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May 17, 2013

Pedrosa Just Ahead Of Marquez, Rossi, Lorenzo In MotoGP Free Practice Two At Le Mans

FIM MotoGP World Championship: Dani Pedrosa (26) in action on his Repsol Honda Friday at Le Mans.
FIM MotoGP World Championship
Le Mans, France
May 17, 2013
Free Practice Two Results (all on Bridgestone tires):

1. Dani PEDROSA, Spain (HONDA), 1:34.035
2. Marc MARQUEZ, Spain (HONDA), 1:34.169
3. Valentino ROSSI, Italy (YAMAHA), 1:34.173
4. Jorge LORENZO, Spain (YAMAHA), 1:34.201
5. Stefan BRADL, Germany (HONDA), 1:34.299
6. Cal CRUTCHLOW, UK (YAMAHA), 1:34.512
7. Andrea DOVIZIOSO, Italy (DUCATI), 1:34.578
8. Nicky HAYDEN, USA (DUCATI), 1:34.590
9. Alvaro BAUTISTA, Spain (HONDA), 1:34.739
10. Aleix ESPARGARO, Spain (ART-Aprilia), 1:35.045
11. Bradley SMITH, UK (YAMAHA), 1:35.362
12. Andrea IANNONE, Italy (DUCATI), 1:35.433
13. Randy DE PUNIET, France (ART-Aprilia), 1:35.447
14. Michele PIRRO, Italy (DUCATI), 1:35.864
15. Hector BARBERA, Spain (FTR-Kawasaki), 1:35.940
16. Colin EDWARDS, USA (FTR-Kawasaki), 1:36.449
17. Claudio CORTI, Italy (FTR-Kawasaki), 1:36.643
18. Karel ABRAHAM, Czech Republic (ART-Aprilia), 1:36.759
19. Danilo PETRUCCI, Italy (IODA/SUTER-BMW), 1:36.764
20. Hiroshi AOYAMA, Japan (FTR-Kawasaki), 1:36.821
21. Yonny HERNANDEZ, Colombia (ART-Aprilia), 1:37.104
22. Bryan STARING, Australia (FTR-Honda), 1:37.878
23. Michael LAVERTY, UK (PBM-Aprilia), 1:38.023
24. Lukas PESEK, Czech Republic (IODA/SUTER-BMW), 1:38.818

More, from a press release issued by Dorna Communications:

Fresh from his win in the Spanish Grand Prix, Dani Pedrosa topped both Friday practice sessions at Le Mans at the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France, with the Repsol Honda Team rider leading teammate Marc Marquez and Yamaha Factory Racing’s Valentino Rossi, as less than three tenths of a second covered the top five riders.

Heading into the afternoon session, there was a sense of urgency to seal top ten positions for Q2 Qualifying, not only because a small shower had preceded the session, but also as rain is forecast to hit the iconic venue on Saturday. Pedrosa led with 1’34.035 as the top eight riders of the afternoon beat the leading lap time of the morning period. Behind Marquez and Rossi, Yamaha’s world champion Jorge Lorenzo and LCR Honda MotoGP’s Stefan Bradl completed the top five. Lorenzo was not particularly happy with his session, hoping that set-up changes overnight will help him tomorrow.

Cal Crutchlow led the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 charge from sixth position as teammate Bradley Smith took a pair of almost identical trips through the Dunlop gravel trap across the opening couple of sessions. Crutchlow was another displeased Yamaha rider, not only as he was struggling with chatter and overheating brakes, but also as he woke up with a cold this morning. There was a big moment for Energy T.I. Pramac Racing’s Andrea Iannone, who ended the day in 12th place after suffering an accident on the exit of Raccordement, the final corner of the track. He was fortunately not badly hurt, and was able to finish the session on his number-two bike.

On the Ignite Pramac Racing bike, Michele Pirro is standing in for the recovering Ben Spies, while Karel Abraham is back in action for Cardion AB Motoracing. The top ten was rounded out by Ducati Team duo Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden plus GO&FUN Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista and Power Electronics Aspar’s Aleix Espargaro - the leading CRT runner. Hayden showed promising signs by being the second fastest man in the second sector, yet was loosing too much ground in other parts of the track. Espargaro’s teammate and home rider Randy de Puniet ended the day 13th quickest. NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Claudio Corti continued to experiment with a new air in-take on his FTR-Kawasaki that he first tried in Jerez, whilst teammate Colin Edwards tried a new chassis and swingarm, which he announced himself pleased with.


