riders had their spare bikes ready with wet tyres on, should the rain interfere with the proceedings.

Miller got a lighting start and led the pack into lap one, from Vinales and Quartararo. But it was Pol Espargaro (Aprilia), that had a ‘moment’, rejoining in the middle of team-mates Rossi and Frankie Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha), Morbidelli had to take evasive action, leaving him holding his knee in the gravel. Already having hurt it during a freak pit-lane accident in qualifying. (He was able to later rejoin, but finished outside the points).

Miller takes the lead. Courtesy of: Motorsport.com

Vinales soon took first and started to slowly break-away. Were we seeing Maverick finally not letting the weather conditions mess with his head? M. Marquez was fighting for 4th place with Alex Rins (Suzuki) and Takaaki Nakagami (Honda)

All to quickly though, bustling started to happen in the pit lane, as the pit crews started to get the second bikes ready for the inevitable change over. Marshals were waving the red and white flags track-side and the riders now had the option to come in and switch bikes. The rain had come earlier than expected!

Quartararo took full advantage to the change of weather conditions and swept through to first place. Vinales, sadly couldn’t help but react negatively to the wet weather and immediately went backwards.

Jack wasn’t prepared to just let Fabio have first place though and soon they were battling for first.

The rain continued to pour, getting heavier by the second. Miller went into the gravel but saved himself and with 23 laps to go he and all the riders decided to enter the pit lane to swap their bikes. M. Marquez made a swift exit from pit lane securing first place. The reigning champion Joan Mir (Suzuki) however, accidently fell upon entering the pit lane.

Pitlane pandemonium. Courtesy of: Moto GP website

Then turn four, saw his team-mate Alex crash. Both Suzuki’s were having a race they would want to forget.

Then seemingly disaster for the Ducati boys! Both Bagnaia and Miller got a double long-lap penalty for exceeding pit-lane speed limits. The speed limit is 60km/h but both were recorded as over it.

With Miller in third place, being led by Quartararo and Marquez, he didn’t want to give up any places, but he took his first long-lap the next lap (lap 9) and then his second on lap 10. Getting them out the way with quick.

Marc Marquez looked like his old self again and even pulled away from Fabio leading with 1.380 seconds and then by 1.973 seconds. He had said that these weather conditions could fall into his hands on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Rins had managed to return to the race with his second bike.

All hearts leapt in unison though as on lap 8, Marquez took a high-side from first position, on the final corner! Launching himself from his bike and rolling through the gravel. He managed to also re-join the race (using the same bike, albeit missing some of its wings).

With Miller taking his second penalty, Quartararo set about extending his lead. Little did he know that he too had collected a penalty. Never having raced a flag-to-flag race he had gone into the pit-lane to swap over his Yamaha’s just to ride into Vinales’s pit box. This was seen as a safety risk which meant he too had to take a long-lap soon. He decided to take it lap 12.

Cutting quickly through the pack, aware that this was his best chance at getting any points this race, Marquez was now the fastest man on track. Ignoring his pain and the rain.

An issue with Lorenzo Savadori’s Aprilia saw him retire from the race. On the same lap Miguel Oliveira (KTM) slid off on the nefarious turn 3. It soon took Rins as well, now his second time seeing the gravel during the race.

Meanwhile Marquez was still slicing through his competitors and with 13 laps to go was in 15th place. His younger brother Alex Marquez (Honda), it is worth noting, was having a brilliant race, from 19th on the grid to 5th by lap 15. By lap 17 M. Marquez had clawed back to 12th place.

Nakagami had his position taken away from him by one of the local boys – Zarco, who was picking up speed – quick. He was now in 3rd place with fellow country-man Quartararo in his sights and the leader – Miller not far away either. Could Le Mans finally have a French winner?

With 11 laps until the end, Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia malfunctioned, leaving the team with DNF’s for both bikes.

Conditions changed again – the track had dried up and the rain ceased. All riders were on their second bike with wet tyres. They could return to the pits again and swap a second time for slick tyres but none of them wanted to be the first to juggle with fate.

Then absolute heartbreak – Marc Marquez crashed out again – turn 6, lap 18, from 11th place. This time he was unable to pick the bike up and return.

Courtesy of: Moto GP website

Miller had a 5.475 second lead over Quartararo, who had a 3.763 second gap to Zarco. But this was decreasing quick! Zarco had both medium wet tyres, where Miller and Quartararo had one soft and one medium tyre each. With the track getting drier each lap, the gap between the two Frenchmen rapidly shrunk. On lap 21 of 27 the gap was 0.696 seconds.

