MotoGP: Le Mans 2017 Preview

Who will come out on top in France?

MotoGP: Le Mans 2017 Preview
Image credit: Getty Images

The fifth round of the season sees the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 class meet at the Le Mans Bugatti Circuit, France, for what is more than likely set to be another fantastic weekend of racing on the endurance track at the HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France

MotoGP to return to the historical track

Built in 1965, the track has played a vital part in the Grand Prix calendar, as the top class have ran at the host circuit in the sixties; Giacamo Agostini was the first winner in 1969 when he raced with MV Augusta. Unfortunately however, it was removed from the calendar when Alberto Puig had a serious accident that led to improvements being made, but it returned during the millennium year.

The track is difficult to ride; as well as being narrow measuring at 13 metres (43.65 feet), the 4.2 kilometre (2.6 mile) track is made up of 14 corners (five left and nine right) and is ridden clockwise. The longest straight measures a mere 674 metres (2211.29 feet) meaning that bikes that rely on their acceleration, for example the Ducati machinery, may struggle. Both Honda and Yamaha have earned seven victories.

The MotoGP class will run 28 laps, the Moto2 class will run 26 and the Moto3 class will run 24 laps; should the race be stopped early for any reason, the ace should be considered over when 21, 17 and 16 laps respectively have been run.

A lap of the Le Mans Bugati Circuit

The start line comes at the end of the home straight, meaning there is just a short run to the first sweeping right hander in the circuit, that leads straight into turn two. Turn three is the first left, almost right angled, that leads quickly into turn four, a right hand turn that reflects the tightness from turn three.

A short straight leads to an almost straight turn five, before turn six named La Chapelle, brings the riders right back around themselves so they run almost parallel with the fifth turn, and the turn seven does the same so once again the riders double back. Turn 8, Garage Vert, is a boxy corner that creates a tight apex that leads them onto the main straight.

Similar to turns three and four, turns nine and ten make up ‘S’ Chemin aux Boeufs, a chicane that leads them into another short straight. A wide and sweeping chicane is made up of turns 11 (‘S’ Bleus) and 12, before a short run brings the riders to the penultimate turn 13, another right angled right that arrives at turn 14, a similar corner that leads them down the start-finish straight.

There are four main overtaking hotspots at the circuit. The first of those is the chicane of turns two, three and four, turns eight, nine and the finals two corners 13 and 14 will be the places where we are likely to see most of the action come race day.

Lorenzo hoping to return to the podium in Le Mans

At Le Mans, we may see a repeat of a bizarre occurrence that appeared to happen at the last round in Jerez. Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) proved that if you favour a track, you are able to overcome issues you may have come across with your machinery. The Spanish, former MotoGP champion, has struggled since the season got underway, but after taking a more scientific approach, and favouring Jerez, meant he was able to place his Ducati on the podium for the first time since his move to the Italian manufacturer.

Lorenzo has won in Le Mans five times previously, gaining four of the victories with the Movistar Yamaha team (and one in the 250cc class) with whom the track is well suited to. His confidence may come through again however, and once again he may emerge victorious. Lorenzo is the quickest MotoGP rider to have lapped the circuit setting the fastest time last year when he claimed pole with a time of 1:31.975.

Movistar Yamaha also successful in Le Mans

The MotoGP championship is extremely close heading into Le Mans. Movistar Yamaha rider and nine times world champion, Valentino Rossi is leading just two points ahead of his new teammate for 2017, the very fast Maverick Vinales. Hoping to recover from a tough weekend at Jerez, both riders have the potential to bring the Movistar Yamaha M1 to the top step of the podium once again. Rossi holds the official circuit lap record set during the race in 2015 with a time of 1:32.879.

Following them is the Repsol Honda riders Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa won in Jerez after showcasing a master-class of his talents. The 2016 MotoGP champion, Marquez had to settle for second, but they both proved that the Honda is capable of winning in 2017. Both of the Spaniards have also been successful once before in Le Mans with Repsol Honda, with the two both securing three pole positions in the past, but it was Lorenzo who led the way in 2016.

Rookie Zarco is one to watch

However, the one to watch more than likely in France, is the first ever double Moto2 champion, Johann Zarco, who after recently revealing he has extended his contract with Monster Yamaha Tech3 through to 2018 (the best decision that team could make after his performance for them so far), will be wanting to do well on home turf.

The rookie already scared the pack when he led the season opener in Qatar before he unfortunately crashed out after pushing too hard and extending too much of a lead too soon. Five rounds in he still looks as dangerous as ever. He isn’t the only Frenchman out there at Le Mans, Loris Baz (Real Avintia Racing) will also want to do well on his Ducati.

Guintoli returns for Team Suzuki Ecstar

The MotoGP class, will welcome back Sylvain Guintoli to the field, as the French rider will be standing in for injured rookie, Alex Rins aboard the Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR. The team will be hoping for a repeat of their success in 2016 when Vinales brought the manufacturer back to the podium.