Marc VDS Racing Team’s Scott Redding was the fastest man on day one of the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France in Le Mans, as the Brit saw off Interwetten Paddock Moto2’s Tom Luthi by just under four tenths of a second, whilst Tuenti HP 40’s championship-leading Esteve Rabat suffered a fall in the Chemin aux Boeufs s-bends.

Already quickest as the morning session drew to a close on a stereotypically changeable day for weather, Redding reduced the leading time to 1’38.283 in the completely dry afternoon period. Behind Luthi and Simon, Qatar podium finisher Takaaki Nakagami and Dominique Aegerter were fourth and fifth for Italtrans and Technomag carXpert, correspondingly. Luthi commented afterwards that he still has some concerns with his arm, as he is not sure how it will hold up over race distance.

Mapfre Aspar Team Moto2’s Nico Terol was sixth as the top ten was rounded out by Tuenti HP 40’s Pol Espargaro, NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Mattia Pasini, Desguaces La Torre Maptaq’s Xavier Simeon and NGM’s Simone Corsi. Britain’s Gino Rea was 20th while debuting the FTR bike of his privately-entered Gino Rea Race Team, while last year’s Moto3™ race winner, Tech 3 Racing’s Louis Rossi, was one of several riders to suffer a fall in the morning session. During the afternoon, series leader Rabat crashed at Turn 9, which meant he ended proceedings in 14th place.


Estrella Galicia 0,0’s Alex Rins set the practice pace as Moto3™ track action began on Friday ahead of the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France in Le Mans. The Spaniard moved ahead of Mapfre Aspar Team Moto3’s Jonas Folger and Red Bull KTM Ajo’s Luis Salom as an unforeseen flurry of hail in the final minutes disrupted the end of the second session.

Rins led with a best lap time of 1’44.147, beating Folger by just six thousandths of a second. Behind third-placed Salom was Team Calvo’s Maverick Viñales, who had topped the morning session but suffered a highside accident on the exit of the Bleus ‘S’ in the afternoon. Also falling was Mahindra Racing’s Efren Vazquez, who crashed at Garage Vert and fractured his right collarbone.

Danny Webb was fifth for Ambrogio Racing as he and teammate Brad Binder sandwiched Avant Tecno’s Niklas Ajo into sixth position. The top ten was completed by La Fonte Tascaracing’s Alessandro Tonucci, GO&FUN Gresini Moto3’s Niccolo Antonelli and San Carlo Team Italia’s Romano Fenati. The earlier morning session at Le Mans was very much incident-free, with Salom being one of few riders to run off the historic track which is all set to host the fourth round of the 2013 campaign.

More, from a press release issued by Yamaha Factory MotoGP Team:

Rossi Leads the Yamahas as Le Mans Begins

Le Mans (France), 17th May 2013
Valentino Rossi wrapped up the first day of action at the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France as the fastest Yamaha rider and third overall behind rival Dani Pedrosa. The Italian spent the day’s two free practice sessions working to set up his YZR-M1 for the Le Mans circuit, focusing on a soft front and hard rear tyre combination. Rossi opted for the 2012 M1 chassis for the Le Mans weekend whilst the team continues to evaluate the difference between the old and new. The final session saw the nine-time World Champion improve to climb from seventh to second, dropping to third at the end just 0.138 seconds from first. Rossi was also the fastest rider through the second sector of the Le Mans circuit.

Teammate Jorge Lorenzo was as usual quick from the start of the first session, contesting with the fastest riders and wrapping up the morning in second place. The afternoon saw more of the same fast consistency from the reigning World Champion, taking the session lead with a 1’34.2 second lap with 17mins remaining. A flurry of fast laps in the final minutes dropped him to fourth however he was just 0.166 from first. Lorenzo remained fourth in the combined times. The Spaniard also focused on a hard front, soft rear tyre option but opted for the 2013 chassis to evaluate the Le Mans circuit.