Johann passed Fabio with relative ease with 6 laps to go. Could he catch Miller?

Last lap – the track was completely dry – the riders were all still on wet tyres – there were two Frenchmen hunting down the Australian in first. But it was a Thriller performance from Miller who was in complete control, taking back-to-back victories! His first ever time doing this in the premier class and only his 3rd ever win in Moto GP. He is the first Australian to win back-to-back races since Stoner (Ducati) in 2012.

It was like a win for Fabio (who had never finished on the podium in wet conditions before) and Johann who rounded off the podium in France.

Top 10 race results:

First

Miller

Second

Zarco

Third

Quartararo

Fourth

Bagnaia

Fifth

Petrucci

Sixth

A. Marquez

Seventh

Nakagami

Eigth

P. Espargaro

Ninth

Lecuona

Tenth

Vinales

Championship Standings:

First

Quartararo

80 Points

Second

Bagnaia

79 points

Third

Zarco

68 points

Fourth

Miller

64 points

It was a rollercoaster ride for Miller who said “…they’re gonna red flag this for sure…” aren’t we all glad that they didn’t?

Miller and Quartararo in Parc Ferme – Le Mans. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

Mugello (30th May) is the next round of the championship and is notably a Ducati track. Can the Dukes keep up this dominating pace? Or will Yamaha fight back and claim the top spot once more?

Bologna Bullets take first and second in Spain

Another pole for Fabio in Qualifying:

Everything seemed to be carrying on from the previous race weekend for Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha), who managed to gain another pole, this time at Jerez, from his old teammate Franco Morbidelli (Yamaha) who claimed a solid second and Jack Miller (Ducati) clinching third.

During the qualifying Marc Marquez (Honda) however had another big accident on turn 7, ending up in the air barrier at the side of the track, coming out of it seemingly unscathed with a bruised leg and neck. He was cleared to race for Sunday, starting on the grid in 14th place.

Marquez. Courtesy of: Motorsport.com

Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) lead the second row alongside Taka Nakagami (Honda) and Johann Zarco (Honda) taking sixth.

Jerez Moto GP Race:

The Bologna Bullets take first and second in Spain, in the fourth round of the 2021 season.

It is a track not known to favour the Ducati’s, but from the start Miller went straight into the lead, from Morbidelli and teammate Bagnaia. Quartararo went backwards into fourth. But it was Joan Mir (Suzuki) who shot up four places into sixth position. Unfortunately, Alex Marquez (Honda) made a quick exit from his weekend, falling on lap one.

Lap two, turn two, Brad Binder (KTM) found himself in the gravel, but he was soon back on his bike and back in the race.

Taking fastest lap – Quartararo quickly took third place from Bagnaia.

Making it twice in a row for Alex Rins (Suzuki), he made a swift exit on lap three, sliding off the track.

With 22 laps until the chequered flag, Quartararo forced his way into second place and started to hunt down Miller, who couldn’t seem to use the Ducati power to its full advantage and hadn’t managed to break enough away.

Down in ninth place, Zarco had great race pace and took fastest lap from Quartararo.

Fabio took prime position to begin lap 5. The Ducati tried to take it back on the straight but it wasn’t quite enough and slowly had to watch as the number 20 steadily pulled away, quickly taking back fastest lap, getting into his rhythm and pulling further and further from the Australian.

Courtesy of: Moto GP website

All the top six riders had picked medium front and rear tyres, creating an equal battlefield out on the track, but it was Bagnaia who seemed faster than Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) in fourth place and on lap 9, took the position from him.

Lap 10, on the flat turn two, Enea Bastianini went into first gear, let the brake off, creating the front to fold and he fell. Meanwhile, the front two riders focused on pulling away from third and fourth. Bagnaia was doing faster laps than fellow countryman Morbidelli, this allowed him to take third place with 11 laps till the end.

Brad Binder crashed for the second time, on turn 13, but this time was unable to carry on.

With 12 laps till the finish line Quartararo led Miller by 1.434 seconds. Miller to Morbidelli gap was 2.705 seconds. On lap 15, the gap suddenly dropped to 0.438 seconds between Quartararo and Miller. Then to 0.205 seconds. Then 0.063 seconds. Miller took the lead, passing Quartararo on turn 1, lap 16. The Australian started to immediately pull away from the Frenchman. With no seemingly physical problems, Quartararo fell towards the clutches of Italian rider – Bagnaia.

