Tour de force: Quartararo & Zarco head the charge in Sarthe
The home heroes head the ranks as MotoGP™ returns to historic Le Mans
It’s what we’d been waiting for since the start of the season and at Jerez, it was finally delivered: a showdown between the top two in the 2021 Championship and the duo tipped to fight it out again for the crown this season. And in the end, Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) couldn’t quite find an answer for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), with the Italian back to his serene best and back on the top step for the first time this season. Now it’s home turf for the reigning Champion as we head for the SHARK Grand Prix de France though, so will we get a repeat or can the rest close that fairly sizeable gap behind the duel last time out?
Last year, the weather made it a different challenge and the challenge was met by Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) as he made it back-to-back wins in a flag-to-flag spectacular. The year before a Ducati was also victorious, in the full wet, as Danilo Petrucci took to the top step. A Ducati – or more than one – was on the front row each time too, with the Borgo Panigale factory showing all-weather pace at the venue and that a threat in itself… but we’ve never seen Bagnaia on full song – the form he found from the latter half of 2021 – take on Le Mans, so that may well be a hand Ducati have not yet been able to play at the track.
Home hero Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) will also be pushing to the maximum, having been on pole and the podium at the venue but never the top step. That’s true of more than just Le Mans as he searches for that elusive first premier class win, but on home turf he’s come close and this year the Frenchman will be one to watch again. An inconsistent start to the year could mean his mentality goes either way: there’s a little less to lose so it’s full gas, or there’s an even bigger incentive to settle for a safer points haul. We’re about to find out which he’ll choose…
Teammate Jorge Martin, meanwhile, needs some points. When the number 89 has put it together he’s been fighting at the front, but he’ll want a finish this weekend as he fights to recover in the standings from some DNFs. Bagnaia and Martin started the season with some similar hurdles – not least that incident in Qatar – but the number 63 is already into the top five overall on his recovery mission. Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™), in the battle of the sophomores, will also want to bounce back, although the Italian remains third in the Championship as it stands. Can he pull something out the locker in Sarthe?
Quartararo, however, will be the star of the show. The Frenchman’s stated 2022 mentality is to fight for fifth, seventh or 14th like it’s for the win, and he’s more than bearing that out on track as he proves a lonely Yamaha at times in the upper echelons – and he’s now extended that hard-fought Championship lead. He’s been the fastest rider at Le Mans with some impressive – and popular – pole positions already, and he’s finished on the podium, even in that flag-to-flag. But the best laid plans of El Diablo have not been simply podium pace. Until the weather has intervened, they’ve been an assault on the win… so will 2022 be his year?
Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) and Andrea Dovizioso (WithU Yamaha RNF Racing) continue to struggle to cut that gap to Quartararo, the former with similar experience on the Yamaha and the latter trying to leverage his experience elsewhere to push himself forward. Can they start to build back up in France?
For Aprilia, meanwhile, every weekend is a positive one for Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing), it seems. The podiums keep on coming and those concessions are now a thing of the past, with the project reaching full circle as the Noale factory join their competitors. Will that have an effect? If it does it will be a while in showing, and in the meantime the grid have a very fast, very consistent pairing of Aleix Espargaro on the RS-GP to contend with. He’ll be aiming for the podium once again, and teammate Maverick Viñales will be aiming to move forward again too. The starts are one key focus for the factory, can they take a step forward there after the test in Jerez?
Since that test in Jerez, Suzuki have been in the headlines off track, but on track the Hamamatsu factory team will retain that singular focus of taking to the podium and top step. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) had a dip in form in Jerez and a run off put paid to the kind of recovery we saw at COTA, but the number 42 remains fourth in the Championship and equal on points with Bastianini just ahead of him. We’ve seen some fearsome wet weather speed from Rins at Le Mans, can he bring that come rain or shine, and all the way to the finish line? For teammate Joan Mir, meanwhile, that bad luck in Portugal became a solid but not podium-threatening ride in Jerez, and the 2020 Champion will want more. Qualifying also remains a more difficult task for both Rins and Mir, so Saturday will once again be a key focus.
