The last shot for the premier class to play with tire combinations led to pretty much the predictable result, although this time the pendulum swung back towards Ducati’s quarters. Andrea Dovizioso waited until the very last lap to get the best of a new medium rear and head to the top of the timesheets, denying fellow Ducatista Danilo Petrucci. Dovizioso was quite fast on a hard rear as well, although it was an unusual option for the Italian, the tire not having many advocates given the conditions.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Le Mans:
Another challenging morning in Le Mans was closed by the intermediate class and its fair share of class trips outside track limits. The gravel showed no favouritism, claiming riders from all throughout the grid, including early leader Mattia Pasini. The lead had exchanged hands between the Italian, Marcel Schrotter and the two Marc VDS riders for the first half of the session.
Alex Marquez made a decisive move with 13 minutes to go and was the first rider to drop into the 1:36s. It looked like a safe space for the Spaniard until Schrotter fought back and took the lead. The Dynavolt rider watched the end of the session from the gravel trap of turn 13 but his time proved good enough to keep him at the top.
A cool track was always going to cause trouble for the premier class but once the slips and slides were dealt with, it was time to have a go at the outright circuit record. An increasingly twitchy Marc Marquez planted his flag at the top of the standings and was untroubled until the halfway point of the session, when Cal Crutchlow started his charge for Q2. The Brit’s already impressive time looked pretty safe to ensure his right of passage but once his pursuers switched to fresh rubber, it became a different story.
This particular story had four riders dropping under the lap record in the final minutes of the session and last year’s victor, Maverick Viñales came out on top. The Spaniard wasn’t just a one lap wonder and had just come off a fairly impressive long run on used soft tires, rolling out mid 1:32s.
Another chilly but clear morning in Le Mans sparked a bit of a surprise for the lightweight class. In a familiar story, Fabio Di Giannantonio spent most of the morning at the top of the timing sheets but in more unexpected fashion, Marcos Ramirez stole the limelight at the very last minute. The Spaniard clearly got a boost from his inherited podium in Jerez and went on to post the fastest time of the weekend, under the circuit’s lap record.
Andrea Dovizioso's manager arrived in Le Mans on Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon, the Italian had a new two-year contract with Ducati, provisional pole after FP2, and a new lap record. Not a bad start to the weekend, and a harbinger of good things to come, you might think. This is after all not particularly a Ducati track, yet here he was, on top of the timesheets.
Perhaps having his future settled helped, but Dovizioso has been an expert at excluding distractions from his race weekends. The simple fact is that the Ducati man was quick at Jerez, and is quick here, because he is in good form, and the bike is working really well. Dovizioso heads into qualifying feeling confident.
But there is a fly in the ointment, and it is Márquez-shaped, as always. Dovizioso had been pretty quick throughout the first part of FP2, just a couple of tenths behind the leader Márquez. Then in his final run, he fitted a new soft rear slick, dropped six tenths of a second off his best time and set a new lap record around Le Mans. It was an impressive showing of blistering speed.
With the temperature going up as you would expect, more and more tumbles were featured in the highlights reel for the second batch of practice sessions of the day and the intermediate class was no exception. Early leader Mattia Pasini opened the recital and then allowed Pecco Bagnaia to steal his spotlight at the top of the timesheets. The Sky rider was untroubled throughout the session and finished first despite being second to Sam Lowes as the checker flag came out.
The track was hotting up, mostly literally, for the afternoon play session of the premier class and it was freshly renewed Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso who wrote another headline after his earlier announcement. The metaphorical fight for the lead was, as ever, between him and Marc Marquez. The final runs saw Marquez having a look at the hard rear tyre while Dovizioso kept to his softs. The status quo was maintained at the top until the final time attack but the world champion made sure to keep us entertained by piling up the saves. Johann Zarco chased some home glory as he took over the lead in the final three minutes but he was soon denied by Dovizioso, who became the only rider to drop into the 1:31s on the French circuit.
A big improvement in track temperature predictably led to faster times and faster crashes. No harm done and it ended up as a good afternoon at the office for the Italians. Tony Arbolino sat at the top of the timing screens for most of the session, until Niccolo Antonelli dethroned him in a final time attack. The SIC58 Squadra racer snuck ahead of Kaito Toba by a mere four hundredths of a second but the Japanese rider missed out on perfectly fine opportunity to fight back by suffering a rather speedy crash on his last lap.
It had long been expected, but it is finally confirmed. The official Ducati Motor Twitter account just confirmed that Ducati have signed a new contract with Andrea Dovizioso for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Dovizioso is to speak to the media about the contract at 5pm on Friday, after which point a press release will be released. Dovizioso becomes the thirteenth rider confirmed for next year.
The tweet announcing the signing is below:
As morning in Le Mans was starting to warm up, the boost in confidence saw quite a few intermediate class riders test the gravel traps around the circuit, with no serious consequences. One man who managed to avoid all that was Marcel Schrotter, who grabbed the lead from Alex Marquez at the halfway point of the session and ran away at the front – at one point over four tenths faster than the rest.
A clear but cool morning awaited the premier class for their first venture on French grounds and it was going to be a first indication of the pecking order, especially for Yamaha. The only real conclusion was that the situation is as close as ever, the lead exchanging hands between four factories about every five minutes. Cal Crutchlow was the early leader, with Valentino Rossi and Andrea Iannone also putting their names at the top but it wasn’t to be for any of the three in the end.
The forecast in Le Mans likes to give us a scare every now and again but the predicted clouds were nowhere to be seen by the time the first session of the weekend got off to a start. Under sunny blue skies, Enea Bastianini led most of a pretty close session until Jorge Martin picked up the lead in final five minutes. The Spaniard was only a tenth of a second off until that point and went on to sneak ahead of Jakub Kornfeil by a tenth and a half.
For the past decade or so, Le Mans has been a Yamaha track, with Yamaha riders taking seven wins in the last ten races. The answer to whether that situation can continue or is simple: it depends. Maybe a Yamaha can win at Le Mans on Sunday. Or maybe another bike will take victory here instead.
That answer is generic almost to the point of meaninglessness, but beneath it lies a kernel of truth. The first four races in MotoGP have taught us a few lessons which point to who and what could do the winning on Sunday. The more precise answer? If a Yamaha is going to win, it is more likely to be be the Tech3 bike of Johann Zarco, rather than the factory Movistar machines of Valentino Rossi or Maverick Viñales. If a Yamaha doesn't win, then the Ducatis are in with a much better chance than you might expect, with Andrea Dovizioso and, who knows?, maybe even Jorge Lorenzo in with a shout.
But the lesson of the first four races of 2018 is that the most likely outcome on Sunday is that a Honda will win, and probably a Honda in the hands of Marc Márquez. That is clearly what most of the riders felt on Sunday. The one recurring theme that came back from riders on every competing manufacturer was that they were both impressed and feared how much the Honda has improved since last year.
Aleix Espargaro is to remain with Aprilia for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Aprilia today announced they have extended Espargaro's contract for two more years.
Espargaro's announcement is the second signing to come today, and brings the total of signed riders for next season and beyond up to eleven. For the full list, see the story on Alex Rins re-signing with Suzuki.
The Aprilia press release appears below: