The lightweight class race opened the show on Sunday, in a sunny but cold morning in France that spelled disaster for some riders and great opportunities for others. The man who profited most, despite being the odd one out on tyre choice, was Celestino Vietti, who led the only lap that mattered – the last one – to secure victory in Le Mans and improve his chances in the world championship battle. Compatriot Tony Arbolino joined him on the podium and also got a touch closer to the title by finishing just ahead of new championship leader Albert Arenas.
Arenas had made a launch of SpaceX proportions when the lights went out, miles ahead of poleman Jaume Masia going into turn one and with Arbolino immediately attacking the Spaniard as well. Front row starter John McPhee dropped positions at the start and found himself outside of the top ten by the end of the first lap. Still, that seemed like a more likely comeback than Ai Ogura’s, the championship leader going into Le Mans getting pushed out of the top 20 after starting 17th.
Arenas’s dream start did not continue past lap 2, with Masia reclaiming top spot and encouraging the vultures to attack, pushing Arenas to the back of the top five. While the Spaniard was fighting his way back into the provisional podium positions, a lead group of 16 riders was starting to separate from the chasers by one second by lap five, with Ogura stuck in the second group and struggling to progress from 24th position.
Masia continued to lead the way for the next few laps, with Arbolino, Darryn Binder, Arenas and Gabriel Rodrigo providing the entertainment right behind him as they traded places. The lead group lost teammates Romano Fenati and Alonso Lopez at turn 13 of lap seven and Tatsuki Suzuki at turn 8 one lap later but it still didn’t help McPhee join the top ten.
Arenas was back on Masia’s tail by lap nine but bided his time for an attack and the mistake came on lap 11, when Masia lost momentum and allowed Arenas, Arbolino and Binder through into turn 7. However, Arenas only held onto the lead for a couple of laps, Masia’s Honda powering past at turn 1, with eight laps remaining, with Arbolino, Binder and Vietti quickly following his example and relegating Arenas to fifth once more. The Spaniard made quick work of Vietti and his mission got easier one lap later, when Binder’s KTM machine gave up and took the South African out of contention. That left Arenas in charge of the pursuit of the two Hondas and while he was dicing with Arbolino, rival McPhee got tangled in Jeremy Alcoba’s crash and abandoned the battle at turn 10. The flurry of late crashes, also including Kaito Toba and Niccolo Antonelli, promoted Ogura to 10th place all of a sudden, although over ten seconds behind the leaders.
Back at the front, Masia started the final two laps still ahead of the eight-man lead group but with Arenas, Arbolino and Vietti as the most vocal contenders for the podium. A slight mistake from Masia at turn 8 saw Vietti in charge of proceedings for the first time as the race entered its final lap, chased by Arbolino, Arenas and Masia. Although the foursome was close together, there was no opportunity for a move and Vietti took the checkered flag ahead of Arbolino and Arenas. Masia missed out on the podium once more, with Andrea Migno fifth, ahead of Ayumu Sasaki, Raul Fernandez and Rodrigo. Ogura managed to take control of the chasing pack in the closing laps to secure ninth place and reduce the damage in the world championship.
Arenas’ podium gives him back the lead in the championship, six points ahead of Ogura, with Vietti only 16 points down and Arbolino getting closer as well, 20 points back.
|19||89||Khairul Idham Pawi||Honda||+26.189|
|23||Niccolò Antonelli||Honda||4 Laps|
|17||John McPhee||Honda||5 Laps|
|52||Jeremy Alcoba||Honda||5 Laps|
|27||Kaito Toba||KTM||5 Laps|
|40||Darryn Binder||KTM||7 Laps|
|9||Davide Pizzoli||KTM||10 Laps|
|24||Tatsuki Suzuki||Honda||15 Laps|
|55||Romano Fenati||Husqvarna||16 Laps|
|21||Alonso Lopez||Husqvarna||16 Laps|