Valentino Rossi
3rd / 1'34.173 / 17 laps

“Today we were good in braking because we modified the settings and we tried two different settings to understand which way to follow to improve the braking, that was the main problem. This morning was not too bad and this afternoon especially I made the comparison one more time. I took the setting I preferred with some small modifications and the last run was very good. I could brake hard, which was the main problem in Austin and also in Jerez so it's a good day. We try to modify also the rear for to not stress the rear tyre so much; that helped me a lot; I did my best laps with a used tyre that had more than 30 laps on. The practice this afternoon was good so I’m happy. We are already quite good with the setting of the bike so now we wait for the weather tomorrow. In case of rain we are more or less ready and if dry we can try something else, some small details to modify. We are very close to those in front so it's not so bad.”

Jorge Lorenzo
4th / 1'34.201 / 9 laps

“We are changing the bike to improve the feeling because at the moment we have a lot of margin for improvement. I think we can make a big step to improve the constant pace for the race. I think if it rains tomorrow things will change completely and it will be a different story. We will have to be as always more careful and have more concentration in the wet.”

Wilco Zeelenberg
Team Manager
“The first day at Le Mans and a dry day too! Overall everything is very close and tight. After FP2 we are in fourth but just two tenths away and our lap times are very close to Dani. We are not satisfied as we have some small details to solve. We are not ready for race day yet but hopefully tomorrow we will have another dry session so we can make the next step.”

Massimo Meregalli
Team Director
“A promising first day. I think the Monday test in Jerez gave us a good result because we were satisfied with it and also its effects here. The pace is good; the tyre life issue seems to be solved as well, maybe due to the temperature but also due to our testing in Jerez. Let's see what the weather brings tomorrow as it may be wet. Anyway I think we are ready for all circumstances.”

More, from a press release issued by Repsol Honda:

Positive first day in dry conditions at Le Mans

Repsol Honda riders Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez, set the bar today on the first day of free practice for the GP of France, taking the top two places on the time sheet.

The weather in Le Mans has been kind to the team on the first day, with rain threatening but fortunately both sessions remained dry. In this morning's FP1, the air temperature was just 12ºC with the track only 14ºC, and Dani and Marc took no chances - both opting for the soft compound front and rear Bridgestone tyres. Then in the afternoon's FP2 session, temperatures rose to 19ºC and 35ºC on the track, which gave them the opportunity to test the hard front tyre and a new soft rear.

Dani continued to improve his lap time throughout the session and in the end he recorded his fastest time on his final lap of 21 with a 1'34.035. Team mate Marc also saved the best until last with a 1'34.169 on his final lap of 18.

Dani Pedrosa 1st 1'34.035

"In today's practice sessions it was important to test the tyres and make the most of the dry track time, because here you usually don't have that opportunity. So I tried to stay out on track for as long as possible and gather the best information, because maybe tomorrow it will rain - and you don't have that chance again. Luckily the weather held up and we were able to make some positive steps, which we hope to capitalise on for the race on Sunday"

Marc Marquez 2nd 1'34.169

"Le Mans has always been a good track for me in the other classes. I was fast today right out of the box and felt comfortable. In the first session I got a bit overwhelmed, because I could tell that the track was not allowing much space for me between the corners with this bigger bike and faster pace. I didn't have much time to think. I was calmer in the afternoon and things went much better. This track is all about accelerating and then braking, although the final sector is more twisty and has some longer corners. It is only Friday, and we still have work to do. Tomorrow, if the track is dry, we will improve our times - but the forecast predicts rain. With a little luck, on Sunday we will have a dry track and be able to have a good race"

More, from a press release issued by Cardion AB Motoracing:

Back on the track after injury:
Abraham 18th before Saturday´s final practices and qualifying

Czech MotoGP rider got fully back on the track after collarbone fracture sustained in Austin. Abraham finished 18th in combined practice lap times. Czech reached 1:36,759 loosing 2,724 seconds to the fastest Dani Pedrosa and 0,116 to previous Claudio Corti.

