Le Mans hosts the 1000th Grand Prix in history, with the home heroes in the spotlight and the competition closer than ever.
This weekend, history is guaranteed. 999 events later, motorcycle Grand Prix racing celebrates a huge milestone at Le Mans as the world’s first motorsport World Championship hits 1000 Grands Prix. There are far more than 1000 reasons to watch… but we’ll go through a few!
The Championship is tight on the way in as the Tissot Sprint continues to shake up the form book – for some at least – and thrill the grandstands on Saturday. Reigning Champion Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) is back in the hot seat with the points lead after a tough weekend for Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team). KTM are on fire as Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) now matches Bagnaia for Sprint wins – and nearly matched him on Sunday too. His teammate Jack Miller is right in the mix. Aprilia are close to the top but haven’t converted that pace yet. Honda have already won this season, but Jerez was back down to Earth. Yamaha? Yamaha are looking for more, and Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) too – as well as a little luck.
So here we go! Welcome to Sarthe and one of the most hallowed venues in motorsport. As we said, history is guaranteed!
DUCATI LENOVO TEAM
It’s a question that’s been asked of Francesco Bagnaia a few times already: can he bounce back? The answer has, as yet, never been no. A year ago it was after sliding out at Le Mans when chasing now-teammate Enea Bastianini, then it was after the German GP. And again. Fast forward to COTA 2023 and the question still got asked. But the answer in Jerez was once again yes, and in some style. It was a stunning weekend pushed to the limit by the Red Bull KTMs, and it was a weekend to remind people how Pecco got that #1 plate. On pole at Le Mans last year, surely he arrives into the weekend this year as the favourite.
For Bastianini though, it’s another event on the sidelines. And in his place? A former Le Mans winner: Danilo Petrucci. ‘Petrux’ arrives from WorldSBK in Barcelona and will likely need a little time before getting anywhere near up to speed, but he’ll certainly be an interesting addition. It isn’t *that* long since the Italian was plying his trade at the front in the premier class, after all…
MOONEY VR46 RACING TEAM
From the highs of the first few races, Jerez was a somewhat back down to Earth moment for Mooney VR46, but Le Mans is another bite of the cherry. Marco Bezzecchi will be aiming to get back on the podium once again – and gain back that Championship lead – and teammate Luca Marini will want to get back into that leading postcode after both were a little AWOL in Spain. Le Mans suits the Ducati though – as if anywhere doesn’t, to be fair – so it will be no surprise if the VR46 crew get back to big impressions this weekend.
RED BULL KTM FACTORY RACING
Well, well, well. In the words of the inimitable Jack Miller, “ha! Where’s the KTM now?” On the podium on both days in Jerez and fighting for both victories? Ja. The Austrian factory were true showstoppers at the Spanish Grand Prix, and with both riders also pretty magic in mixed or wet conditions, there seems little to fear from France. Can they repeat their pace from Jerez? The answer to that question may lie in Friday and Saturday morning’s action, with a great qualifying giving them the perfect platform in Jerez. And one they used to perfection as absolute holeshot heroes. If nothing else though, we can absolutely guarantee that both two-time Tissot Sprint winner Brad Binder and newer arrival Miller will give it a go and a half.
If you’d said after pre-season testing that both Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro would be where they are now, few would probably have believed it. It’s all gone a little downhill after such a promising start, but there is still plenty of promise there. The riders have proven their quality and so has the machine, but it doesn’t take much in the closest competition on two wheels to suddenly find yourself with a bit of a mountain to climb – and just a handful of small mistakes, a few technical glitches and a little bit of pure bad luck have proven enough. Can the Noale factory bounce back? They were on the podium last season at Le Mans with Espargaro, who also arrives from pole at Jerez, and Viñales has been on the box here with his two previous machines, including a win. And the bike? Those few issues aside, it’s a serious contender.
PRIMA PRAMAC RACING
For Jorge Martin, Jerez will probably have tasted a little bitter. Over a weekend with no bad luck and/or drama, the Spaniard wasn’t quite able to take a visit to parc ferme on Saturday or Sunday. He had his bit to say on some of the moves, but with Miller vs Binder vs Pecco in full flow, the number 89 found himself locked out and wanting. Can he do more at Le Mans?
