In Hindsight: Le Mans
Love it or hate it, Le Mans is one of the most intense and unpredictable races, with the likes of Andrea Dovizioso and home talent Johann Zarco succumbing to the chaotic track. Some of the podiums came as a surprise and there was some hair-raising MX-style riding, but the usual suspects still crept onto the podiums with Marc Márquez and Francesco Bagnaia taking the MotoGP and Moto2 wins. However, it was a controversial podium change that saw Albert Arenas winning the Moto3 race after Fabio Di Giannantonio crossed the line first. All in all, just a regular Le Mans 2018 then!
Jakub Kornfeil spectacularly went airborne to avoid colliding with the crashed out Enea Bastianini (Photo: autosport.com)
It was a great start for the Ducati’s – who’s performance has suffered this season due to Jorge Lorenzo’s continued discomfort on the powerful Ducati – but it was Zarco who rode like a mad man to cut through the group and start pulling away a little as he tailed the Ducati leaders.
Chomping at the bit to impress in front of home crowds, Zarco kept on the leaders until Márquez, Miller and Petrucci caught up, and that was when the race got really interesting. Zarco’s front gave way and he slid out of his home race, easily done on a track that strongly favours one side of the tyres.
Lorenzo’s luck was next to run out. Aware that he struggles to catch up, he fought hard to hold on to his lead on Márquez, but when the Honda rider inevitably overtook him with 18 laps to go he slipped down to 5th after Jack Miller, Danilo Petrucci and Valentino Rossi raced past him.
In this time though, Lorenzo’s Ducati teammate crashed out of the race. A performance highly unlike him, Andrea Dovizioso’s consistency from last season seemed to have a momentary blip.
However, it wasn’t all over for Ducati with Petrucci and Miller – both riding Pramac Ducatis – both still firmly in podium contention.
At this point, the gap between the top 3 was growing as Márquez held onto his lead, with Petrucci and Rossi in 2nd and 3rd but Rossi had a long way to catch his compatriot Petrucci, whilst Miller shortened the gap between himself and the Doctor to make it a 4-man race to the podium, which would end as it began with Márquez in 1st, Petrucci taking an impressive 2nd and Rossi in 3rd.
Crash List – Andrea Iannone, Alvaro Bautista, Tito Rabat, Andrea Dovizioso, Johann Zarco, Scott Reading
In Moto2, the drama had already started before the race had even started; Xavi Vierge had a bike issue and had to start from the back of the grid even though he was meant to start on the front row. But it was Brad Binder, Marcel Schrötter and Joan Mir who started well as Lorenzo Baldassarri slipped back, finding himself in 7th place.
This race was set to have a heavy crash count with 94 crashes (including the Moto2 race) occurring with 22 laps (and the MotoGP) still to go, matching 2017’s crash count in the wet.
With Bagnaia, Alex Márquez, Schrötter, Joan Mir, Brad Binder, Baldassarri and Olivera pulling away from the pack, they kept the race interesting by swapping fastest laps over and over but then Baldassarri slid out just after setting the fastest lap. The potential for a massive accident was rife here, as he slid into the ride off area but his bike was still on the track.
Luckily, no one collided with the bike but it did change the standings substantially – with unpredictable Stefano Manzi finding himself in 8th place and Vierge in 5th after starting from the back of the grid with 8 laps still to go.
As Márquez clings onto his 2nd position whilst battling with tyre degradation and Mir securing his 3rd place whilst trying to shake off a determined Schrötter, Brad Binder continued to slip down the pack in a similar fashion to Jerez.
Given the chance though and Bagnaia pulls away from Márquez and secures an impressive finish on an unforgiving track. Márquez held on for 2nd and Mir took 3rd.
Crash List – Isaac Viñales, Luca Marini (retired), Eric Granado (his 4th crash of the weekend), Iker Lecuona, Jorge Navarro, Lorenzo Baldassarri, Federico Fuligni, Hector Garzo, Tetsuta Nagashima (100th crash of the weekend overall), Joe Roberts
In a weird turn of events, it was the first race of the day that all the drama occurred in. It started as usual with a good start from Jorge Martín who already begins to pull away from the pack until a surprising Jakub Kornfeil showed some dominance and began challenging Martín for the top spot.
There was a minor incident where Kornfeil ran wide but wasn’t penalised for it, but this would prove to be a race jam packed with time penalties and ride throughs to boot.
Livio Loi got a ride through penalty for jump starting his bike, but Le Mans has one of the longest pit lanes out of all the tracks on the MotoGP calendar. But it was Martín, Marco Bezzecchi, Kornfeil, Fabio Di Giannantonio and Enea Bastianini who start to pull away from the pack, the top 5 line-up never staying the same for long.
With Bezzecchi and Di Giannantonio both battling it out with Martín for the top spot, it was the Spaniard who’s driving style turned aggressive in his attempt at sticking with the front runners.
