The French look forward to Le Mans

Ahead of the Le Mans GP, we look at what the fifth round of the MotoGP means to the French representatives in the MotoGP field.

The French look forward to Le Mans
Loris Baz is one of several French riders looking forward to the weekend's GP. (Photo: Tony Goldsmith)

The fifth round of the 2016 MotoGP season is set to take place at Le Mans, France this weekend. The French round is home to tyre manufacturers Michelin, MotoGP Avintia Ducati rider Loris Baz, 2015 Champion Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) and is the home GP of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team represented by Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith.

Michelin ready for everything at home GP

Riders expressed more concerned after the fourth round of the MotoGP about the performance of the rear tyre with many speaking of the tyre “spinning” and speaking of the sensation that they felt they were riding in wet conditions. Ahead of the round at Le Mans Nicolas Goubert, Deputy and Technical Director of the MotoGP programme for Michelin spoke of how the “weather is often unsettled for Le Mans” and that everyone involved has to be “ready for everything” including varying weather conditions.

He said that “Le Mans is a circuit is low on grip” and so after complaints and results from previous rounds he does not “expect wear to be an issue” on the Michelin rear tyres. Instead he feels that the “chief difficulty is covering the wide spectrum of possible conditions”.

Speaking of how the fifth round at Le Mans is the home Grand Prix for them, Piero Taramasso, Manager of the Two-Wheel Motorsport Group feels that the “weekend is very important” and that they all feel the need for success here. Because of this, “many guests from Michelin” will be present over the weekend to “support”, and he also is looking forward to “the backing of the French fans” who he feels will hoping the tyre manufacturer will succeed at the track. He said, “Michelin is such an important name in France and one that its people are very proud of.

Speaking of the varying weather conditions, Taramasso confirmed there will be “a wide range of tyres available” and is optimistic that they will be able to “meet whatever conditions we encounter at the circuit”. Despite the weather he ensured, “We will be ready and doing all we can to make sure the race is as exciting as it can be”, he also hoped that “the big crowd that is expected gets to see the best of Michelin”.

Can Michelin impress in their home GP? (Photo: Reuters)
Can Michelin impress in their home GP? (Photo: Reuters)

Baz reminiscing about his childhood

Baz has spent the days in the run up to the meeting reminiscing around France as one of several riders who ventured down to the Chateau de Lude, Sarthe, Pays-de-la-Loire; a château built between the tenth and eleventh century, inhabited by the same family for two hundred and sixty years, after it was originally a military stronghold. The riders dressed in costumes relevant to the Renaissance and were able to absorb the history that the location had to give.

Baz was also present at the pre-race press conference where he reminisced about his childhood experiences at Le Mans, when he used to go as a child to watch the GO and to “push Randy (De Puniet) riding in the 250s”. He is very fond of his memories and is now “really happy” as he said “I’m on the grid with these guys”. He described this as an “amazing feeling”, saying “I know where I come from and manage to enjoy it a lot”.

Difficult start to the season for Baz

Baz has had a difficult start to the season since joining the Avintia Ducati team; he crashed out of the first two rounds, claimed fifteenth at the Circuit of the Americas, Austin and thirteenth at the Circuito de Jerez, Spain. Despite being able to “score some important positions in Argentina and Texas” the Frenchman feels they were “missing some luck, especially in Argentina”. Remaining optimistic Baz said, “In the end this is racing and maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong moment.

Analysing Jerez, he spoke of how an incident at turn six left him restarting from the rear of the grid which he felt “changes the whole race”. However in front of his home crowd Baz said, “Hopefully I can score the first top ten this weekend, that’s the target.

Zarco’s target to remain champion

Zarco was also present with Baz at the Chateau de Lude and the pre-race press conference. Zarco remained in the Moto2 class with “no regrets” as he feels he is “learning a lot” despite winning the 2015 Moto2 Championship.  He described being champion as “fantastic” and spoke of how it is “another target to be champion again and win races”.

Zarco is currently third in the championship with fifty six points (Federal Oil Gresini Moto 2 rider Sam Lowes is currently leading with seventy-two points). His only win so far this season came in Argentina. Speaking of how he has found it difficult so far he said how he feels this is “when you learn the most”.

Zarco adds to transfer speculation

Opening up more speculation surrounding riders’ movements around the paddock from team to team as contracts expire and replacements need to be found for certain teams, Zarco spoke of his “hope to be with Suzuki in 2017”. Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha) confirmed a two year contract with Ducati leaving his space available at Movistar Yamaha. Speculation then turned to Maverick Vinales who is suspected to make the move from Team Suzuki Ecstar to replace Lorenzo.

If this occurs then his seat in the Suzuki team will become available; Suzuki will only have their two factory riders competing next year after talks among teams of the twenty-fourth bike in the field fell through. Having “found a way with Suzuki” after testing their MotoGP bike in Japan and being asked to compete in the 8 hours of Suzuka, Zarco spoke of how he has “ a good feeling with the road bike”.

Zarco spoke of his targets during the remainder of the season to “prove what I can do and go in MotoGP”. However he confirmed that the testing does not “yet” mean that he has a place with them, but he said, “If they give me this opportunity, it’s not to be with another brand.”

Folger to join Monster Tech3 Yamaha in place of Smith

If this change happens Zarco will be the third rider to progress from the Moto2 class as Lowes has a place with Aprilia and it was today confirmed that Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact Moto2) will be replacing Bradley Smith at Monster Yamaha Tech 3. Speaking of this, the fifth round at Le Mans is the home GP of the French run Monster Tech 3 Yamaha Team. Folger was present to announce his decision to sign a one year contract with the team commencing in 2017.

Espargaro wants to make his team proud at home

Folger will join Pol Espargaro (for now) who is currently the leading rider among the independent riders in the MotoGP field. The Spaniard is fifth overall in the MotoGP championship after finishing eighth in Jerez (also as the fastest independent). Espargaro is “looking forward” to doing his best at Le Mans and hoping to make “the team proud at their home Grand Prix”.

Describing the circuit as “one of the most famous in the world” he spoke of how he does “enjoy riding it every year” and how he has “some fond memories” at the French circuit which includes his fourth place finish in his rookie season with the Tech 3 team after qualifying second. Remaining realistic, he said he is “under no illusion that it will be easy to achieve this result again” as he feels the “competition level has risen this year”, despite this he said he will “give it everything”.

Espargaro feels he “made some positive steps” after the fourth round at Jerez and the test day that followed. Having made changes to the suspension and the setup he is “excited” to see what he can achieve in France after making what he feels to be “valuable discoveries”.  Despite the varying weather which he described as a “tricky factor” at Le Mans, he hopes the “skies stay clear for this weekend” yet said, “In any case I am excited and ready to get the show going in France”.

Smith determined to do well for important team fixture

Teammate Smith has had what he described as “quite challenging” so far but said he is “determined to turn things around in Le Mans”. The race is not only home of his current team but sponsored by monster that also sponsor them.

Comparing the weather to England, the Brit said, “Whether it’s wet or not I am going to do my absolute best and hopefully we get the bike set up well on the opening day in order to be in a good position to fight for the top independent place on Sunday.” Smith spoke of how he is “keen to get going” and is confident having “ran well at Le Mans last year”. He is hoping to “Give the Tech3 fans something to cheer about!