On the other side of the garage it’s a whole different kettle of fish for home hero Johann Zarco. There will be a little pressure, for sure, but there will also be an electric atmosphere for the two-time Moto2™ Champion. He’s been on the podium here before too, but it’s been a little more up and down so far in 2023. Can he take the fight to the rostrum again on hallowed turf, come rain or shine?
LCR HONDA CASTROL/IDEMITSU
After the incredible weekend he enjoyed at COTA, it was likely Alex Rins was going to leave Jerez with a little less, but it was a particularly tough one. The Americas GP wasn’t a mirage though and the number 42 has exactly the same quality, so now it’s time to see if he and his new bike and crew can put the pieces together a little better at Le Mans. He’s had some pace here at Le Mans before but crashed out, so a finish is one aim, and some bigger points hauls the next.
For Takaaki Nakagami, Jerez was a little light in the tunnel and the Japanese rider will want to build on it. He’s taken some solid P7s here over the last few years, which is no mean feat in the field as it is.
GRESINI RACING MotoGP™
On the Alex Marquez side of the box, the Grand Prix race in Spain wasn’t quite what the number 73 is aiming for this year with a P8, but it was at least another haul of points after a tough run. Le Mans, however, staged his first ever premier class podium in 2020 as he absolutely smashed it in the rain, so there are some good memories here. Can he get back into that frontrunning postcode he was in at Termas and COTA?
On the other side of the box, the search for a step forward continues for Fabio Di Giannantonio. He’s had good speed in the lower classes in France, and he’ll hope this is the weekend it starts coming together – especially ahead of Mugello, which was a highlight of his rookie campaign.
MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA MotoGP™
COTA seemed like an upturn, on Sunday at least, for Fabio Quartararo. But Jerez was an adventurous one for the Frenchman. A very controversial Long Lap penalty, that crash, and then a comeback ride… but he also struggled to find speed on one lap at least, missing out on Q2 and suffering one of his worst qualifyings at one of his best venues. But this is home turf and another weekend to reset, with the packed grandstands sure to give the home hero a boost. What has he got in the locker?
For Franco Morbidelli, the tougher run continues too. Argentina is now beginning to fade in the memory, but he was closer to teammate Quartararo at times in Jerez. What will Le Mans bring?
CRYPTODATA RNF MotoGP™ TEAM
The bad luck continues for RNF, with the team already confirming that Miguel Oliveira will be sidelined in France. Aprilia test rider Lorenzo Savadori will replace him. Meanwhile, Raul Fernandez has undergone surgery on his arm too, so arrives from his own hurdle. After a tougher start to the season than many expected for the former Moto2™ record breaker, he’ll hope he can now start to rebuild and really get into that fight at the front over the coming races. First stop: getting passed fit to compete in France.
GASGAS FACTORY RACING Tech3
The mission remains similar for both Augusto Fernandez and Jonas Folger: chipping away at that progress. For Folger, of course, it’s also information and a useful adventure to partner his role as test rider. Fernandez’ aim is more points, and more top tens, as he pushes to get into that next postcode up the road.
REPSOL HONDA TEAM
It’s proving a tough season so far for Repsol Honda, but every team is only one Grand Prix away from a turnaround. Joan Mir continues to search for some progress in his adaptation, and the grid continues to search the entry list for Marc Marquez. Will his name be on there this time around?
As is often the case, the number 93 tops many of the stats for Le Mans, with wins, podiums and poles. And that’s without even talking about eight world titles and the pure magic he can pull out of the hat. But he said it himself: he’ll return when he’s healed. We’ll likely find out if that means the French GP pretty soon, but in the mean time we can just hope that the 1000th Grand Prix in history will feature one of the most successful riders over the 999 events before.
Friday’s practice sessions decide the automatic entrants to Q2, before the MotoGP™ grid qualify on Saturday morning. This weekend the Tissot Sprint is set for lights out at 15:00 on Saturday as ever, and the Grand Prix race returns to “normal” time. That’s 14:00 CEST!
Tissot Sprint: Saturday 15:00 (GMT +2)
Grand Prix Race: Sunday 14:00 (GMT +2)
See you there!
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