The gapping that had started to be created then turned back into a concertina effect, as the group closed up. It wasn’t soon until Bagnaia was on Quartararo’s rear and soon passed him with 8 laps to go. Morbidelli was next in line to pass the Frenchman on lap 18. Claiming the last podium place.

Courtesy of: Moto GP website

It was now only a matter of time before the rest of the pack claimed their positions from Quartararo. Who definitely seemed to have a problem, some speculating that he may be suffering from arm pump.

Nakagami was fighting with Aleix Espargaro for 6th place and took it alongside 5th from Quartararo, almost in the same pass. Then it was Mir’s turn to to go up to 5th place from Quartararo and Espargaro. Vinales then took no mercy on his teammate and also claimed a position on lap 19.

Things went from bad to worse for Fabio as another two riders went past him on lap 20. Going from first to tenth in just two laps.

Meanwhile the Dukes eeked further away at the front. The normal racing at Jerez was being thrown-out-the-window, with the Ducati’s finally going good at the track.

Pol Espargaro was the next rider to pass Quartararo, this time for 10th place.

Morbidelli was faster than Bagnaia and was giving it everything he had to try and pass him for second place. Riding on the 2019 Petronas Yamaha however, meant Morbidelli can’t always use his full potential.

Then it was Oliveira’s turn to pass Quartararo to take 12th place, which also saw Fabio’s championship lead taken from him and given to Bagnaia. Another pass from Bradl gave further points to Bagnaia for the championship lead and with 2 laps to go Quartararo had fallen to 13th place, staying just inside the points.

But, it was a masterclass performance from Jack Miller, who gave us a ‘Thriller’ victory. His first in the dry for Moto GP. Claiming “…the last 7/8 laps were the longest of…” his career. Audiences will now be hoping this won’t be his only win of the season. The last time Miller was on the top step of the podium was at the Dutch GP in 2016. This wasn’t the only surprise for Ducati for the weekend though, as Bagnaia stepped onto the second podium spot.

Miller showing all his emotion. Courtesy of: Moto GP website

Third place went to Morbidelli who “…gave more than the maximum…” and “… risked a lot and finally…was rewarded with the podium…”.

A brilliant fourth place went to Nakagami (who equalled his best race finish in Moto GP), with Mir in 5th, A. Espargaro in 6th, Vinales 7th, Zarco 8th, another impressive ride for Marquez, who finished 9th and 10th place went to P. Espargaro.

Updated championship:

Position

Rider

Points

First

Bagnaia

66

Second

Quartararo

64

Third

Vinales

50

 

Le Mans (next race) is one of the next three race tracks which are typically good for the Ducati’s. Will we see another Ducati whitewash? Or will someone else step up to the plate?

Thank you to everyone who has taken part in the Social Media black-out this weekend, together we can #DrawTheLine and #StopTheHate.

 

(Featured image, courtesy of: Getty Images)

Un et Deux – the French reign at Doha

Round two under the Qatar lights found some riders floundering and some soaring. If it was thought to be a repeat of last weekend then audiences were in for a shock.

The qualifying had the biggest surprise which came from the rookie, Jorge Martin who took pole! With a 1.53.106 second lap, snatching it from Vinales, who was confident he had done enough at the flag. Next position went to Martin’s team-mate and Vinales ended up 3rd to round off the front row. The Suzuki’s still seemed to have issues with qualifying and ended up in 8th and 9th. Rossi made changes to his bike which turned out to hinder his chances at getting another 4th in qualifying this time and ended up 21st on the grid.

Martin takes pole on Saturday. Courtesy of: Moto GP website

All riders started Sunday on both rear and front soft tyres again, with the exception of Oliveira, Binder, Lecuona and Petrucci. Perhaps they had thought a different strategy may help them in the closing section of the race. Once again, the wind was blowing and causing sand to go across the track, meaning the tyres would degrade quicker.

The two front Ducati’s got a flying start, with Martin leading Zarco but it was Vinales that went backwards as Aleix Espargaro came through and took 3rd place from the Spaniard, a very surprising Oliveira, who was 12th on the grid, shot into 4th . The next 22 laps were sure to be exciting!

By lap three, Rins had already made the fastest lap, eager to make it to the front early on, now in 3rd place, he started putting pressure on Zarco.

Lap four was Bagnaia’s turn to take fastest lap. But it was the Suzuki’s that were looking menacing as Mir came through to 5th place and Rins took 2nd from Zarco. However, the Ducati took back the position on the straight.

Meanwhile the factory Yamahas were sticking to their plan, which was to conserve tyres and were in 9th and 10th place.

With 17 laps to go Martin was still leading, in only his second Moto GP race, from Rins and Zarco.

Martin leads Rins. Courtesy of: Moto GP website

Performing well in the flowing corners, the Suzuki was putting pressure on the rookie, but the straight, once again was the time for Zarco to pounce, re-gaining 2nd.

Trying to hunt down Martin, Rins took back 2nd place from the Frenchman on turn 10 – lap 8. He knew he had to breakaway from Zarco before the straight. With 13 laps to go Oliveira started to go backwards, unfortunately, the tyre choice didn’t seem to be any better.

The two Petronas riders were struggling as well – not even in the top ten.

The top nine riders however, were starting to breakaway from the rest of the pack and were creating their own race. Martin still lead, now half-way through the 22 laps, whilst Vinales was bringing up the rear. The first six bikes were all four Ducati’s and the two Suzuki’s. Espargaro on the Aprilia, was the only bike not with it’s teammate, out in front of the two factory Yamaha’s.

Mir and Miller were battling for 5th place on lap 13, Mir touched Miller going underneath him to take the position. But, coming onto the straight Miller (43) went wide and and seemed to go straight into Mir, forcing him to go all the way back to 9th. There was an investigation from the stewards but both times were seen as racing incidents.

Things went from bad to worse for Alex Marquez who had a second DNF in a row as he crashed on lap 14.

However, things were looking good for Quartararo (20), who was moving through the front pack and was now 4th, behind the Ducati’s, with 8 laps till the end. Battling for the position alongside Rins, he knew he had to create a chance in order to get on the podium. His teammate was now in 7th with Mir still in 9th place. It seemed the Yamaha’s tactic was paying off.

With six laps till the end, 20 took 3rd place from 43, it was taken straight back on the start-finish line but a mistake going into the first corner from Miller meant Quartararo re-took 3rd once more. The battle for the podium was heating up.

The two Frenchmen then fought for 2nd on lap 18. Zarco tried to defend but Quartararo’s Yamaha had conserved tyres better and was stronger on the corners, meaning he was able to take 1st place as well on turn 14, leading into turn 15, from Martin. The rookie had shocked everyone by leading for most of the race. Martin wasn’t going to give his position away easily and on the straight the Ducati roared past the Yamaha. But, Quartararo re-gained first place soon after.

With four laps to go it was anyone’s call who would win. Quartararo now lead Martin, Zarco and Vinales.

Courtesy of: Moto GP website

Top Gun’ briefly took 3rd place from Zarco, which took Zarco out of the top three for the first time the whole race.

‘El Diablo’ started to pull away from the two satellite Ducati’s and with Vinales putting pressure on Zarco, Zarco decided he needed to try and make a pass on his teammate. Martin went defensive with two laps to go, not wanting to give away his position. Vinales couldn’t keep up with number 5 and Rins took 4th place from him into turn one on the last lap. The penultimate corner of the last lap was Zarco’s last shot at 2nd, after admitting in the post-race interview he was acting as a “… bodyguard for Martin…” he decided to over-take his team-mate to finish 2nd.

It was Quartararo that took the chequered flag, taking his fourth Moto GP victory alongside fellow Frenchman Zarco. The first time in 67 years that two Frenchmen have stood first and second on the podium in the premier class. Martin finished an impressive third to round off the podium. Fourth was Rins, fifth Vinales, sixth and seventh place were the factory Dukes and Mir managed to make up two places since the collision with Miller to finish seventh.

Zarco stood on the podium for the 50th time and now leads the championship with 40 points. Proving to be consistent with two second places in a row.

This thrilling battle was the closest Moto GP race in 73 years. Teams learnt from last weekend and everyone seemed far stronger.

There is now a two week gap until the next event, but the big news is Marc Marquez is said to be making a return in Portugal, which leads into the many European races. Will we see a fit, strong and hungry Marquez? Will the other riders be too far ahead of him? Or will we witness a masterclass performance?

Whatever the outcome, it is sure to be a thrilling ride.

 

Featured image courtesy of: Moto GP website.

It’s a first for Top Gun

After not being able to race at Qatar in 2020, audiences were eagerly awaiting the first Moto GP race of 2021.

But, did it live up to everyone’s expectations? Under those amazing bright lights, we got to see the new glistening colours of the teams, the glittering helmets of the riders and one intriguing race.

All teams chose to start with both front and rear soft tyres, which would always be an interesting factor as the laps progressed.

The Ducati’s, who had dominated Qatar in 2019 and 2018, got an amazing start with four of their bikes leading the pack from the beginning. Bagnaia was out in front from Miller, who was participating in his 100th Moto GP start, following him were Zarco and Martin. Martin managed to make up an impressive 10 places from the grid and Zarco made up four. The Ducati power was definitely something to witness, three Yamahas then followed suit.

Sand being blown over the track due to the high winds caused Petrucci to be the first to fall on lap one.

By lap two Zarco had passed Miller to take second place. However it was Bagnaia that managed to clinch fastest lap by lap 3. Quartararo was also pushing hard and managed to get fourth place in the same lap. Last year’s champion Mir, was now pushing through the pack and was behind Rossi in ninth.

Fastest lap went to Quartararo on lap 4, who was behind his teammate at the time.

Martin in his first race in Moto GP, battled hard to keep his position but the Yamahas proved to much for him and he went to sixth place on lap 5. Vinales then took fastest lap from his teammate, whilst taking his new position past Martin.

Bagnaia, Miller, Quartararo and Vinales managed to break- away from the pack and create their own race. With Aleix Espargaro slowly hunting Valentino down, who was on the next Yamaha along, in his new team Petronas. Espargaro managed to pass him on lap 7. In the meantime Rossi’s new team mate, Morbidelli had fell to position twentieth.

Unfortunately for last year’s pole man and Honda’s top qualifier this year – Nakagami crashed out on the same lap. Meanwhile, Rins and Mir, on the two Suzuki’s, carried on tracking down the front five.

By lap 12, Vinales had made it to second place and was showing Bagnaia that he meant business. His teammate (20) went backwards to sixth place.

Martin had gone backwards as well to thirteenth place on lap 13. Zarco was remaining steady in third.

By lap 14, Vinales was pushing Bagnaia, but neither one was willing to give in. Alex Marquez then finished LCR’s hope to get any points during the race by also crashing out. Both riders were un-hurt.

A new contender for the front was appearing, Rins seemed to be the one to watch. With 8 laps until the end he and Miller were battling on the track.

Lap 15, Vinales took the opportunity and passed Bagnaia for prime position. He pushed straight away and managed to make a gap from the super-quick Ducati’s.

Reigning champion Mir, was still slowly progressing and took fifth place from Miller on lap 16.

On the first corner of lap 17, Zarco on the satellite Ducati passed the full factory Ducati rider Bagnaia, whose tyres may have been degrading faster then others by this point, having lead for most of the race.

Vinales now lead Zarco, Bagnaia and the two Suzuki’s. Had the Suzuki’s qualified better, they may have been further up the pack quicker and would have been fighting for the all important podium positions.

With five laps to go Rins looked menacing behind his teammate Mir. But it was Mir that lined up to pass Bagnaia and finally took third place on lap 20. But Bagnaia didn’t want to give up the place easily. Mir who had been steadily chipping away, coming from 10th on the grid was now in third place, with Zarco still in second and Vinales leading.

Into the final lap, Mir passed Zarco on turn 15, for second place. Fighting constantly against the raging winds, the two Ducati’s were now following as he tried to get away, but he missed the apex into turn 16 and went slightly wide. Mir held firm but as the Dukes shifted into third gear, the speed proved to be too much again for the Suzuki and they passed the number 36 on the final straight. A crest-fallen Suzuki team and many fans had their hearts in their mouths while witnessing yet again the might of the Red Devils.

Top Gun, who proved to be super smooth, won the opening race with Zarco (who had not left the top three from lap one – remaining constant throughout) and Bagnaia taking third on the podium.

Last points scorer went to Martin.

Bagnaia commented at the end of the race “…my bike saved my podium…” with Vinales saying that the “…Ducati’s are unbelievable…”. Is this the first glimpse of Ducati’s come-back?

Qatar will once again host the Moto GP race next weekend at the same time. Will we see the same people battling it out at the front? Or have people shown their hands? And how will others respond?

 

Courtesy of: GresiniRacing.com

Lastly, it was with great sadness to hear that recently Moto GP lost someone very special – Fausto Gresini. He will be greatly missed within Moto GP, Moto 2 and 3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

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