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Aussie watch ahead of the 2024 French MotoGP™

Matt Clayton
Thursday, 9 May 2024

Heaving grandstands, a raucous atmosphere and one of the most fearsome first corners of the season await Jack Miller, the MotoGP™ grid and a trio of ambitious feeder-class Aussies at Le Mans this weekend.

Thank goodness there was a fortnight from the most recent race in Spain before the French Motorcycle Grand Prix (May 10-12), as MotoGP™ fans the world over needed all the recovery time they could get after the breathtaking fight for the victory between reigning world champion Pecco Bagnaia and Marc Marquez, who took all of four races on a Ducati to remind us that, when he has the machinery, he’s as formidable as ever.

It's too early to tell if we’ll have the two Ducatis scrapping over something meaningful at Le Mans – history would suggest not, given Bagnaia has curiously never even finished on a premier-class podium in France – but what we do know is that Jack Miller is desperate for a result at a venue where he’s always strong, and our Aussie trio in Moto2™ and Moto3™ all have motivation to motor on for round five of the season.

The Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2024 returns to Phillip Island on October 18-20, 2024. Register your interest for all the latest ticket information.

After practicing our Le Mans circuit corner names (Chemin aux Boeufs, the Turn 9-10 chicane, roughly translates to ‘path of the oxen’ if you were wondering), here’s what we’re watching.

Miller’s French connection

Rewind two weeks to Jerez, and Miller met the assembled press pack with a sigh after the race. “Obviously not the day we wanted – I’ve been saying this a lot recently …,” the Australian began after he’d been taken out by Ducati’s Franco Morbidelli in the race, and had taken out his frustrations on the Italian in the trackside gravel trap.

Miller’s mood made sense when you considered his results, which compounded what has become his worst statistical start to a season since he was a rookie with LCR Honda back in 2015. Last year, his first on a KTM, produced 35 points from the first four Grands Prix, excluding the Sprints. After his DNF in Spain? Miller has just 14 points in races – 22 overall, including Saturdays – to sit 14th in the championship.

That’s the bad news; the good is that the 29-year-old has been repeatedly rapid over the years at Le Mans, where he won in 2021 and has qualified no worse than fourth for the past five years. Two of his 23 podiums have come in France; after being stuck on 23 since the Spanish Grand Prix of 2023, this shapes as a weekend where, finally, ‘Thriller’ could shine.

Rookie’s steel matches his speed

Jacob Roulstone earned respect for more than his results in Spain, where two crashes on Saturday in the wet – one a nasty highside – left the Moto3™ rookie battered and bruised before he gutted out a 12th-place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix. The GasGas Tech3 rider went straight to Barcelona after the race to get an MRI and checked over for his wrist and shoulder injuries, but says he’ll be good to go for Le Mans.

Compatriot Joel Kelso, meanwhile, showed how far he’s come in Jerez; the 20-year-old was as annoyed as he was content with his fifth place in Spain, which continued his run of finishing every race inside the top eight so far this season. Tyre consumption stopped his push for the podium two weeks ago, but a productive one-day test session at Jerez on the Tuesday after the Grand Prix saw him bank another 48 laps of data and set-up tweaks ahead of this weekend.

Kelso’s Moto2™ compatriot Senna Agius had a short and painful Spanish GP, the 18-year-old crashing out just two laps in. His early exit made the post-race Jerez Moto2™ test day doubly important, and Agius felt he’d made a “big step” after he lopped 1.7secs off his best lap time from Q1 three days earlier. Agius was 19th at Le Mans last year, and sits 21st in the Moto2™ standings after four rounds.

‘Bez’ is back, and just in time

It’s hard to fly under the radar when you ride a fluoro yellow bike and sport a head of hair like Marco Bezzecchi’s, but the Italian had been largely anonymous in 2024 up until Jerez, where he finished third and had a front-row seat for the Bagnaia-Marquez fireworks.

While he sat largely mute through the post-race press conference as reporters peppered the top two combatants with questions, the VR46 Ducati rider was quick to pay credit to team boss and MotoGP™ legend Valentino Rossi for his help in better understanding his bike’s clutch, with race starts an acknowledged Achilles’ heel. “The clutch of our bike is really tough and it seems like I'm a little bit stupid and I can't be very good every time,” he quipped, adding: “Vale [Rossi] helped me a lot through this part of the weekend, he gave me a lot of advice.”

Somewhere Bezzecchi doesn’t need any assistance is Le Mans, where he took the second of his three MotoGP™ wins last year in dominant style, crossing the line 4.2secs ahead of Jorge Martin. Fast as ‘Bez’ was, last year’s race was curious in that five of the six riders who qualified ahead of him crashed out, including Miller – who had led for eight of the first 10 laps.

French MotoGP™ fast facts
Circuit name/location: Le Mans Bugatti Grand Prix Circuit, France
Length/laps: 4.19km, 27 laps (MotoGP™), 22 laps (Moto2™), 20 laps (Moto3™)
Grands Prix held/debut: 35, 1969
Most successful rider: Jorge Lorenzo (five wins)
2023 podium 1st: Marco Bezzecchi (Ducati), 2nd: Jorge Martin (Ducati), 3rd: Johann Zarco (Ducati)

The 2024 French Motorcycle Grand Prix will be available to watch live on Foxtel and Kayo. See our What time does the 2024 French MotoGP™ start for Australians? article for timings.