As 2022 goes on, so does Honda’s push with the new RC213V. The all-new bike started life on the podium and it’s since been a tougher season, but taking a fresh philosophy to race-day ready – and MotoGP™ race-day ready – is no mean feat, and it’s a long term commitment. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was back to his old tricks in a couple of ways at Jerez too; first in being the lead Honda by some margin and second, fighting for the podium with his elbows out and down in a spectacular and classic save. The number 93 said just before Jerez that it’s about making the package all work together – including the rider – and Sunday seemed to say a step had been made. As with nearly every venue, Marquez is no stranger to the top step at Le Mans either.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) arrives a little off fully fit after hurting his knee ligaments in testing, Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) wants to make s big step forward and Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) – who’s had some serious form at Le Mans including that wet-weather rookie podium – will want more Portugal form than Jerez. What can they do , and has Marc Marquez made a break from his fellow Honda riders with the new machine?
Finally, Jerez was a tougher one for KTM. After the Algarve was a solid ride and result for Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) but a first crash out in nearly a year for teammate Brad Binder, the South African turned the tables again in Spain but neither were in the postcode they’ll want. After having won multiple races in the wet and dry, with both riders, KTM won’t settle for being denied the podium fight. A new, eyebrow-raising exhaust was spotted at the Jerez test as the most outward sign of their push to regain ground, although the factory also reported they’d be trying something that would be a little harder to see. Can they make another step forward in getting that consistent form in France?
The SHARK Grand Prix de France will be a headline-maker for more than just Quartararo and Zarco, although the crowd is pretty much guaranteed to be partisan. Can Bagnaia, MIller, Marquez or more spoil the party? We’ll find out at 14:00 (GMT +2) on Sunday, so make sure to tune in!
MotoGP™ CHAMPIONSHIP: TOP 5
1 Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) – Yamaha – 89
2 Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) – Aprilia – 82
3 Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) – Ducati – 69
4 Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) – Suzuki – 69
5 Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) – Ducati – 56
Moto2™: the chase is on at Le Mans
With three of Vietti’s key rivals locking out the podium in Spain, it’s very much game on in the intermediate class
The drama in Portugal seemed to send a shockwave through the Moto2™ World Championship, but Jerez saw the situation change again and not in favour of points leader Celestino Vietti (Mooney VR46 Racing Team). The Italian came home sixth and didn’t get in the podium fight, with that instead proving a three-way battle between Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), Aron Canet (Flexbox HP 40) and Tony Arbolino (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) – aka the three riders closest behind Vietti in the title fight. Will they make up more ground at Le Mans?
Ogura will arrive confident from his first Moto2™ win, and his first win in any class. It’s been a consistent and impressive journey for the Japanese rider in the World Championship, having fought for the title in Moto3™ and taken a podium as a rookie already in Moto2™, but that tick in the box was missing, presumed soon. Now it’s a done deal, and his pace was also a warning shot as he moves into second overall and now just 19 points off Vietti. Arbolino was also an impressive sophomore performer in third, hammering home his 2022 form and still only a point behind Ogura, so can they keep that rolling at Le Mans? Past form seems to matter little to both, with 2022 a whole new ball game, but Arbolino was nearly on the podium there last year.
Canet, meanwhile, was a headline unto himself. After that radius and finger fracture suffered in Portugal, the Pons rider didn’t know if he’d be able to take part in the weekend, but in the end came home second and gained a good chunk of ground on Vietti. The pain barrier was real but the Spaniard rode through it, and now there’s a little more time to have recovered ahead of Le Mans. Consistent speed is what he lacked before in Moto2™, now he has it in spades… so surely the Spaniard sees France as just another chance to fight for that podium and cut that gap – and another chance to push for that maiden Moto2™ win.
