World champion Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha) was perfection personified in the French Grand Prix at Le Mans as he waltzed to a stunning victory over teammate Valentino Rossi and Suzuki Ecstar's Maverick Vinales.
In a 28-lap race of massive attrition — one involving a synchronized 'performance' by Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) — Lorenzo led from start to finish. Not only did he have yet another MotoGP win to celebrate, but he also took over the lead in the title for the first time since round one.
Lorenzo is now on 90pts, ahead of Marquez (85), Rossi (78), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda, 53), Vinales (49) and Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha Tech 3, 47). The next round will be held at Mugello from May 20-22.
"I'm very happy with this victory, because everything has been almost perfect," said Lorenzo. "In the race I knew Marquez had the chance to fight for the victory with me, or if he wasn't very fast, he would have been second or third and that would have meant he would still have kept his first position in the championship, but he crashed.
"Now in the championship three riders scored zero or very little points in one race, so in some way we are starting the championship from zero again after those races, but with us being five points ahead."
While the inch-perfect Lorenzo did as he pleased from pole position, there was action aplenty behind with Andrea Iannone (Ducati Team) the first big name to kick things off when he crashed out of second place on lap seven.
Meanwhile, Rossi was working his way through the pack and was in second by lap 14, and a short time later he was on his lonesome after Dovizioso and Marquez both lost the front end and crashed on the same corner — at the same time.
The incident was just about a carbon copy of a tandem performance by Australia's Mick Doohan and Italian Pierfrancesco Chili at Nurburgring in 1990.
Marquez, who had been pushing to the limit with his bike clearly losing out on acceleration compared to his rivals, managed to rejoin the race where, thanks to the large amount of DNFs (eight), he finished in 13th position to gain a precious three world championship points.
The crashes by Iannone, Dovizioso and Marquez saw Vinales inherit third position for the run home, finally bringing up Suzuki's first podium in MotoGP since Loris Capirossi at Brno in 2010. Suzuki's only victory in the modern MotoGP era was achived by Australia's Chris Vermeulen in 2007.
“Le Mans must be my lucky track because here I hit my first victory in the world championship in 2011 and today I got the first podium in MotoGP," said Vinales. "I like it very much and I was so sorry when I saw I could not push as hard as I wanted in previous days.
"Of course I am very happy for this result, to be the first rider to take Suzuki back on the podium and for the job we have done. Until yesterday I was very worried about the race, but I must thank my crew and all Suzuki’s engineers who didn’t give up and developed a solution during the night that proved to be effective.
"We are doing a very intense job and this podium is a reward for my efforts and those done by the whole crew and company.”
The slow-starting Pedrosa finished fourth, ahead of Pol Espargaro, Aleix Espargaro (Ecstar Suzuki), the returning Danilo Petrucci (OCTO Pramac Yakhnich), Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing Ducati) and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini pair Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl.
Eugene Laverty (Aspar Ducati), Loris Baz (Avintia Racing Ducati) and Marquez completed the finishers, while those to crash included Aussie Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) and his teammate Tito Rabat, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), while Scott Redding (OCTO Pramac Yakhnich) retired wth a mechanical problem.
"It was a disappointing race," said Miller. "We pushed hard with a plan to have a strong weekend in Le Mans and it was looking good but with 10 laps to go I came into corner seven and lost the front.
"It felt normal, like the lap before, not too fast and then I just hit the bump and the bike disappeared from under me. Everyone struggled with the front tyre today and that is what happened to us."
- Jorge Lorenzo Movistar Yamaha, 43m51.290s
- Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha +10.654s
- Maverick Vinales, Ecstar Suzuki, +14.177s
DNF, Jack Miller, EG 0,0 Marc VDS, +11 laps
Pole position: Lorenzo, 1m31.975s = 163.8km/h
Fastest lap: Rossi, 1m33.293s = 161.4km/h
Championship top 3
Lorenzo 90 • Marquez 85 • Rossi 78
Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) didn't put a foot wrong after he passed polesitter and 2015 Le Mans winner Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) on lap seven. As Luthi faded, Italian Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) tried to place the pressure on Rins but could never get close enough to attempt a pass.
Corsi finished 1.8secs behind Rins at the chequered flag, with Luthi third from Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), Takaaki Nakagami (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia) and last start winner Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2).
“I know Corsi was pushing all the time, but the most important thing is to be happy because I won!" said Rins. "It was difficult because my lap timer went out and I couldn’t see the times or the rhythm. I just tried to push, push and push every lap. I’m really happy because we’ve done a good job.”
Rins now takes over the lead in the world championshio on 87pts from Lowes (82) and Luthi (69).
Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP), who announced on the eve of Le Mans that he had signed with Monster Tech 3 Yamaha to go MotoGP racing in 2017, crashed, as did world champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport). Zarco picked his bike up, but finished out of the points in 24th.
- Alex Rins, Paginas Amarillas HP 40, 44m58.624s
- Simone Corsi, Speed Up Racing +2.480s
- Tom Luthi, Garage Plus Interwetten, +8.113s
Pole position: Luthi, 1m36.847s = 155.5km/h
Fastest lap: Rins, 1m42.979s = 154.6km/h
Championship top 3
Rins 87 • Lowes 82 • Luthi 69
A tense four-rider battle raged for the entirety of the race, with title leader Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) coming out on top from Romano Fenati (Sky Racing Team VR46) and Estrella Galicia 0,0 pair Jorge Navarro and Aron Canet.
“Today has been a very good day for me; I am very happy to have got another win," said Binder. "That's two in a row, as well as placing on the podium at every race so far this year, which is fantastic.
"I enjoyed the victory today more than the first one, because I didn't really take in what happened at Jerez until two days later. I tried to pull away, but I saw that today that would not be possible. I knew that if I pushed really hard on the last lap, I could brake a little harder and close the lines well enough to not give anyone a chance of passing me.
"When I overtook Fenati, I set up my exit from the corner before the straight. I saw the opportunity to pass, and I took advantage of it. My intention was to overtake on the main straight, but when I saw the opportunity I closed the door and got this second victory."
Poleman Niccolo Antonelli (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda) and Frenchman Fabio Quartararo (Leopard Racing KTM) were fourth and fifth after losing touch with the leaders at about two-thirds race distance.
Binder incrazaed his lead to 24pts (102 to 78) over Navarro, and Fenati is third on 67.
- Brad Binder, Red Bull KTM Ajo, 41m29.882s
- Romano Fenati, SKY Racing Team VR46, +0.099s
- Jorge Navarro, Estrella Galicia 0,0 +0.387s
Pole position: Niccolo Antonelli, Ongetta-Rivacold Honda, 1m42.756s = 146.6km/h
Fastest lap: Aron Canet, Estrella Galicia 0,0, 1m42.923s = 146.3km/h
Championship top 3
Binder 102 • Navarro 78 • Fenati 67
Next round: Mugello, Italy, May 20-22
Images courtesy of MotoGP.com