Quartararo vs Mir: Le Mans revs up for a battle royale
A home hero, a man on a mission and a finely-poised 2020 title fight. There’s no place like home, but will that prove enough?
Monday, 05 October 2020
Heading into the Catalan GP, four points covered four riders. As we saddle up and head for Sarthe, however, four points is now half the gap from first to second – and that gap is enjoyed by home hero Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT). The Frenchman won in Barcelona to put himself back on top, staking his claim on the 2020 FIM MotoGP™ World Championship crown once again. By the final laps though, it was close, thanks to yet another late pace stunner from Suzuki. And this time, there were two: Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and teammate Alex Rins took a close second and third as they churned through Quartararo’s advantage, and the scene is now set for a showdown of the sophomores at Le Mans. Quartararo 108, Mir 100.
For ‘El Diablo’, there’s home pressure but some home cheer too, and he’ll have to balance that at the same time as the never-ending see-saw of the Championship. Le Mans is a venue tamed to perfection on many an occasion by Yamaha, however, so the omens are good for Quartararo to come out swinging and win on home turf. Can he become the first Frenchman to take to the top step in the premier class at Le Mans and extend his advantage? Mir will be the first trying to stand in his way.
Incredibly, despite being second overall and having taken more consistent podiums than anyone this year, Mir is still yet to win. And the Mayorcan says he won’t be fully locked on to the title as his main target until he’s managed to do so. That’s a pretty clear statement of intent from the Suzuki rider, and if he can show the same form as we’ve now come to expect, he is to be expected in the fight at the front. With a little less work to do from a higher grid position, or even just a better shuffle of the dice at Turn 1, Mir could easily already have been a winner… and the home hero vs the hungry bridesmaid could make one awesome showdown come Sunday. Rins will be hoping to keep his form rolling too – it was over a year since his Silverstone win and the last time he’d been on the podium – and his impressive ride through the field from outside the top ten gave Suzuki their first double podium since 2007. The Hamamatsu factory have also won a MotoGP™ race at Le Mans, although in the wet… in that same 2007.
Quartararo’s fellow Yamahas will be gunning to pin back the Suzuki charge, however. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) had a muted Catalan GP after getting shuffled back at Turn 1 and he lost ground, but he’s a man with serious form at Le Mans, having won in 2017 with an imperious performance. He’s only 18 points off the top too. His teammate Valentino Rossi, meanwhile, will also be out for revenge after bad luck in Barcelona. The number 46 crashed out of second and will want to make amends, but like last time out, both he and Viñales will likely also have Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) for company in the Iwata marque shootout. Bad news for each individual rider with that stiff competition, but great news for Yamaha.
For former points leader Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), however, the venue could be a little less welcoming: Ducati have never won at Le Mans. Now 24 points off the top after getting wiped out early on in Barcelona, the Italian faces a mountain to climb to get back in the hunt. He’ll want to start sooner rather than later, and rake in some solid points as a minimum. Pramac Racing’s Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia will want the same and to take the honour of top Borgo Panigale machine, however, as will Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team). And there’s a Frenchman on a Ducati to contend with too: Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing). The number 5 has known home glory at Le Mans, and he’ll throw everything at it to taste more.
And what of KTM? The Austrian factory had a tougher time of it in Barcelona, although some bad luck also played its hand in that. How will they fare in France? Their impressive step forward in 2020 is illustrated by asking ‘what happened’ after only one race without a KTM on the podium. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) will be aiming to put that right, and rookie teammate Brad Binder will want to iron out some of his troubles since that stunner of a win at Brno. Styrian GP winner Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) can’t be counted out in the charge either, and what can his rookie teammate Iker Lecuona do?
