The Circuit of Le Mans is possibly the most famous arena in motorsports due to its legendary 24-hour races. However, it has always been a contentious circuit, with its rapid changeability of the weather in the Sarthe region of France.
Home hero’s Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco will both be desperate to take a victory at their home GP. But the practise sessions so far have indicated that this will be a weekend of surprises, and a winner could come from anywhere. let me walk you through all the best action of the weekend so far.
MotoGP: Le Mans changeable weather ensures great watching
In a stunning qualifying session, home hero Fabio Quartararo has taken pole position for the third time. Braving slick tyres to make a time attack, after a shower of rain coated the track. Quartararo will want to bounce back in style after a debilitating arm pump issue crippled his race in Jerez, when it looked as though he would surely win, and where better to do it than in his home race? Historically, Quartararo has not been very competitive in wet conditions – a symptom of his lack of experience in such conditions. Apparently, it will be a good race for Yamaha should the conditions be full wet, or full dry – the issue will come in mixed conditions.
For the first time since 2017, it was a factory Yamaha 1-2 in qualifying, with Maverick Vinales taking 2nd, his best qualifying since the opening round of 2021 – which he won. Vinales is successful in Le Mans and has experience in wet weather but, can he be counted on to make a good race? We’ve all seen his struggles to get a good jump off the line in the past, but after some dismal results in the last few races, he needs to make a good fist of it if he wants to keep his factory seat.
The winner last time out, Jack Miller, lines up 3rd on the grid, and with his record of bravery in tricky conditions, not to mention the confidence boost of taking his first dry win, he could be a massive contender to take another win – especially if the Yamaha’s go back off the line.
Franco Morbidelli has also been on a resurgence of form, having taken his first podium of the year in Jerez. He lines up in 4th, but I’m unsure as to how he may fare, as he suffered a twisted knee whilst attempting a flag-to-flag bike change, collapsing in the pit lane. Depending on the pain levels, it’s uncertain whether he could back up his good result in Jerez with another podium.
Another home hero, Johann Zarco, also has a good chance at victory, lining up in 5th and with a more impressive performance record in wet weather conditions. Zarco is still chasing that elusive debut win the premier class, and where would be better than his home circuit to get it?
Honda seems to have made a massive step in their performance, and at one point, it even looked like there was going to be a Honda front-row lockout, with Marc Marquez on pole from Taka Nakagami and Pol Esparagaro. Of course, Quartararo, Vinales and Miller all sprang a surprise in the dying stages, but it is a promising sign for the most successful team in the championship. Could wet weather grant any of them a podium? Marquez and Espargaro both have good records in wet conditions, and Nakagami has had a return to form after swapping back to the 2020 chassis he ran last year.
Speaking of resurgence to form, Valentino Rossi lines up in 9th – his first Q2 appearance since the opening round. Rossi of course has a fabulous record in the wet, and while I don’t fancy him for a podium this time around, it is promising to see him more competitive after the testing in Jerez.
This could be a huge race for the championship. The championship leader Pecco Bagnaia, the reigning world champion Joan Mir, and his teammate Alex Rins, all failed to come through Q1. With poor grid positions, this could be a salvage job for them, whilst their rival Quartararo heads the grid.
However, in their misfortune came the biggest surprise of the day. Lorenzo Savadori, the Aprilia rookie, absolutely smashed his way out of Q1, as he showed a clear affinity for difficult track conditions. His performance was impressive and he lines up in 11th, his best qualifying performance to date. If he can manage a top 10 finish, it will be an incredible weekend for the rookie.
Another rookie denying championship hopefuls their chance at Q2, was Luca Marini, who has turned into something of a qualifying man. Marino’s efforts are particularly brave considering his monster high side last year at this circuit.
With rain forecast for the MotoGP session, will it be a Frenchman taking victory? Could Jack Miller make it back to back wins? Will Maverick Vinales find his race-winning form? Or will the Honda’s come through? It’s anyone’s guess – but whatever happens, it’s going to be spectacular.
Moto3: Rookie sensation Acosta struggles
Pedro Acosta is unlike any other rider ever seen in the Moto3 paddock. As a rookie rider, with only 4 races of experience at this point, he has taken 4 podium finishes – 3 of which have been victories. Of the full 100 points that have been on offer, all but 5 have gone to Acosta, meaning he has a frightening 51 point lead at the head of the field.
However, Acosta is still a rookie – no matter how many people seem to have forgotten that fact – and he has never been to the Le Mans circuit before. This disadvantage saw him struggle in the various weather types, suffering as many as 4 crashes and multiple wobbles on the track. He was unable to make the most of any dry sessions and thus will start the race from a lowly P21.
