Disaster struck for nine times world champion, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) at the worst time as he was pushing hard to claim what would have become Yamaha’s 500th Grand Prix win had he managed to pull it off.
It was clear that Rossi felt incredibly disappointed as he appeared overcome with emotion as he watched his victory in Le Mans slip away when he crashed out on the final lap after an intense race at the endurance circuit.
Front row start for the Italian
Qualifying second on the grid behind his teammate, Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) and ahead of French rookie, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech3) who helped to make it Yamaha one, two, three on the front row, Rossi initially did not get the best of starts as he lost positions as they powered through the opening turners of the race. However, the Italian soon recovered one position a little later round the opening lap when he passed 2016 MotoGP champion, Marc Marquez Repsol Honda).
He continued on and ahead of him, Vinales who initially led was passed by Zarco much to the delight of his home crowd, and so Rossi’s attention was focusing on passing his teammate. Knowing he was under pressure, and wanting to return to winning ways and despite running wide, Vinales pushed on and passed Zarco whose soft tyre compounds on both the front and rear began to under-perform.
Perfect pass from Rossi through the chicane
Rossi instead turned his attention to Zarco. The Frenchman, knowing he was under pressure responded by lapping quicker, however by lap 22 of the 28 lap race, Rossi had caught right up and on turn three of the next lap, passed the rookie to take second. He was so graceful as he glided through the chicane of turns three and four passing Zarco with such elegance on the M1.
By the next lap, Rossi had caught right up to Vinales and in turn created a gap behind him between him and Zarco. Setting personal best lap times he closed the gap further and with three laps remaining he repeated the move on Zarco, on his teammate in not quite as lovely a manner, but amazingly he managed to once again make the M1 turn with ease through such a small gap on the track.
Rossi leads in Le Mans
Rossi, now leading, pushed on to get to the finish line but Vinales stuck with him. It remained this way until they complete the final laps. On the penultimate lap, Vinales ran wide and onto the run-off area of the track; he returned to the race behind Rossi having managed to avoid a crash and making contact with his teammate, but having possibly gained a slight time advantage from the ‘shortcut’.
Aware he was under intense pressure knowing his teammate was fast, Rossi began the final lap of the race with only a slight gap between him and Vinales. Then he made a mistake, running wide on track creating a small space that Vinales was able to benefit from and the Spaniard slipped through to take the lead.
Disaster strikes for the nine times world champion
A frustrated Rossi did what he could to respond quickly, and chased his teammate round the short track trying to make up for his error. Becoming overly keen, he accelerated a little too early when exiting turn 11 on the last lap and he crashed out of the race… there were only three corners to go!
Fortunately unhurt, he ran to his bike and tried to rescue it from the gravel trap. He had no choice but to witness the rest of the pack ride past him, knowing that each one that passed would be finishing the race, and in turn taking more and more points from him as he wasted time in the pit.
He was overwhelmed with emotion as he realised that nothing could be done. His race was over, he was out of it, not only had he threw away the chance of earning 25 points, or even 20 points by finishing second, he lost his championship lead. The Italian is in pursuit of his 10th title, something the 38 year old wants more than anything.
Rossi’s emotion was clear as he pondered the result
The passion and fight in the ‘older’ rider has in him was clear to see as he ended up having to quit trying to get his bike to start; the on-board camera caught his eyes welling up with tears. He finally gave up, and ended it stood at the side of the track with his head on the tank, absolutely gutted.
Collecting a DNF in France, five rounds in meant that he left with not one single point. Vinales won the fifth round, and the 500th Grand Prix win for Yamaha and walked away with 25 points. It means he instead now leads the championship with 85 points, 17 points ahead of now second place man, points Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) who collected 16 in Le Mans when he finished third.
That takes Pedrosa to 68 points and so Rossi is now third in the championship as he remains on 62 points. Behind him, Marquez remains fourth with 58 points as he too also crashed out of the race earlier on.
Rossi’s thoughts on the outcome in Le Mans
Rossi felt that it was “a great shame” as he thought that for his team “it was the best weekend of the season” where he knew he was “more competitive on the track, also in the wet, but especially in the wet”. He felt that “for sure” for him that a victory in Le Mans “could have been the best result of the season”.
Discussing the race he said it was “very difficult” as at the endurance track the “pace was always very high” however he found that “at the end [he] felt comfortable on the bike” and had “a good feeling” and so he “tried to attack”.
Then he talked about the build up to the incident that left him so emotional. “Unfortunately” he explained that on the last lap he “made a mistake in turn six” which meant he “fell back a little” and that Vinales could overtake him. However, he “knew he had another chance” as he and Vinales were “very close” and so he “tried to remain there” knowing that in “sector 4 [he] was good”.
Rossi unable to understand where it all went wrong
He then said, “sincerely, what happened during the crash, we don’t understand”. He explained how “usually you have to pay attention to the front” but he noticed that he “lost the rear when [he] crashed”. Trying to reassure himself he said, “Anyway, I made a mistake, and it’s like this.”
He felt that it was a “great shame to go back home with zero points”. He was “very sorry” after the race for “missing out on the probable victory” and also for “losing the lead in the championship because [he] lost points”.
Still, for him he felt it had been “a good weekend” as he found that he “was strong”. Instead he tried to switch his attention saying they “have to start thinking about the next race track” which is in Mugello a fortnight later, where he hopes to “ride there like [he] did this weekend” and to “continue like this”.