Aron Canet however had a penalised start and had to start from the back of the grid, but had clawed his way to 11th with 15 laps to go. He was still a long way off the leading group though as Bezzechi’s Honda struggled with speed as Kornfeil got a 1.3 second penalty and Niccolo Antonelli was handed a 1.8 second penalty for taking a shortcut.
For others though, it was a waiting game. The likes of Di Giannantoni and Bastianini seemed to just be waiting for the perfect moment to strike. However, that moment never came as Di Giannantonio ran wide due to contact with Kornfeil. He managed to save it and re-join the pack with only one position lost.
Then Bastianini lost the back end of his bike just as he’d gained 3rd place, and Kornfeil amazingly jumps over his wrecked bike and manages to re-join the race, in phenomenal MX-style.
Disaster strikes again not long after Bastianini’s Le Mans hopes are dashed when Martín and Bezzecchi both go down after Di Giannantonio overtakes and his fellow Italian, Bezzecchi, makes contact with him.
In the end, the race culminated with Di Giannantonio in 1st, Arenas in 2nd and Andrea Migno in 3rd, but after Di Giannantonio was dealt a 3 second penalty for exceeding track limits when Kornfeil made contact with him, it was Arenas in 1st, Migno in 2nd and Marcos Ramírez in 3rd, with Di Giannantonio taking 4th place.
Crash List – Gabriel Rodrigo, Nicolo Bulega (87th crash of the weekend with 13 laps to go), Lorenzo Dalla Porta, Enea Bastianini, Adam Norrodin, Jorge Martín, Marco Bezzecchi
MotoGP rider of the race Danilo Petrucci in action (Photo: autosport.com)
It was a race that, had Argentina not been such a dramatic weekend, would have been the highlight of the calendar this year. There were more crashes than normal and the riders who you’d expect to take the fight to Márquez had all crashed out – Andrea Iannone, Dovizioso and Zarco.
But Scott Reading’s crash has further condemned him to a career away from MotoGP in 2019. Where he will go is still unknown, but his need for a few decent results this year won’t be filled if he spends too much time in the gravel.
The battle of the rookies was refreshing as Franco Morbidelli and Hafizh Syahrin fought for 12th position with Syahrin clinching the position. Seeing fresh talent making its way onto the grid and fighting for such a respectable position on the leader board is incredibly exciting.
Rossi’s prodigy Morbidelli is definitely one to watch for his unyielding hunger and Syahrin’s proven himself race after race – a talent worthy of his spot on the grid.
Maverick Viñales’ late race pace continued as he took 7th place – not exactly the position he was likely hoping for granted he won the Le Mans race in 2017.
Britain’s Cal Crutchlow did well to end in 8th after an uncomfortable night spent in hospital before the race. With British hopes firmly resting on his shoulders, a top 10 finish at Le Mans – injured or not – is a very respectable position to find himself.
However, Petrucci finding a way to sneak onto the 2nd step of the podium after all the pressure that was on him and still out performing both of the factory Ducatis is a real delight to see.
Rider of the race: Danilo Petrucci
During such an unpredictable and unforgiving race, one thing was for sure and that was that the KTMs had the better pace. This could be down to tyres or less weight, but on a track that uses a lot of the left side of the tyre and makes tyre preservation very difficult, there is a high chance it was this that led to KTM victory.
That was also the reason why so many crashes occurred – the left side of the tyre heats up because it is being used more and the track temperature was hot on the day, so when the riders encounter a right-hand corner they have to use a side of the tyre that is cooler and this can make crashing out a lot easier – as was seen with over 100 crashes in a single weekend. Some riders fell as many as four times.
However, the rider that managed to pull out all the stops was Italy’s Bagnaia. He had a perfect race and proved why he deserves to be on top of the Championship leader board and to be signing with Pramac as a satellite Ducati rider for 2019 in MotoGP.
Rider of the race: Francesco Bagnaia
Moto3 was where the action all began, and there were so many things that deserve analysing but Canet’s performance was what it should have been, but his end position of 8th is pure luck – he should have been in 12th or the low teens.
After he caused an accident in Jerez, he was ordered to start at the back of the grid in Le Mans, but really this felt like a punishment for his FP1 performance in Argentina when he took out rookie Makar Yurchenko but wasn’t penalised at the time.
His disrespect towards a rookie during Argentina and then causing an accident due to reckless riding in Jerez meant that few felt sorry for him or could applaud him for a good race in Le Mans, because he should be battling with the Championship contenders.
With the clamp down in Le Mans for track limit exceeding, you can only hope that incidents like Argentina will be remedied as quickly as the penalties that were handed out in Le Mans.
The other major incident was Di Giannantonio’s three second penalty. Firstly, he was bumped off the track by Kornfeil – and there didn’t seem like any other option for him – and secondly, he didn’t have an unfair advantage for exceeding the limits of the track, he had a position taken away from him. It didn’t seem fair for race direction to penalise him for an incident that wasn’t his fault, therefore for some people he was the real winner of Le Mans 2018.
Rider of the race: Fabio Di Giannantonio