Karel Abraham:
„The shoulder seems quite OK, but I expected to feel better. Unfortunately injured arm is little bit weaker after four weeks of recovery. But the most important is that I can ride with it and I should be able to do whole race with it. The bike seems good to me, we solved lot of problems in the afternoon, but we are still very slow on top speed. We are practically about 4 kilometers per hour slower than we should be.“

Marco Grana, chief-mechanic Cardion AB Motoracing
“We were worried if Karel could ride in the morning without pain and the result is good – he feels much better, so we could focus on improving our lap times. We suffered some problems in front and Karel wasn´t confidential to bike. We work a lot before afternoon session and it helps. We were able to reach good time facing the fact that Karel is back on the track for the first time after injury. We have serious problem in sector 3. We are loosing 1,2 second there. In the other sectors we can do similar times as De Puniet. This is our quest for tomorrow: find a good line and be fast in it. I´m happy, that Karel is in good physical condition. We made lot of consecutive laps and he didn´t suffered any pain from shoulder. We will try harder tyres tomorrow and hope to improve our lap time.”

More, from a press release issued by Pramac Racing:

The Energy T.I. Pramac Racing Team knew that the French Grand Prix would be challenging for Andrea Iannone, who is healing from an injury to his left knee and an operation to his right forearm. The first day of free practice confirmed that, for although the Italian wasn’t in as much pain as had been expected, he suffered a hard fall in the second free-practice session. Fortunately, he walked away from the incident relatively unscathed.

In the morning, Iannone managed to maintain a decent pace, steadily improving until he concluded the session in twelfth place. The circuit’s chicanes presented a challenge for his arm, but although the stitches caused him some discomfort, the muscle was working well. Following the session, the Clinica Mobile staff removed the stitches from his still-painful knee.

Andrea improved his time by seven tenths in the afternoon, but his session ended nine minutes early with the aforementioned crash, which happened when his rear tire lost traction on the exit of the last turn.

Andrea Iannone – Energy T.I. Pramac Racing Team
“Today it was important to understand if I could do the race, especially as we look ahead to Mugello. Near the end of the second session, I wanted to try the last changes we’d made to the bike, and we also changed the tire. I fell, but that’s how it goes—fortunately, I wasn’t hurt and I’ll try again tomorrow. I think the crash may have been due to the tire change; it was new, so I should’ve been more careful. Although I’m struggling with my arm and knee, I’ll be in the race. I can do it, and I need to understand how the arm is before and after. For the moment, I can say that it has improved, but I’ll wait for Sunday to be sure because I’m certainly putting it under some stress. Dr. Claudio Costa and the Clinica Mobile are helping me a lot, and removing the stitches helped the knee to feel better so that I immediately went better. I want to and have to improve as quickly as possible tomorrow, and seeing that Nicky and Andrea went pretty well gives me hope.”

More, from a press release issued by Bridgestone:

Pedrosa leads Repsol Honda 1-2 in Le Mans Friday practice

Round 4: French MotoGP™ - Free Practice One & Two
Le Mans, Friday 17 May 2013

Bridgestone slick compounds available: Front: Extra-soft, Soft Rear: Extra-soft (Symmetric), Soft, Medium (Asymmetric)
Bridgestone wet tyre compounds available: Soft (Main), Hard (Alternative)
Weather: FP1 - Dry. Ambient 13-15°C; Track 18-23°C (Bridgestone measurement)
FP2 - Dry. Ambient 18-23°C; Track 34-33°C (Bridgestone measurement)

Fresh from a first victory of the season at Jerez a fortnight ago, Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa continued his good form by leading a Repsol Honda 1-2 in Friday practice at Le Mans.

Pedrosa was quickest in both free practice sessions today but set the benchmark time of 1'34.035 on his last lap of FP2 to end the day 0.134 seconds ahead of teammate Marc Marquez in the standings. Third quickest today was Yamaha Factory Racing’s Valentino Rossi who set a personal best time just four-thousandths of a second behind Marquez. In what is now almost a customary position for the Spanish rider, Power Electronics Aspar’s Aleix Espargaro was the best of the CRT riders in Friday free practice, his best time of 1’35.045 slotting him into P10 and looking good for direct qualification into tomorrow’s Qualifying Practice 2.

