The 250cc class were met with cool, misty and damp conditions as their weekend got underway at the newly resurfaced Le Mans Circuit in France, where they met for the fifth round of the Moto3 season.
The track began to dry as the riders took to it for Free Practice 1; the new tarmac ensured it was still grippy despite the damp patches.
A chance to collect vital data
Should conditions change on race day, from damp to dry or dry to wet, the data collected during these sessions in the build-up could be worth their way in gold. Within the first 10 minutes of the session, the majority of the riders had ventured out.
As they familiarised themselves, they initially set lap times that were over 12 seconds off the circuit record lap pace set by Enea Bastianini (Estrella Galicia 0,0) with a time of 1:42.525; although the best ever lap was completed by Efren Vazquez in 2014 when he lapped at 1:42.491.
Our Danny Kent returns to the Moto3
Making a wildcard appearance with the Red Bull KTM Ajo team in Le Mans is British rider, Danny Kent. Following on from parting ways with his Moto2 team, Kiefer Racing, he was soon fortunately offered a test ride from the struggling championship winning team.
The 2015 Moto3 champion, the first British champion since Barry Sheene 35 years previous, was clearly comfortable as 20 minutes into the session, he and Scottish rider, John McPhee (British Talent Team), made it a British one-two on the timesheets as they had managed to lap quickest although still 10 seconds off the pace.
McPhee determined to make up for lost points
Determined to make up for a disappointing weekend in Jerez, McPhee was pushing which stood out as his lap times were over 0.4 seconds than anyone else on track. More than likely still suffering with a damaged digit on his left hand, the two weeks recovery hopefully did him the world of good.
McPhee was knocked off his top spot by Lorenzo Dalla Porta on the Aspar Mahindra Moto3. Shaving a 10th off the Scot’s time, his new lap of 1:52.487 placed him as the quickest man for a few minutes, before along came Kent who was on a flying lap. Kent crossed the line 0.227 seconds quicker which placed him top briefly before Adam Norrodin (SIC Racing Team) took over.
Norrodin’s success was short lived however as McPhee was flying and improved further setting a time of 1:52.137, but then as he began his next lap, he crashed out at turn three when the front folded. He had a low slide and was quickly able to recover and get on with things as both he and the bike avoided the gravel. Then, Kent again joined McPhee in second to once again make it a British one-two.
Kent breaks throught the 1:52 minute barrier
But then Kent was the first to lap under 1:52 minutes when he became the quickest man on track when he lapped 1:51.668 to take the top spot. Dalla Porta and Norrodin also improved further forcing McPhee who had returned to the pits, down to fourth. Nicolo Bulega (Sky Racing Team VR46) then brought himself into the mix as he placed himelf third as the Moto3 riders began to complete their final laps of the opening session.
Joining his temporary teammate, Bo Bendsneyder (Red Bull KTM Ajo) slotted in on the timesheets behind the Brit who decided to end the session early. CIP rookie Marco Bezzecchi then went top as the session ended highlighting potential at the French track. But flying laps from other riders meant his success was short lived.
Norrodin quickest at the end of Moto3 Free Practice 1
It was Norrodin who finished the session on top with a time of 1:5.468 which was still around nine seconds off the pace. A late lap from Niccolo Antonelli (Red Bull KTM Ajo) saw him finish seond quickest meaning that the Red Bull KTM Ajo team had the potential to return to winning ways should everything go to plan over the weekend.
Andrea Migno (Sky Racing Team VR46) was third ahead of Gabriel Rodrigo (RBA BOE Racing Team) who was fourth, and therefore pushed Bezzecchi, as the top Mahindra rider, down to fifth. Bulega was sixth ahead of his former temporary teammate, Dalla Porta in seventh. British rider, Kent finished up the session in eighth ahead of his temporary teammate, Bendsneyder and Aron Canet (Estrella Galicia 0,0) who completed the top 10.
Waterproofs at the ready
It was waterproofs at the ready as the Moto3 class returned to track for their second Free Practice session of the day on a sodden track. It had rained over the lunch break, with the Moto2 class just managing to finish before the showers hit. Although there track was wet, and there was standing water, it was still full of grip having been resurfaced recently.
