Le Mans, France
It has been a tough weekend for a lot of people at Le Mans. The weather has done just about everything to confound and perplex the riders, conditions changing every session. Friday went from wettish to very wet, Saturday went from drying to almost completely dry. There hasn't been a single session of stable weather with a consistent and unchanging track.
That has caused a lot of problems, especially in MotoGP, shaking up the qualifying system based around the combined times through all three free practice sessions. For the fans, though, it's been fantastic, producing two of the most exciting qualifying sessions we have seen for a while. Tricky conditions in free practice put Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and local hero Johann Zarco into Q1, producing fireworks in the battle for who gets through to Q2. Then, in Q2, the battle happened all over again, this time in a straight up slugfest for the front row. That went right down to the wire, the first three safe only once the dust had settled.
The weather reignited the debate over MotoGP's qualifying system, a common complaint among several riders, and also a regular topic at the Safety Commission, the meeting where riders and organizers gather to discuss how to make racing safer. Andrea Dovizioso voiced the concern on Saturday, despite having made it through Q1 and into Q2. "It’s really stressful, these rules for everybody because every practice has to be a qualifying," the Ducati rider said. "You have to be in the top 10 because the weather can change."
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class in Le Mans:
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class in Le Mans:
With some more sun on the menu for the MotoGP class, the riders were eager to assess their pace in fully dry if slightly chilly conditions. One might say a little too eager, both factory Ducatis crashing on their outlap within two minutes of each other in the same turn ten, followed soon after by Jack Miller making it safely through a scary crash into turn one.
Meanwhile, the Yamahas showed off their pace and their internal winglets by claiming the top three in the debut of the session, with Maverick Viñales on top of Johann Zarco and Valentino Rossi.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Le Mans:
The intermediate class was finally graced with a fully dry session, with the occasional damp patch seriously testing the riders’ attention – to more or less success, with several crashes and plenty of replay-worthy moments.
Franco Morbidelli was back to his usual antics, which meant taking the lead and letting everyone else try and catch up. Pecco Bagnaia accepted that challenge and he proved to be just as fast in the dry as he was in the wet around Le Mans, the Italian topping the session in his final few laps. Morbidelli dropped less than a tenth behind his VR46 Academy colleague to secure second position.
A glimpse of sun on a largely light blue sky almost looked like an illusion after the setting offered by Le Mans for the previous practice sessions. A drying track set things up nicely for a fierce fight for direct Q2 access in the final ten minutes of the session.
That also meant that besides Danilo Petrucci going like a rocket through the turn two gravel trap, there was little action in the first half of the session, Alvaro Bautista getting quite a bit of airtime as the only rider going around as the track was drying.
Cold, dark and humid – isn’t France lovely? The endless talk about weather in Le Mans doesn’t look like ending anytime soon, with a damp circuit waiting for the lightweight class in the third practice session.
The Italian brigade attacked the top of the timesheets from the start, with Marco Bezzecchi, Niccolo Antonelli and Lorenzo Dalla Porta holding the lead temporarily, while the likes of Joan Mir and Jorge Martin were sitting comfortably in their garages waiting for the track to dry.
"A wasted day, again at Le Mans," was Cal Crutchlow's verdict on the first day of practice at the French circuit. He had a point: the first session of practice started wet but dried out towards the end, though the track was never really fully dry. FP2 started completely wet, with plenty of rain, but again the rain stopped and the track improved a little. At no time did the track ever really become consistently one thing or another. And with dry weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday, there was not much to learn.
"It’s just a joke," Crutchlow complained. "I don’t know why we come here again at this time of the year. First of all, obviously I really believe we should have a race in France, I like coming to France, the fans are completely mad and I have a good rapport with them. But I don’t know why we come here and I don’t know why we come here now. No idea. Every year, I can’t tell you a year I’ve raced in MotoGP where it’s been sunny all weekend, I don’t think."
Naturally, this kicked off a heated debate among the various nationalities of journalists over whose country has the worst weather, with Silverstone and Assen the candidates giving Le Mans a proper run for their money. Crutchlow remained firm. "I love Le Mans, the history is superb, bike racing at Le Mans is massive as well as car racing. But the circuit’s no good. It’s stop-start and the time of the year’s always raining." It isn't 'always' raining at Le Mans, of course. But it feels like it does.