Yesterday, I wrote about the stupendous crowds at Le Mans for the 1000th motorcycle grand prix. The circuit and event were the right place to celebrate such a memorable occasion. But the fans who packed the circuit at Le Mans got their money's worth in terms of racing too. The MotoGP race was spectacular and tense in equal measure.
It was also a very messy affair. Of the 21 riders who lined up at 2pm on Sunday – Raul Fernandez had tried to ride after arm pump surgery, but that had proved impossible – only 13 made it to the checkered flag. It was a war of attrition.
Why all the crashes? A lot of reasons. There's a lot of hard braking at Le Mans, and more right than left corners. Temperatures can be relatively cool, and tires can cool off quickly. And riders found themselves caught between choosing a softer front tire and suffering in braking, and going for the medium or hard front and nursing the left side of the tire through Musée and Chemin aux Boeufs.
"I think the grip here is not fantastic and there's a lot of hard braking places where you need the support from the front tire," Brad Binder explained. "Here we have a really soft rear tire so it makes up for the low grip on the rear, but the front doesn't quite handle it. So I think that's where the most of the crashes come from."
All in early
There was another reason for some of the early crashes too. "Everybody was really, really aggressive in the first laps," Luca Marini said after the race. Marini was one of those early victims, sliding the front on the exit of the Dunlop Chicane and managing to save it on his elbow. Unfortunately, he had Marco Bezzecchi and Alex Marquez right on his tail, and though Bezzecchi was able to slip past Marini as he dragged elbow and knee on the ground, Alex Marquez, unsighted by Bezzecchi's bike, clipped Marini's bike, bringing them both down.
For a few terrifying moments, Marquez desperately tried to scramble to the left side of the track on his hands and knees, as the pack fired past him on their way out of the chicane. Luck, great riding, and good marshalling prevented him from being hit by any of the bikes coming up from behind. Both Marini and Marquez came away relatively unscathed, Marini left with pain in his thumbs from the impact of the handlebars, and in his hands from sliding along the ground.
"I touched the kerb too much inside of Turn 4," Marini explained afterward. "So I lost the front, but then I was able to stand up the bike. I made one of my best saves of my life, so I was happy in that moment! Because I was starting to really accelerate. But then Marquez hit me in the back."
Alex Marquez described what happened from his point of view. "In that point, Luca was starting to struggle a little bit and Marco was attacking him. So I said, ‘OK, if Marco attacks him, I will try also to overtake and to go’. But then he did a small mistake of going in on the kerb, he lost the front," the Gresini Ducati rider explained.
He hadn't seen how Bezzecchi had managed to just miss Marini, and couldn't see Marini because Bezzecchi was directly in front of him, Marquez explained. "Marco was able to not touch him by nothing. And I was behind Marco, so I didn't see nothing. And then when Marco moved, Luca was in the middle, and I was not able to avoid that crash."
Marini realized there was nothing Alex Marquez could have done. "I think it was really difficult for him to avoid the impact because he was trying to gain the position," the Mooney VR46 rider explained. "He was trying to gain time, not lose time, so it was difficult. For me, it was just a racing incident. In this case it's really difficult for the rider behind. Bezz was really good, Marquez maybe he couldn't see me. I don't know. Because it was difficult from the TV to see the point of view of Marquez, if there was Bezz in front of him or not."
That might have been the most spectacular crash, but it wasn't the most significant. Thirty seconds before, Maverick Viñales and Pecco Bagnaia had collided at the 'S' Bleus, both riders ending in the gravel as they contested third place behind Jack Miller and Marc Marquez.
The collision had started a couple of corners earlier. Maverick Viñales had passed Bagnaia on the entry to Turn 11, the first right of the esses. He had carried more speed out of Turn 10, and was well placed to dive under Bagnaia on the way into Turn 11. But that speed put him a little wide on the exit, forcing him to scrub speed and cut back inside again to line up for the left at Turn 12.
Bagnaia, meanwhile, had seen Viñales come through, turned into 11 early, and was carrying more speed on the exit. That put the Ducati and Aprilia on intersecting lines, and Viñales banged into the side of Bagnaia as they started to turn in to Turn 12. The collision stood Bagnaia up, and threw Viñales out of his seat, causing him to lose control of his Aprilia RS-GP. Viñales' Aprilia shook wildly, and slammed into Bagnaia's bike again, putting Bagnaia on the ground, while Viñales wobbled into the gravel before falling.
The crash caused some of the better comedy of the race. Immediately after the crash, Viñales rushed over to Bagnaia and started to shout at the Italian. Bagnaia shouted back, and an altercation started, with some comedy fisticuffs thrown in for good measure. The pair were soon separated, and cooled off on the short ride to the pits.
Afterward, both riders accepted that it had been a racing incident, the sort of crash that can happen at chicanes and esses like the 'S' Bleus. "It's a shame because I passed him very clean and then, my point of view is that he can leave a little bit more space in this change of direction," Viñales said. Bagnaia mostly agreed. "He overtook me clean, very clean, but was a bit wide," the factory Ducati rider said. "I was on the inside, on my line and when he came back he just tried to do his normal line. But I was there. So maybe I could manage better and maybe I had to close the gas. Or maybe he had to consider that I was there."