It meant that riders had to adjust to a full wet set up. As well as dealing with standing water, rainfall, spray and rain sneaking its way into their leathers, riders would have to deal with the glare that came up from the track as the clouds were beginning to shift allowing the sun to come out. It would not make things as difficult as it did in Qatar where the race was almost cancelled under the floodlights, but it wouldn’t be much easier either.
Riders struggling to match earlier lap times
The wet conditions also meant that the riders were again off the pace not only set in the dry, but also that was achieved in Free Practice session 1. Midway through the session, it was Rodrigo who was leading the way having set the fastest time of 1:55.165. Other riders looked set to improve further, for example the likes of 2016 Le Mans Moto3 winner Romano Fenati now with Marinelli Rivacold Snipers.
Antonelli was the first to lap under 1:55 minutes when he went top with 19 minutes to go but it was short-lived as along came Bulega to lap quicker which he celebrated with a wheelie on his next lap. Then followed a surge of quick laps from three riders who were passing through in a tight group led by Joan Mir (Leopard Racing) whose time of 1:54.730 took him to the top of the timesheets for the session; he was followed by Migno and rookie, Ayumu Sasaki (SIC Racing Team).
Norrodin crashes out
With just over 15 minutes of the day for the Moto3 class remaining, Norrodin who was quickest during FP1 crashed out. The Malaysian appeared to be unhurt as he walked to the safety area as his bike was wheeled ahead of him, but then he requested the Marshalls tried to assist him in restarting it so he could return to track sooner.
Bezzecchi looking promising in the wet
Another fantastic lap from Bezzecchi with around 12 minutes remaining once again placed him at the top of the timesheets. The wet always produces some shocks especially in the Moto3 class, and it appeared to be the Italian who was showcasing his talents this time round.
He was being followed on track by Livio Loi who ended up losing the rear of his Leopard Racing KTM on the approach to turn 12 and was thrown off his bike and into the gravel. Fortunately, the Belgium rider appeared unhurt but it was an early end to his day as the bike was damaged.
Kent returned to championship winning form
Wildcard rider, and former Moto3 champion Kent continued to push, and after visiting the top spot several times earlier on throughout the day, he again went top as he improved on Bezzecchi’s time. But then Fabio Di Giannantonio (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) just shaved a mere 0.005 seconds off Kent’s time that was enough to make him quickest so far.
Soon the British rider resumed his place at the top of the timesheet when he improved by another 0.2 seconds. He was running well as was Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) who slotted in behind him in second. Both were running another 0.2 seconds quicker when Kent lost the back end as he began to open the throttle when leaving turn nine and came off the bike ending up in the gravel with a few minutes to go. Rodrigo also crashed out at the same corner of the track around the same time.
Martin claims the top spot
Along came Jorge Martin (Del Conca Gresini Moto3) then became the first rider to lap under 1:53 minutes during Free Practice 2 as he improved on Kent’s time by 0.421 seconds when he lapped at 1:52.874 which made him quickest. The Spaniard was able to improve further on his next lap by 0.158 seconds meaning he finished up FP2 as the quickest man on track with a time of 1:52.716.
On his last flying lap, McPhee had his second crash of the day when he fell down at turn 12. He was slammed down on the track and ended up in the gravel bringing him a disappointing end to a tough day. Fortunately, he was straight up to his knees in the gravel.
Behind leader Martin on the Honda was Kent as the highest placed KTM in second at the end of FP2; his temporary teammate, Antonelli was third quickest at the end of the wet session. Suzuki was fourth ahead of Italians, Di Giannantonio and Bulega. Ramirez was seventh ahead of the highest placed Mahindra, Bezzecchi whose impressive performance in the wet left him eighth quickest overall.
Great save from Migno
After making a huge save as he began to accelerate out of the final corner which saw him thrown up and out of his seat as he nearly lost the rear of his KTM, Migno was ninth after avoiding the crash, Darryn Binder (Platinum Bay Real Estate) completed the top 10.
The heavy rainfall meant that the times from the first practice session were quickest when the times were combined. It meant that despite his crash ending his day early, Norrodin was the quickest man at the end of the first day of proceedings in Le Mans for the Moto3 class.