Speaking of rookies, Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) is another who will want more in France. The number 73 seriously impressed in Misano before a more difficult race on home turf, where the more experienced Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) pulled well clear to finish the race as top Honda. Nakagami could be one to watch in France, with the Japanese rider now the only man to have scored in every race so far in 2020. And they haven’t been a run of 15ths – the number 30 is well up there most weekends, only just out the podium fight. Teammate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) impressed on his return from injury as he gritted his teeth to a top ten too – will the Brit manage to make his way further forward in France? And can Aprilia Racing Team Gresini move up the board too? Another test for the Noale factory after Barcelona gives them more data, and they’ll want some more solid points as a minimum as they continue their push forward.
There’s no better way to head into your home race than off the back of a win, but there’s more at stake for Quartararo in the French GP than simply home glory. Another win now would extend that advantage into a little breathing space, and be a serious warning shot for his rivals – all whilst hearing the Marseillaise ring out across Le Mans. But Mir is a man on a mission; Viñales, Rossi, Rins, Morbidelli and more are waiting in the wings… and there are still six races to go in a rollercoaster 2020. Who will reign Le Mans? Place your bets – but be prepared for the odds to change again.
MotoGP™ go racing in France at the slightly earlier time of 13:00 (GMT +2). So save the date – there’s another classic coming your way!
MotoGP™ Championship Standings
1 Fabio Quartararo* – Petronas Yamaha SRT – Yamaha – 108
2 Joan Mir – Team Suzuki Ecstar – Suzuki – 100
3 Maverick Viñales – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – 90
4 Andrea Dovizioso – Ducati Team – Ducati – 84
5 Franco Morbidelli* – Petronas Yamaha SRT – Yamaha – 77
*Independent Team riders
Can Marini’s march continue at Le Mans?
The Italian was superlative in Barcelona. Now it’s time to reset for more in France, can he keep the upper hand?
The Moto2™ momentum has swung a few different ways in 2020. From Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) to Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) to Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and then back again, we arrive at Le Mans for the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France with one man very much in the driving seat: Marini. The Italian is 20 points clear now, and arrives fresh off the back of another superlative win last time out.
So, can he do it again? He explained in Misano that his Achilles’ heel so far in 2020 was more the second time round at the same track, as he felt he failed to make a step to stay in the same contention. If he’s confident straight out the box, Le Mans will be good news for him – with one race and one race only at the classic Sarthe venue.
It’s not been an easy journey for Marini to achieve to his 20 point advantage though. Bastianini has won three races and will want to flex his form again at Le Mans to fight back, and Marco Bezzechi (Sky Racing Team VR46) is an ever-present threat, the ‘enemy within’ Marini’s team. Last time out though, it was Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) bringing the noise, and the Brit is on a charge of his own. At Le Mans, he’ll want to duel it out for the win once again – and this time hope for a little less work to do off the line.
Another rider looking to hit back is Jorge Martin. After sitting out two races, the Spaniard was back in Barcelona but forced to retire in the end, so we’ve not seen his full form on full power. He was the man with the momentum when bad luck struck ahead of Misano too – and there’s even more to write home about now. He’s been announced at Pramac Racing in MotoGP™ next year, so the audition is officially over and now the real show can begin. What can Martin do? He was ominous in Austria…
Plenty of eyes will also be on Termozeta Speed Up’s Fabio Di Giannantonio and Jorge Navarro. The former was back on the podium in Barcelona and the latter only just off it, and the two results brought a welcome end to a tough start to 2020. It’s not just one venue either, as the two have been clawing their way back to the front. What can they do in France?
Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing) was the man who just lost out – after an almighty battle – on that fourth place taken by Navarro, and he’ll want to be back up fighting for the podium again in Le Mans. Add in the likes of rookie Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team), Liqui Moly Intact GP’s Marcel Schrötter and Tom Lüthi and Qatar winner Tetsuta Nagashima (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and it’s sure to be another stellar showdown in the top ten. And what can Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) do as he has more time to get back to better fitness? Can Marcos Ramirez (Tennor American Racing) keep his top ten form? And what about Xavi Vierge and Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing), whose impressive performances in Barcelona were cut short by a crash and a bike problem, respectively?