All riders set their personal best times in the second free practice session, with the top ten riders all setting their best time on the combination of the harder front and softer rear slick options. The cool track temperature this morning resulted in riders preferring softer option slicks front and rear, before riders gradually switched to the harder option, soft compound front slick tyre as track temperatures increased. Rear tyre choice today was almost exclusively the softer rear slick options for both the works and CRT riders, as planned evaluation of the harder rear options in FP2 was shelved by some riders due to rainfall immediately before the start of the session. Only PBM’s Yonny Hernandez assessed the harder rear slick option today, however more widespread evaluation of the harder rear slicks will likely take place in tomorrow’s FP4 session if warm and dry track conditions are encountered.

The riders will be back on track tomorrow morning at 0955 local time tomorrow (GMT +2) for Free Practice 3 for a final chance to qualify directly for QP2 tomorrow afternoon.

Shinji Aoki – Chief Engineer, Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development Department

“It was good that we had two sessions of dry track time today, though the rain before FP2 did mean some riders weren’t able to try out the harder rear slick options in the afternoon like they originally intended. Track temperatures were quite cool in the morning session but all riders were happy with the warm-up performance of the tyre options we brought here and thankfully today’s sessions were almost incident free. The weather here is always unpredictable and the forecast indicates rain is a possibility tomorrow, so there was a real push to make a good lap time in FP2. In the end, almost every rider set their best lap time on the same combination of the harder front and softer rear slicks, though if we have good track conditions in FP4 I think we will see some riders assess the performance of the harder rear slick options. It is pleasing to see how close the lap times for the top ten riders were today and I think that no matter what the weather brings tomorrow, FP3 and Qualifying tomorrow will be very closely fought.”

More, from a press release issued by Power Electronics Aspar Team:


POWER ELECTRONICS Aspar rider laps tenth fastest to secure Q2 qualification if tomorrow's FP3 is wet whilst his team-mate De Puniet is thirteenth at home track

Not only has the new MotoGP qualifying format intensified the track action on a Saturday but today's free practice sessions at Le Mans showed how it can provide extra entertainment even on a Friday. With local weather forecasts predicting rain tomorrow the teams and riders were keen not to waste a single second today as they banked fast laps in order to secure automatic qualification for Q2, which is reserved for the top ten riders on the combined free practice timesheets. There was close action at the top of the order too, Dani Pedrosa setting the pace but with Márquez, Rossi and Lorenzo all within 0.166 seconds of the Spaniard.

POWER ELECTRONICS Aspar rider Aleix Espargaró met his target, securing the tenth fastest time to guarantee qualification for Q2 should the forecasts be correct. Once again he was the fastest CRT rider on track but even more impressive is the fact that he is only a second off the pace of Pedrosa. Four tenths and three positions further back was his team-mate Randy De Puniet, the Frenchman hoping for continued dry weather tomorrow as he targets front end improvements on his ART machine.

10th Aleix Espargaró 1.35.045 (36 laps): "I am really happy with the job we have done on this first day because in recent years Le Mans hasn't been a good track for me. Last year I was two seconds behind Randy in qualifying but this year we have started out really well. You need to get the bike stopped here because there are so many hard braking zones but we have found a good compromise with the bike in this area this season. I am happy because we are well prepared in case it rains tomorrow. If it does then we will go straight through to Q2. There are a lot of second gear corners here and we need to play around with the ratios a little bit to get the setting just right but we are on the pace, things are going well and we don't want to start wasting time by making unnecessary changes."

13th Randy De Puniet 1.35.447 (40 laps): "I am still not happy with the feeling from the front end but we have worked well here and moved things forward. I am struggling to get the bike stopped and turned into the corners without running wide but if we can improve in this area there are a few tenths there for us. It is really important here to have good confidence under braking. We have also had some rear grip issues this morning but managed to sort them out and now we just need better feel from the front because there are five corners where it is costing us time."