What happened last year…

The 2016 round saw Lorenzo win comfortably with a 10 seconds lead over his teammate at the time, Rossi who had made a late surge through the pack to secure a podium. After moving into second o the track, behind him both Marquez and Ducati Team rider, Andrea Dovizioso, went down at the same time thus handing the podium to Vinales, then with Team Suzuki Ecstar. It was double disappointment for Ducati as Andrea Iannone crashed out, and signs began to show of him being removed from the tea to make way for the race winner.

Le Mans circuit resurfaced ahead of the race

The track has been resurfaced ahead of the 2017 round which means that had it not have been for a one day test carried out by Michelin, they will not be completely in the dark when it comes to managing the Michelin Power Slicks in Le Mans. As the French manufacturer return to home turf at the predominantly left handed track, they are less likely to be put under as much endurance as they experience at other tracks because the corners are so sharp.

The French manufacturer will be providing the MotoGP class with the Michelin Power Slick in soft (white band), medium (no band) and hard (yellow band) compound tyres, The front tyres will be made up of an assymetric design as the right hand shoulder will be built up more to deal with the greater number of turns on that side.

Should it rain, as in Europe it is very possible, the riders will have the option of using the Michelin Power Rain tyres in a soft (blue band) or medium (no band) compound. In the past, over the last 15 races that have taken place for the elite class at Le Mans, nine have been declared wet from the start or it began to rain, so it cannot be ruled out.

Keep fighting Nicky Hayden

There is a sombre mood over the paddock ahead of the fifth round of the season, as recently news came through that former MotoGP rider, Nicky Hayden, who made wildcard appearances in substitute on Honda machinery last year, was involved in a road traffic incident. Whilst riding through the coast of Rimini, the American now World Superbike rider, was knocked off his push bike when he hit by the car.

He is said to be in a very serious condition in hospital as he had to be put in an induced coma in order to hopefully aid his full recovery. Our thoughts are with Nicky and his family and friends at this time… keep fighting Nicky.

Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS dominating the Moto2 class

In the Moto2 class, Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) managed to break the winning streak of his teammate, Franco Morbidelli; who followed up his first Moto2 victory in Qatar, with two more in Argentina and Texas, before he crashed out leaving Marquez to collect his first ever win in the 600cc class. The Italian rider remains the championship leader despite his DNF.

Collecting his and his teams’ first ever Moto2 podium in Jerez, was second place Francesco Bagnaia (Sky Racing Team VR46). They were joined on the podium by Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) who is also doing great so far during his new team’s debut season. Mattia Pasini (Italtrans Racng Team) and Luca Marini (Forward Racing Team) were just seconds off challenging.

Plenty of riders in contention of Moto2 victory in Le Mans

In 2016, it was Rins who was victorious in the 600cc class. But with the Spaniard out of the way, it is down to Simone Corsi (Speed Up Racing) and Thomas Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten) who joined him on the podium, to try and finish up there this time too. Luthi has the most Moto2 wins in Le Mans and also has the fastest lap and circuit lap record since 2016 with times of 1:36.847 (2016 pole position) and 1:37.281 respectively.

The only French representation in the 600cc class, is that of rookie Fabio Quartararo (Pons HP 40) who will be hoping to do well on home turf; he is battling for the title of ‘Rookie of the Year’ among seven other riders. Once again, Ricky Cardus will be standing in for Brad Binder with Red Bull KTM Ajo as the South African 2017 Moto3 champion is still recovering from his wrist injury.

After his dispute with Kiefer Racing that caused British rider, Danny Kent to part ways with the team, it was announced that Scottish rider Tarran Mackenzie will replace him for the remainder of the season beginning in Le Mans.

Changes to Technical Regulations for the Moto3 class

Changes were made to the Technical Regulations with immediate effect for the Moto3 class ahead of the fifth round in Le Mans. It is now compulsory that the 250cc class are to use the Bosch LSU 4.9 for the UEGO U2 sensor; a ‘list of recommended engine management features was also modified in response to a request”. Teams are also now permitted to change cam cover gaskets or seals when they begin reassembling engines that have been inspected.

When it comes to sporting regulations for the different class; MotoGP teams are permitted to choose the same bike for the race start should it rain to ensure they have a full fuel tank and the race distance will be reduced by one lap; MotoGP teams also have to don their helmets for the warm-up session when assisting in pit lane when bike changes are rehearsed; for all classes a quick start procedure may be used in a delayed start situation rather than just in interrupted races.

 

Fenati hoping for repeat success

In the 250 cc class, it is Jerez winner, Romano Fenati (Marinelli Rivacold Snipers) who returned to winning ways with his first win for his new team in Spain, that has the advantage as he is the only remaining rider from the 2016 podium still competing in the class. More than likely to repeat his success, Fenati finished second behind Brad Binder, and ahead of Jorge Navarro who have both now moved up to the Moto2 class.

