MotoGP: Clash Of The Titans To Continue At Le Mans

MotoGP: Clash Of The Titans To Continue At Le Mans

© 2024, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc. From a press release issued By Dorna:

En garde! Prêts? Allez! MotoGP™ descends on Le Mans

Draw your swords and ready for battle as the world’s most exciting sport arrives in Sarthe

Monday, 06 May 2024

After their explosive coming together in Portugal, COTA offered a chance for more fireworks between reigning Champion Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) and eight-time World Champion Marc Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™). Yet it wasn’t to be, as Bagnaia didn’t quite find the pace and Marquez found the limit. But come Jerez, the rivalry was still bubbling and this time round, the pace of each matched the other and only the other. Two riders, two very different statements at stake, and one top step of the podium. It was a clash of the titans, a battle for the ages, and all other superlatives besides. And Bagnaia came out on top.

TO ERR IS HUMAN, TO BOUNCE BACK SUBLIME

Every time the reigning Champion falters – as all will, one day – the questions seem to come quick, despite the #1 never having been lost for an answer. They did after the Americas GP too, but what an answer. Everything seemed written to deliver Marc Marquez a homecoming fairytale, yet the reigning Champion seems to have a response for the #93 that many don’t. He had to find one at Aragon in 2021 to take his maiden win, and he did it again in Jerez. First, elbows out and muscling his way back into the lead. Second, allowing the lunge to sail past him so he could put the hammer down, wring out that fastest lap on Lap 23 of 25, and then keep it on rails to remain unthreatened to the flag. It was a sublime reminder for any who may have needed it. 

That said, after the turmoil Marquez has lived since Jerez 2020, there is sublime to be found even in defeat. A first dry weather podium since 2022, and first with Ducati, would have little right coming tenths behind the reigning Champion on the newer bike – and after both bettered the old lap record – if it were many other riders. So if Bagnaia answered some questions in Jerez, so did Marquez. And the pure enjoyment the #93 radiates at being there – back in the mix, readying that final throw of the dice or that divebomb for glory he’s said he has to try to allow himself to sleep at night? That’s its own statement. To his fans. To his rivals. To his enemies. It’s why he made one of the biggest rider moves in the history of the sport, and it’s paying off. He may be sixth overall but he’s 32 points off the top and he’s only getting quicker. Jerez was a sublime scalp for Bagnaia, but Marquez didn’t win eight Championships by never losing out. He won them by obliging his rivals to need sublime every single week.

ONWARDS & UPWARDS

Championship leader Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) remains so, however. The #89 was looking down the barrel of a potentially monumental points advantage on Sunday in Jerez, but a crash out the lead and the win for Bagnaia – who was ten points closer to him than Marc Marquez – leaves him nursing a much-reduced 17-point lead, and over the #1. It’s still very much Martin’s lead, however, and he’s got at least a little breathing space to try to iron out those scrappy moments and build it back up. Can he? Le Mans has never really been his track, but he’s the points leader for a reason and this season that’s from improved consistency more than pure explosive pace at every venue. Which he’ll likely have at plenty of circuits still to come…

Marco Bezzecchi (Pertamina Enduro VR46 Racing Team), meanwhile, was right back in the mix at Jerez – something that could be key after the Spanish GP was a tougher one last season. As the paddock heads for somewhere that was the opposite – Le Mans, a track he absolutely reigned in 2023 – Bezzecchi is likely feeling a lot more ready to rumble than he was on the tails of a tougher pre-season. Can the Italian cause some trouble – in the best way – at the front this time round too?

Elsewhere on Ducati machinery, Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) will be happier to have beaten Enea Bastianini (Ducati Lenovo Team) to P4 in Jerez, but both will feel they belong closer to the podium, and Bastianini to the win after he’d previously had the advantage on Bagnaia. Franco Morbidelli (Prima Pramac Racing), meanwhile, has building pace but will want Sunday results – and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Pertamina Enduro VR46 Racing Team) is looking for more too after his teammate got back on the podium at Jerez.

SHARK IN THE WATER

At KTM and GASGAS, there’s plenty to talk about, and first it has to be rookie Pedro Acosta (Red Bull GASGAS Tech3). A Sprint podium at Jerez in front of a rapturous crowd was another notable result, with the stage seemingly set for Sunday. But a big crash in Warm Up – rider ok – and then some adventures during the race saw him forced to fight back from down the order to complete the top ten. What does he have at Le Mans? Last year in Moto2™ it saw him make a mistake that still angered him by the flyaways – one his track record says he’s unlikely to repeat.

Meanwhile, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) will want a smoother weekend after a couple of expensive tumbles of late, but Sunday at Jerez saw the South African take another good haul of points. He’s not here for that though, he’s here for glory. For Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) it’s a case of finding that staying power at the front, and for Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull GASGAS Tech3) it’s try and replicate his storming performance to P4 in France last year.

ACE UP THEIR SLEEVE?

After his showstopper at COTA, Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) had a tougher Jerez. Conditions in qualifying put Aprilia on the back foot, then he was (one of many) Sprint crashers, and then he got beaten by Miguel Oliveira (Trackhouse Racing) on Sunday. But the Spanish GP probably isn’t a benchmark to judge COTA as an outlier. That will more likely come at venues like Catalunya, Silverstone, Misano, Phillip Island… and Le Mans? It wouldn’t be a shock to see Viñales pulling out another ace card in France. He knows what it takes to win at the venue, and under some serious pressure.

For Aleix Espargaro, meanwhile, it’s been a tougher season so far and Le Mans proves the next opportunity to start rebuilding that, just as at Trackhouse, it seems Oliveira did just that in Jerez. He came home as top Aprilia in the GP race and will want to build on that as silly season starts to ramp up, putting some pressure on the factory riders. Teammate Raul Fernandez also found some positives in Jerez but more will be sought in Sarthe as he aims for the top ten week in week out.

HOME HEROES LOOKING FOR MORE

Yamaha had a tougher Jerez, although there was a surprise – they would agree after a tough qualifying – result in the Sprint for Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) of P5 despite that penalty. Sunday was a tough one though as El Diablo could only rescue 1 point after starting right near the back, and teammate Alex Rins was ahead too. 

At Le Mans, there will be the standard goals: improve their pace, work on that qualifying speed, get a better position on the grid as a starting point. But it’s also home turf for France’s first ever premier class World Champion and Quartararo will want to reward the crowd’s devotion – and most definitely beat his teammate this time around.

At Honda, there was talk of a new direction at the Jerez Test, and they put in plenty of laps. They’ll be hoping they can start to dig in and move forward, although there were some positives from the race weekend as Joan Mir (Repsol Honda Team) finished as top Honda in P12, ahead of both factory Yamahas. Still, Mir, teammate Luca Marini, Takaaki Nakagami (IDEMITSU Honda LCR) and Johann Zarco (CASTROL Honda LCR) want more. For Zarco too, a late crash in the Sprint robbed him of some good points, and Sunday saw some scuffles hampering his progress – so he’ll be absolutely pushing on home turf to give the fans a show. 

The fans at Le Mans will most definitely reciprocate as the packed grandstands prepare to welcome MotoGP™ back to Sarthe. It’s a classic for a reason and with rivalries bubbling, the Championship gap closing and track records providing some interesting reason, you don’t want to miss it – so make sure to tune in for the Michelin® Grand Prix de France!

TISSOT SPRINT: 15:00 (UTC +2) on Saturday

GRAND PRIX RACE: 14:00 on Sunday

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