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The 'first five races points…
The 'first five races points' examples mentioned in part 1 miss something maybe. 2015 Rossi didn't win the title. Neither did Lorenzo in 2016, Mav in 2017 and Fabio in 2022. In those years the champion was not leading after 5 races. Over the last few years the points tally come season end has been quite low which I guess is a reflection of how close the bikes have become. The average points haul per race of the champion reads as follows.
2020 : 12.2
2012 : 15.4
2022 : 13.3
If we took that over 5 races and added another 50% for a sprint we get 91.5, 115, 99.8. Peco's points do not look so bad especially considering that (huge fallacy inbound) he has had his fair share of bad luck. It is possible that the first five race scores of Rossi (2015), Lorenzo (2016) and Vinales (2017) were exceptional given their overall 'form' and the remainder of each season saw them regress to not taking the title. However, never look at Marc. His title winning years, av points per race * 7.5 give 139, 151, 124, 124, 130 and 166. Maybe it's not about the bikes being closer hmmm.
Need to win 2 World Championships to be for real.
I am starting to think that post Marc M era, only due to intermittent injury making a season long campaign unlikely for him, the true ‘post MM’ World Champion cannot just be a one time World Champion. Meaning Joan Mir? Fabio? Probably most deserving but... Bagnia? Perhaps. But to be a World Champ while MM is injured, needs to win a minimum of 2 World Championships to be for real.
That's an interesting thought. Conceptually a MotoGP World Champion is an alien. They're that rider who just gets on the bike and goes and wins, and wins, or if they have a shocker comes 2nd or 3rd. Doesn't seem to matter if their bike is competative because they win anyway. Without question in the modern era Casey Stoner, MM93, and FQ20 have consistently demonstrated that ability. JL99 and VR46 were also exceptional and consistent.
Except for the fact that JM36 fell off less that AR42 back in their Suzuki days, I've not really rated him. Sure he's good, but so is everyone else in MotoGP these days. FB1 was on the best bike last year but the reality is that there's a handful of other riders who may have outperformed him if they had that bike and level of support. I'll be smiling if MB72 and or JM89 beat him this year.
In reply to Interesting by Morgs
I'm gonna disagree
I'm gonna disagree, I'm afraid. Not so long ago we had a situation where we basically had 4 competitive bikes on the grid, 2 Honda's and 2 Yamaha's. Yamaha dropped the ball, complete with official apologies from Yamaha management to that effect. Luckily their place was filled by an increasingly competent Ducati. But the term "Alien" sprang forth with regards to the riders in that era.....when really they were the only riders with access to Alien technology.
Marc is definitely an Alien, but there is no doubting the stars aligned for him entering MotoGP: the Honda was at it's zenith, built for his grand prix replicant in Casey Stoner, and he inherited Stoner's crew chief in Christian Gabbarini. If you could hand pick the circumstances you could not do any better. Miss either of those components and his record of achievements would be somewhat different.
IMHO being an "Alien" is not just about winning championships or even races, it's about doing something very few or nobody else could do. MM has obviously proven that. FQ is verging on it but difficult to tell with so few reference points on a Yamaha. Stoner's jump to Honda, and conversely others failing on the Ducati, showed his otherworldliness. Bagnaia shredded the field in the latter half of the season, against a multitude of similarly strong bikes on the grid, showed he was in a different league. Rossi's jumping on the completely different Yamaha, and winning against quality riders on the technically superior RC211, set the bar at a new height.
So where does that leave the likes of Dani Pedrosa? He was always referred to as one of the "Aliens", when he'd never won a MotoGP world championship, but the fact remains he was one of a select group of 4 (at the time) likely to win a race......simply because he was on one of the 4 competitive bikes. And Stoner jumped on "his" bike and took it to a level he could not.
How about Jorge Lorenzo? You can't argue with 3 World Championships, but again, how many serious competitors did he have? And the machinery advantage he enjoyed was highlighted when he largely struggled on both Ducati and Honda.
Apologies, not denigrating anybody or their achievements, just saying there are very few cut and dried ways to evaluate achievements. Not to mention the field has never been more full of incredible bikes and rider talent, so any victory against that backdrop needs to be viewed in that light.
Stoner jumped on an LCR…
Stoner jumped on an LCR Honda and finished 6th in his first race, 5th in the next (pole too) and 2nd in his 3rd race. A year in which Honda won 3 of the first 5 races and only 1 of those was HRC with Pedrosa riding in only his 4th MotoGP race. The other 2 won by Melandri on the Fortuna Honda. Given Bradl's pace in 2013 and coupled with his comments on Marc's ability I can only guess that Marc would have won a few races in 2013 riding an LCR Honda. Champion ? No idea but it had been done before. I think COTA, Marc's 2nd race would still have been his first MotoGP win.
The problem with Lorenzo is that he was beating Rossi on the same bike but Rossi was possibly past his best and only added another 2 titles in Loenzo's time.
Todays grid is closer not only because of the quality of the bikes but because of, number 1, the bikes.
Is Miller on a one year…
Is Miller on a one year contract only, if so then that paves the way for Marc to hopefully take over is seat for 2024/25.
In reply to Is Miller on a one year… by Dieterly
How much better does the…
How much better does the Honda need to be before Marc wins on a regular basis ? Given the current position of the other Honda riders (time will tell) how much would Honda be prepared to pay to keep Marc ? First question, not much. Second question the opposite.