Marini has the momentum as we arrive at Le Mans, but the cast of characters looking to steal it is chock full of seriously fast riders. Who can come out on top in France? Find out at the later time of 14:30 (GMT +2) on Sunday!
Moto2™ Championship Standings
1 Luca Marini – Sky Racing Team VR46 – Kalex – 150
2 Enea Bastianini – Italtrans Racing Team – Kalex – 130
3 Marco Bezzecchi – Sky Racing Team VR46 – Kalex – 114
4 Sam Lowes – EG0,0 Marc VDS – Kalex – 103
5 Jorge Martin – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 79
Can Arenas strike back in France?
It’s been a tougher time for the former Championship leader of late. Now Ogura is in the hot seat, and Arenas will need to dig deep to turn the tables…
Since the very first race of the season, Albert Arenas (Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3) has been the man in charge in Moto3™, but no longer. After a crash, a fourth place and another crash – the latter not his fault – the number 75 now finds himself demoted to second overall and needing a fight back. Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia) is the new Championship leader, although it was far from plain sailing for the Japanese rider last time out either. So what will Le Mans bring?
For Arenas, a little pressure is certain, but there will also be a host of incredible memories. There’s hardly a better venue to return to when you need a boost than the place where you took your first win, and that’s exactly what the number 75 did at Le Mans in 2018. So he knows it’s a place he can conquer, and he’ll be guns blazing to do it again to take some revenge on his bad luck in Barcelona.
For Ogura, the past form book isn’t really the place to look to know what he’ll have in the locker come race day in France, as he’s only in his second year in Moto3™. Last year at Le Mans when he was a rookie though, he qualified on the front row… so he has speed. The number 79 was somewhat AWOL at Barcelona and even with an open goal after the crash for John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) that also took Arenas down, he was only able to take eleventh. But he didn’t crash. And so far this season, he’s got more podiums than anyone, so it’s hard to bet against the Japanese rider being back in the battle. His advantage is just three points overall, but consistency is key and Ogura has shown that in spades throughout 2020.
For McPhee, meanwhile, it’s another bounce back to pull out the hat, although if you’re going to crash out of a race in which you need to score big to gain ground, taking the Championship leader down with you is one way of making your maths a little less disastrous, even if it does ruin his. That mistake – for which the Scot immediately went to apologise – and the knock-on side effects keep McPhee only 24 points off the top, and he’s is another who arrives in France with great memories. Guess who won at Le Mans last year? That’s right. The last two races in Sarthe have been won by Arenas and then McPhee, adding another interesting little twist into the equation as they both arrive as title contenders.
The battle at the front is never a three-way fight in Moto3™ though. Darryn Binder (CIP – Green Power) arrives as a Grand Prix winner and will want more of that, Tony Arbolino (Rivacold Snipers Team) is on a roll of form and closing in on the top, and Celestino Vietti (Sky Racing Team VR46) is only a further point back on his compatriot too. Barcelona also saw Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) retain his position in the front group after his win at Misano, and there was a resurgence for a few including his teammate Alonso Lopez, SIC58 Squadra Corse’s Niccolo Antonelli, Estrella Galicia 0,0 rider Sergio Garcia, Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) and teammate Jaume Masia… the list could go on, with more riders than can score points sometimes fighting it out in the front group, but that’s what makes Moto3™ such an incredible spectacle.
That’s a good reason to tune in when the lightweight class take on Le Mans, with the race getting underway at the slightly later time of 11:20 (GMT +2). Can Arenas strike back? Will we see the return of McPhee? Or will the rise of Ogura only continue once he’s back in the groove? Find out on Sunday!
Moto3™ Championship Standings
1 Ai Ogura – Honda Team Asia – Honda – 122
2 Albert Arenas – Gaviota Aspar Team Moto3 – KTM – 119
3 John McPhee – Petronas Sprinta Racing – Honda – 98
4 Tony Arbolino – Rivacold Snipers Team – Honda – 95
5 Celestino Vietti – Sky Racing Team VR46 – KTM – 94