There are plenty more fast faces suffering a mix of bad luck and trouble in 2022 who may be able to get in the mix though: Augusto Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo), Jake Dixon (Autosolar GASGAS Aspar Team), Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team), Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) names but a few. Can they home back in on that podium?
The gap after Portugal seemed like a mountain for the competition, but in just one race there was a reminder how quickly it can disappear with a sixth place vs a podium packed with key rivals. Vietti will want to hit back and he’ll have chance on Sunday at 12:20 (GMT + 2), so tune in for Moto2™ at the SHARK Grand Prix de France!
Moto2™ CHAMPIONSHIP: TOP 5
1 Celestino Vietti (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) – Kalex – 100
2 Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) – Kalex – 81
3 Tony Arbolino (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) – Kalex – 70
4 Aron Canet (Flexbox HP 40) – Kalex – 69
5 Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) – Kalex – 57
Moto3™: will it be full GASGAS in France?
After a grandstand finish and a 1-2 on home turf for the Aspar Team, Le Mans awaits – with another final corner that tempts a showdown
Izan Guevara (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) pulled a genius rabbit out the hat to take his first win of the year in Jerez, heading round the outside of the final corner to outfox the rest. In doing so he underlined his impressive form in the World Championship – and in 2022 so far – and brought himself a few points closer to the top. But the top remains in the hands of more veteran teammate Sergio Garcia, with the Spaniard playing arguably the right cards in Jerez but coming up just short – nevertheless extending his lead over closest rival Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing). Next up it’s Le Mans, and the final corner at the French venue offers another opportunity for those whose ambition is matched by their talent. So does anyone have an answer for the duo this time out?
Last season the weather put paid to a more usual Moto3™ showdown, and that will once again be a key consideration as Le Mans can be one more prone to rain. Even then though, Garcia won it and by more than a couple of seconds, so there’s no salvation coming from the weather for those looking to cut the gap. Foggia, with a more difficult record in the wet, will be one hoping it’s dry, and the Italian’s record at the venue doesn’t pencil it in as a key target for a place to make up ground either – so it could be damage limitation.
Guevara’s track record, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to have mattered much so far this season as he’s been fast everywhere, although Jerez is a track where the number 28 has more experience. Tracks like Le Mans are a good place to prove the step forward. For Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo), who’s now on quite a podium run, it’s another chance to prove his consistency too, with the veteran having taken a rostrum at Jerez for the first time to secure another top finish. Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech3), meanwhile, will likely be tired of taking fourth and fifth – and the Turk can usually be relied on to try that move. Now he needs to make it stick, and on the team’s home turf.
Ayumu Sasaki (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) is another to watch after the Japanese rider turned a back of the grid penalty into a sixth place finish, with super speed once again. His teammate – and former Le Mans winner – John McPhee is hoping to be back on track too, and the Scotsman was already feeling ready to give it a shot in Portugal. He’s the only rider in the field to have won at the track from pole.
Rookies Daniel Holgado (Red Bull KTM Ajo) and Diogo Moreira (MT Helmets – MSI) will be aiming high too after two more solid finishes, and home hero Lorenzo Fellon (SIC58 Squadra Corse) is hoping to be back. He missed the Spanish GP after a shoulder dislocation on Friday.
It’s now 21 points of advantage for Garcia at the top, and that’s only to Foggia. The Italian, and Honda, will be hoping to find something more for the French GP to stop that growing – especially after rookie Scott Ogden (VisionTrack Racing Team) was the lead Japanese machine home last time out. Find out what they have in the locker when the lights go out at the French GP at 11:00 (GMT +2) for Moto3™.
Moto3™ CHAMPIONSHIP: TOP 5
1 Sergio Garcia (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) – GASGAS – 103
2 Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) – Honda – 82
3 Izan Guevara (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) – GASGAS – 73
4 Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) – KTM – 70
5 Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) – KTM – 63