While I’m aware that many will rebut me with ‘yes but he won from pit lane so anything’s possible,’ I doubt we will see a consecutive 4th win in a row from Acosta this weekend. The Le Mans circuit is not necessarily a good venue to take advantage of slipstreaming, and thus qualifying is a more important time than it is in other circuits. Whilst I’m still sure he will pick up valuable points, I can’t see him fighting for victory.
Towards the sharp end of the field, it was very much a story of experience prevailing in tough conditions, with Andrea Migno taking his second pole of the season, after making a risky gamble to go out on slicks even after a brief shower disturbed the Q2 session. Migno has been on incredible form thus far in his debut with the Snipers team, which is promising if he is to stand a chance at getting a ride in Moto2 for next year. Whilst I wouldn’t favour him for victory in a wet race, I have to say I’m impressed at his more strategic riding style.
The first surprise of the day was Ricciardo Rossi taking a phenomenal front-row qualifying position. As a rookie last year, he hasn’t ever shown the promise of riders such as Acosta or Guevara. This will be a solid boost of confidence for the young rider and could lead to some big points in the race.
Jaume Masia and John McPhee both seen ready to bounce back after their disappointing season, taking 3rd and 4 to on the grid respectively. With Masia getting unlucky in the last 3 races to suffer last lap whacks that have stopped him fighting for podium positions, he will want to take advantage of his front-row start and try to break away from the pack. Whereas, John McPhee (who is still pointless after 4 races) has always been a wet weather specialist, and will be desperate for a good result to take some much-needed confidence into the rest of the season.
Gabriel Rodrigo and Niccolo Antonelli have also shown strong pace through the mixed conditions and could feature heavily in the race, especially if the tricky conditions cause problems for those in front of them. Not to mention the fact that both riders have had fairly impressive starts to the season – and Antonelli himself occupying 2nd place in the current championship rankings.
In all honesty, this looks set to be a race of attrition for the Moto3 field. The treacherous Turn 3 has caught out many a rider across the weekend and with the weather forecasting awful showers, it may just be a case of whoever dares, wins. As Migno showed us when he took pole. I have no idea who’s going to win, but I am certain it’s going to be spectacular.
Moto2: The only circuit still with the old CBR600 lap record!
Raul Fernandez is another rookie sensation in KTM colours, and while last year he finessed the qualifying sessions of Moto3, it has taken him a few races in the intermediate class to make his first bid for pole there. However, he has finally managed it, and as a surprise championship contender himself, he will be hoping to emulate Fabio Di Giannantonio’s successful bolt from the pack back in Jerez. Fernandez has shown some impressive pace across all the sessions, despite the tricky weather conditions, however, he is also still a rookie, so I’m of the opinion that more experienced heads may prevail.
For example, Marco Bezzechi, who lines up in 2nd on the grid, and after taking his first podium of the season in Jerez, will be looking to really kickstart his championship challenge with a win. Bezzechi too has demonstrated an ability to work well despite the mixed conditions, and I think the confidence from his first podium finish of the year will be a big boost for him during this race.
Joe Roberts will be hoping for a change of fortunes as he lines up in 3rd. I don’t think anyone will forget the dramatics that took place last year when he was wheeled off of the grid – from pole no less – with a mechanical issue that saw him having to start the race from behind the safety, as the lights went out whilst he was finishing his sighting lap. Roberts himself has stated that he loves Le Mans, and a podium here would be very welcome after the debacle of last year, and his near-miss in Portugal last month.
Remy Gardner and Sam Lowes who are the current top 2 in the championship may struggle in the race having to come through from 7th and 10th respectively, both have demonstrated that they can work well in mixed conditions, with Lowes especially being known as a master of wet weather riding. Should they come through for a podium or a win, they could take a firmer lead in the standings going into the warmer tracks of Mugello and Catalunya.
Augusto Fernandez, Sam Lowes’ teammate may be the surprise of this race, with a display of impressive speed in all conditions and a resurgence of form which seems to have started in the second Qatar race. He lines up in 5th on the grid, and with a good initial jump, this could see him in the early podium position battle.
Moto2 is more competitive than ever, but who will prevail in Le Mans? I think for me, it’s between Bezzechi and Augusto Fernandez but again – it’s Le Mans. Anything can happen.
This article was written by the fantastic Rebekah Lee, our resident Motorsport nut and MA Creative writing graduate. She’s been fascinated by all things motorsports since childhood – follow her on Twitter at @bekahjlee
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