Le Mans did its best to balance its record of wet to dry races with the much-awaited sun heating things up to a cosy twenty degrees. Things got pretty heated on track as well, in a dramatic race full of home pride and surprising mistakes. Maverick Viñales converted pole into a win but it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that for the Spaniard.
Johann Zarco rocketed into the lead after the start, on the soft tyre combination, mugging Viñales into turn three. The Frenchman gave the home audience an audibly appreciated gift to lead the race for its early part and an even more precious one as the Tech 3 rider crossed the line in second place to step on his first (and very emotional) podium in the big boys class in his home race.
Having started on the fifth row, Dani Pedrosa had a clear goal in mind - to catch up quickly to the top riders - and so he did, aided by some aggressive moves and high profile crashes in front of him to jump on the third step of the podium. The story of how he got there needs a little more background.
After the first lap adventures, where Zarco took the lead from Viñales and Valentino Rossi, the top seven went into stand-by mode, no one really gaining or losing much, just biding their time and their tyres. The three Yamahas at the top kept close, with Marc Marquez trying to tag along, Crutchlow, Dovizioso and Pedrosa settled in a small group one second behind the reigning world champion as the LCR rider cautiously brought up to temperature his hard front tyre.
On lap seven Viñales decided to up the pace and found a way past Zarco but, despite setting fastest laps, the Spaniard couldn’t shake off the Tech 3 Yamaha that easily. In an attempt to keep up with the rhythm imposed by Vinales, the pursuers were forced to keep pushing and posting red and orange sector times all over the place. And the rhythm never really eased up until the checkered flag, that forcing some mistakes throughout the field.
It took until the final seven laps for Viñales to get the gap on Zarco to over half a second, as Zarco started losing a bit of performance on the softer tyre combination, Rossi going past the Frenchman one lap later. The Italian still had the win in his sights, the pair of factory Yamaha riders trading lap records as Rossi found the rough way past Vinales to snatch the lead at turn three with three laps to go. The drama did not stop however, Rossi running wide on the final lap, letting Viñales past and crashing out a few corners later in the hurry to find a way back past his teammate.
Pedrosa found himself in the lead of the chasing group by the end of lap twelve and with a two-second gap to recover on his teammate, who was tailing the trio of Yamahas at the top. Dovizioso and Crutchlow started losing touch with him after a lively Pedrosa nudged Crutchlow out of the way, leaving the two former colleagues to fight it out for fourth place eventually – a battle won by Dovizioso.
Halfway through the race, Pedrosa was the man on a charge as Marquez was lucky to escape unhurt from a big crash as he lost control in turn three while running fourth. After his and Rossi’s crash, Pedrosa broke the Yamaha monopoly on the podium positions, followed across the line by Dovizioso and Crutchlow.
Jorge Lorenzo had pretty much the opposite of his race here last year, finishing ten seconds down on fifth place, as opposed to the ten-second demolition job he did in 2016. Still, sixth place was probably beyond expectations, the Spaniard having started sixteenth. The top ten was completed by Jonas Folger, a brave Jack Miller and an impressive Loris Baz.
Following the high-profile crashes of Rossi and Marquez, Viñales is back at the lead of the world championship, holding a 17 points advantage on Pedrosa. Rossi falls a further 6 points behind Pedrosa, with Marquez now 27 points off the lead. All is not lost for either rider but the balance of power in the title chase keep changing – luckily for us watching.
|46||Valentino ROSSI||Yamaha||1 Lap|
|41||Aleix ESPARGARO||Aprilia||5 Laps|
|93||Marc MARQUEZ||Honda||11 Laps|
|9||Danilo PETRUCCI||Ducati||11 Laps|
|45||Scott REDDING||Ducati||21 Laps|
|17||Karel ABRAHAM||Ducati||23 Laps|
|8||Hector BARBERA||Ducati||25 Laps|
|Not Finished 1st Lap|
|19||Alvaro BAUTISTA||Ducati||0 Lap|