More, from a press release issued by LCR Honda:


Le Mans, 17 May: in dry but cool conditions, MotoGP riders headed out for the first day of practices of the Grand Prix de France with Stefan Bradl lapping in 1’34.299 at the iconic “24 Heures circuit du Mans”. His fastest time, just 0.2s off today’s pace setter Pedrosa, secured him a positive fifth position. The German riding the LCR Honda RC213V has had a disappointing start to his second MotoGP season (with two crashes at the first three races) but a working-well adjustment of his braking system, allowed him to get back to his standard pace.

Stefan: “This morning we have tried an updated braking system compared to the past because we think that the front tyre issue we had in Jerez is due to the braking system. Actually we made a big comparison this morning and, even in the afternoon, we lapped with this new system which gave me a good feeling immediately. We could improve our lap time and I had my standard bike back: this is the bike I like to ride and I am very happy about that. Now we have to work on the tyre life for the race because we are abusing the tyre a bit too much but so far it has been a good opening day for me and the Team”.

More, from a press release issued by NGM Mobile Forward Racing:

Edwards and Corti want to close the gap at Le Mans

The NGM Mobile Forward Racing riders Colin Edwards and Claudio Corti want to close the gap at Le Mans after a very complicated Jerez GP. FTR has provided a new evolution and parts for both riders in order to be in a better position among the top CRTs.

The first results are in and so far both the American and Italian riders are pleased with the FTR evolution. The different components that have been used during today’s free practices have improved the handling of the bike considerably, allowing the pace of the NGM Forward riders and their FTR- Kawasaki bike to improve their lap times. Tomorrow they will both continue to work on the setting of the bike in order to be ready for the qualifying sessions in the afternoon.

Colin Edwards:

“It was an eventful day with the new evolution; swing arm, a lot of things to try today. In the first session we pretty much figured out the new FTR chassis was definitely better. It was mainly a big test day today, trying all different things and we came up with an idea that somehow we need to induce more trail into the bike. I feel like I’m kind of waiting on the front when I get in the corner instead of being a hundred percent confident and forcing it in, I’m kind of waiting on it. We’ve got some ideas for tomorrow, it should be good.”

Claudio Corti:

“Good first day at Le Mans, the feeling with the bike has improved a lot since the last race. The things that we tested at last weeks test in Jerez seem to be working well here. The performance of the bike has not changed dramatically but the handling of the bike has improved and allows me to get to do a fast lap without struggling as much. The engine is definitely there; the top speed is within the fastest CRTs. We have a good base to work on for tomorrow and hopefully be fighting with the top CRTs.”

Sergio Verbena

“Today the weather conditions have been better than we anticipated considering that we expected a first day with rain at Le Mans. This has allowed us to test the new parts that we received for this weekend that should improve/ solve the problems we had in Jerez. Both riders have been very keen to try the new parts and have registered a good pace. Colin maintained a 2.5 second gap with the fastest bike and remained close to Barbera, who at Jerez had been considerably faster than us at Jerez. He still has some trouble entering the corners as smoothly as he would like but we have today’s data to analyze and be ready for tomorrow. Claudio has been very performing; with a .10 second gap from Colin, managing a very good pace. He only needs to find the right setting that will allow him to be faster. “

More, from a press release issued by Ducati Corse:

Encouraging start for Ducati Team at Le Mans

Although rain had threatened for part of the day, conditions were quite good for the first two free-practice sessions of the French Grand Prix, in which Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden put their Desmosedici GP13 machines into the seventh and eighth positions, respectively, in the combined times.

The two Ducati Team riders had finished the morning session in the top five, although it took them until the latter stages of the afternoon outing to lower their times. The gaps between the riders were quite small, with just over a second separating the top ten; Dovizioso and Hayden were .54 and .56 seconds from the leader Dani Pedrosa.

Andrea Dovizioso - Ducati Team, 7th (1:34.578)
“I’m pleased because we’re closer than we have been at the other tracks with our fastest lap, but especially our pace. I managed to do my best time on the final lap of my long run, which is nice. We’re pretty good with the setup, and although we still have to work on the details, I’m happy to be so close.”

Nicky Hayden - Ducati Team, 8th (1:34.590)
“The start to the weekend has been a little more positive than at some of the other races. In the morning we were making good steps in each exit, although not as much in the afternoon. Our lap time was pretty good, but it didn’t come easily, so we need to make the bike calmer in order to be more consistent. We do have some good sections, especially the second sector, but we have to improve on change of direction in the tighter areas. We’ll see what the weather does tomorrow; today could well be some of the only dry track time we get before the race.”

More, from a press release issued by Monster Yamaha Tech 3:

Positive start for Crutchlow and Smith in France

The biggest race of the MotoGP World Championship campaign for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team started in positive fashion for British duo Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith at the historic Le Mans track today.

This weekend’s race is not only the all-important home encounter for the French-based Tech 3 squad, but the popular Le Mans event is sponsored once again by Monster Energy, the high profile American energy drinks company that is the title backer of Crutchlow and Smith’s MotoGP effort.

In extremely cool conditions this morning, Crutchlow was sixth fastest in a closely fought FP1 that saw the top nine covered by less than a second. In higher temperatures this afternoon, Crutchlow remained in sixth position, despite improving his pace by well over 0.5s. A best lap of 1.34.512 was only 0.477s off the best time, the second session proving to be another close affair with the top nine split by just over 0.7s.

Smith was 15th this morning, the British rider getting to grips with the world renowned Bugatti track while also working on the set-up of an updated YZR-M1 chassis which he tested with such positive results in Jerez recently.

He was able to improve by almost 1.5s in FP2 and he rocketed up into 11th place on the rankings with a best time of 1.35.362 that gave the 22-year-old a huge confidence boost ahead of Sunday’s 28-lap race.

Smith’s vast improvement was reflected in the gap to Jerez winner Dani Pedrosa, who led the way in FP1 and FP2. Smith was over two seconds behind Pedrosa this morning but he ended the second session just 1.327s off the quickest pace.

Cal Crutchlow 6th 1.34.512:
“We did not have our best day today and I’m not really happy with how things started this weekend. We experimented quite a lot with the bike and made it shorter and longer but we did not find an ideal setting yet. We have a lot of chatter and not too much grip, so clearly we are struggling quite a bit at the moment because the other guys seem to improve while I feel the same as on the first lap out there this morning. So we still have a lot of work to do tonight and we have to improve in several areas. I’m having an issue with the brakes but we are still confident for tomorrow and I am sure we can improve to put on a good show in such a big race for Tech 3 and Monster Energy.”

Bradley Smith 11th 1.35.362:
“Today was a good first day in Le Mans. I started to feel a lot more confident this afternoon compared to this morning because there was extra grip on track thanks to the higher track temperature. We found almost 1.5s and that’s really positive. I like this circuit a lot, especially with a MotoGP bike and the differences compared to a smaller bike seem to be not that big compared to the other tracks I have experienced so far. I just have to understand the different braking points like in the first corner where I’ve already made three mistakes so far. But now I think I understood where the limit is. But it was a good day and we are closer than usual to the top after day one and I really feel confident with the new chassis, especially on new tyres, so we will work hard tonight and hopefully go straight into the second qualifying session tomorrow.”

More, from another press release issued by Pramac Racing:

At 9:55 this morning, the Ignite Pramac Racing Team garage was ready for the first free-practice session of the French Grand Prix at the Sarthe circuit that also hosts the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Michele Pirro finished his first day as a substitute rider for the Ignite Pramac Racing Team with a best time of 1:35.864. The Ducati Test Team rider had already taken part in the 2013 championship via a wildcard appearance at the Spanish Grand Prix, and he’ll do so again during the next round, at Mugello on June 2, as well as Misano on September 15.

It was a challenging day for the Italian, who has switched from the development version of the Desmosedici GP13 to Ben Spies’ race machine. The goal for tomorrow is to improve the setup in order to lower his best lap time.

Michele Pirro - Ignite Pramac Racing Team
“The day was a bit difficult, as I had some small problems in both sessions. I had to change bikes in the afternoon, but I actually felt more comfortable on the second one. I think that the situation slowed me down a bit. I’m still satisfied because although it’s my first time with the Ducati on this track, and I’m still getting used to this version of the bike, I began gaining confidence. I hope that we’ll also be able to ride in the dry tomorrow so that I can continue to get better. There’s room for improvement, and we must try to get everything set. I’m sure we can do it.”
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