Fenati has been on pole in Le Mans before, so his confidence should be well and truly high heading into the fifth round. He is bound to be up against some tough competition as the highly competitive class will more than likely resume in a tight battle on the French track.

Also hoping to make it double success for the Marinelli Rivacold Snipers team, is Jules Danilo. The French rider, who is the only French representation in the class, will be hoping to score well on home turf.

Mir leading the Moto3 championship

Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) is leading the championship ahead of Fenati. Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) has looked so happy and relaxed yet competitive so far this year, and John McPhee with the new British Talent Team, is more than likely going to want to make up for a disappointing weekend in Jerez that left him with an injury on his left hand.

To stir things up in the Moto3 class, Kent will be making a wildcard appearance with the Red Bull KTM Ajo team, who have struggled so far otherwise, after he was offered a test ride after the Jerez meeting when the teams remained for a day of testing.

The fastest ever lap completed by Efren Vazquez in 2014 remains the quickest time by a 250cc machine at Le Mans with a time of 1:42.491 from when he claimed pole position. Not far off this pace however, Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0) has the official circuit lap record from 2015 with a time of 1:42.525. He is clearly strong here, and hopefully it will help him to regain some confidence he appears to have lacked so far during the 2017 season.

Inspirational event supporting the MotoGP class in Le Mans

A special event will be taking place during the fifth round of the season at the French circuit in Le Mans. We see our MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 riders as heroes who showcase our favourite sport. But there will be more heroes present in Le Mans who will be meeting to race, and who will push the limits even further.

The Di Di (Diversamente Disabili) Bridgestone World Cup will be taking place at the French Circuit. It is an incredible race, and the only race in the world that contains a field of riders with disabilities. Raced last year in Mugello, Italy, the class will line up on the Le Mans Bugatti Circuit to compete for the second round of their racing season. What started out as a small group of passionate yet determined disable motorcycle riders has evolved to what it is today.

Riders testing other limits to fufill their passions

Over 30 riders from all over the world with physical disabilities will be competing in the International Bridgestone Handy Race. Riders with limbs missing, or unable to use limbs, will have bravely worked and fought hard to overcome their difficulties, and test other limits when they continue to perform on two wheels and will race alongside the MotoGP classes in what will prove to be another inspirational round on 600cc machinery.

Each rider will have their machinery specifically modified to suit their individual needs and will more than likely already be competing at local race circuits at club level. Special procedures are put in place to help riders to be provided with as much assistance as needed, with their own safety being ensured throughout the eight lap race that will be run on Saturday 20th May at 17:30 (18:30 GMT) after warm up and qualifying sessions on the Friday.

Best of luck to Brit, Reynolds

In particular, watch out for one rider representing Britain, is Michael Reynolds who will be competing aboard a modified Triumph who won in Mugello in 2016. Injured in a Motocross accident when he was younger, he was left paralysed from the T6 vertebrae down. His determination and skill remained, and he found a way to continue to compete in a sport he loves by competing in road racing; Reynolds has an electric rear brake and gear level on his left handle bar.

The current seated 600cc World Champion known as ‘Wheels 210’ on social media (Facebook) is supported by his proud father who assists and watches on trackside. After witnessing his form during a recent race meeting with Aintree Motor Cycle Club where starts from the back of the grid and had claimed five positions within laps, the lad is bound to do well and we wish him and the rest of the class, the best of luck in Le Mans.

The remainder of the schedule is as follows:

Friday 19th May 2017 (GMT)
Class Time Session
Moto3 08:00 - 08:40 Free Practice 1
MotoGP 08:55 - 09:40

Free Practice 1

Moto2  09:55 - 10:40 Free Practice 1 
Moto3 12:10 - 12:50 Free Practice 2
MotoGP 13:05 - 13:50 Free Practice 2
Moto2 14:05 - 14:50 Free Practice 2

 

Saturday 20 May (GMT)
Class Time Session
Moto3 08:00 - 08:40 Free Practice 3
MotoGP 08:55 - 09:40 Free Practice 3
Moto2 09:55 - 10:40 Free Practice 3
Moto3 11:35 - 12:15 Qualifying
MotoGP 12:30 - 13:00 Free Practice 4
MotoGP 13:10 0 13:25 Qualifying 1
MotoGP 13:35 - 13:50 Qualifying 2
Moto2 14:05 - 14:50 Qualifying
Sunday 21 May (GMT)
Class Time Session
Moto3 07:40 - 08:00 Warm Up
Moto2 08:10 - 08:30 Warm Up
MotoGP 08:40 - 09:00 Warm Up
Moto3 10:00 Race
Moto2 11:20 Race
MotoGP 13:00 Race