Marquez Aims for More Le Mans Magic
LE MANS, France, May 19, 2019
Reigning MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) races at legendary Le Mans this weekend, aiming to increase his advantage in the 2019 MotoGP points chase.
The 26-year-old Spaniard won his second victory of the year at Jerez, Spain, two weekends ago and this Sunday will fight for his second consecutive success at Le Mans. Last year he won a hard-fought victory at the French venue, which contributed to an historic fifth MotoGP championship in six years. This season the magically talented youngster goes for a sixth title in seven years.
Marquez led the 2019 championship for the first time after a runaway victory in last month's Argentine GP, but lost the lead when he tumbled out of first place during the subsequent U.S. round. His Jerez victory was another masterpiece – he led from the first corner to the checkered flag, resisting huge pressure and ending the race enjoying the adulation of the crowd.
Most of the MotoGP grid, including Marquez, stayed on at Jerez for a one-day test session during which he tried various upgrade parts and concepts. He also tested a revised RC213V, which HRC tester Stefan Bradl (Team HRC RC213V) had ridden to an excellent tenth place the previous day. As always, Marquez and Honda are searching for technical solutions that will allow him to ride faster and more consistently. The work never stops.
This year's RC213V is the best yet, with significantly more torque and horsepower, plus a finely honed chassis. No wonder then that Marquez rode the fastest lap at the last three races.
However, Le Mans is a different kind of racetrack from the first four tracks of the year, so Marquez will once again revise his strategy accordingly. The layout is short, tight and tricky, with the emphasis on hard braking and acceleration into and out of the numerous slow-speed corners. The first corner is a stark contrast to the others – a sweeping right-hander that riders attack at 255kmh/155mph.
Marquez has an up and down record at Le Mans. In 2016 he crashed, remounting to finish 13th, in 2015 he finished fourth, in 2014 he won the race and in 2013 he took fourth place in his first wet-weather MotoGP race. He also won the Le Mans Moto2 race in 2011.
Team-mate Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) comes to Le Mans hoping to make another step forward with his adaptation to the RC213V. The three-times MotoGP World Champion started the year injured, which forced him to miss one of only two preseason tests, so he was far from fully prepared for the season-opening Qatar GP in March. He suffered further injury there, which again hampered his progress at the next race.
Lorenzo started his home GP at Jerez in fine form, ending the first day of practice fourth fastest. However, the rest of the weekend was more of a challenge. He slid off in qualifying and in the race he struggled to run a good pace. Like Marquez, he took part in the following day's tests, during which he tried further set-up solutions and gathered more data that will allow HRC engineers to further adapt his machines for upcoming races.
The 32-year-old Spaniard has an impressive record at Le Mans. He has won five MotoGP victories and one 250cc victory at the track.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V) is currently Honda's second best-placed rider in the MotoGP standings. The 27-year-old from Chiba has made a superb start to his second season in MotoGP, with four top-ten finishes from the first four races.
The former Moto2 race winner was ninth in Qatar, seventh in Argentina, tenth in the USA and ninth in Spain, riding a 2018-spec RC213V. This run of consistently strong results highlights Nakagami's cool, methodical approach to racing as he step by step learns the many secrets of competing in the class of kings. Nakagami also took part in the post-Jerez tests and left Spain confident that he can keep getting closer to the front as the season progresses.
Nakagami's team-mate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V) stands just two points behind the Japanese rider in the championship, after a fast but sometimes ill-fated start to his fifth MotoGP season with Honda. The 33-year-old Briton had a superb ride in Qatar, his first race since he sustained an ankle injury at last October's Australian GP, finishing a close third, just behind Marquez. He definitely had the pace to score two further podium results in Argentina in the USA, but a controversial penalty for allegedly jumping the start and a tumble stole those results from him.
Two weeks ago at Jerez Crutchlow rode to an eighth-place finish after taking a gamble with his rear tire choice that didn't quite work out for him. However, he made excellent progress with his crew during the Monday tests, riding the second fastest lap of the day, which brings the former Supersport World Champion to Le Mans feeling positive about the French round.
Crutchlow has had some good results at Le Mans, although his only podium at the track was way back in 2013. In 2017 he finished fifth and last year he crossed the line in eighth place.
The French MotoGP round uses the Bugatti circuit, which follows only a short section of the much longer layout used for the venue's biggest event, the 24 Hours car race. Le Mans hosted its first motorcycle Grand Prix in 1976. For some years the venue alternated with Circuit Paul Ricard as host to the country's World Championship round, but since 2000 has been the full-time home of the French Grand Prix.
Honda riders have enjoyed considerable success at the track over the years. Freddie Spencer won the company's first premier-class success at Le Mans in 1983, riding the NS500 two-stroke, and two years later he won on the NSR500 two-stroke. Further Le Mans victories followed for the NSR500: Eddie Lawson in 1989, Mick Doohan in 1994 and 1995 and Alex Crivillé in 2000.
Since MotoGP went four-stroke in 2002, Honda has enjoyed victories with all three versions of its MotoGP machinery. The 990cc RC211V took the win in 2002 with Valentino Rossi, in 2003 and 2004 with Sete Gibernau and in 2006 with Marco Melandri. The 800cc RC212V won the French round in 2011 with Casey Stoner. And the 1000cc RC213V won the race in 2013, with Dani Pedrosa and with Marquez in 2014 and 2018.
The 2019 Moto2 World Championship continues at Le Mans with Italian Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40 Kalex) looking to continue his domination. The 22-year-old Italian has won three of the first four races so far to lead the series by 17 points. He would most likely be even further ahead if he hadn't crashed out on the first lap of the third round in the USA.
The winner of that race was 32-year-old Swiss rider Thomas Luthi (Dynavolt Intact GP Kalex), who stands second in the championship, ten points ahead of 26-year-old German Marcel Schrotter (Dynavolt Intact GP Kalex).
Jorge Navarro (HDR Heidrun Speed Up Speed Up) had his best result of the year at Jerez, where he finished a fine second to Baldassarri. He is fourth in the championship ahead of Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team Kalex), who crashed out at the start of the Jerez race and was unable to take part in the re-start. Also disadvantaged was sixth-overall Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Kalex) score at Jerez. He was brought down by Gardner's fall and although his team performed miracles to repair his machine for the re-start he had to start from the pit lane, which consigned him to a 24th-place finish.
Moto2 rookie Somkiat Chantra (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia, Kalex) races at Le Mans for the first time on a Moto2 bike this Sunday. During last year's French Grand Prix weekend the 20-year-old Thai rider contested the FIM CEV Moto3™ Junior World Championship race, finishing a very close fourth. The 2017 Asia Talent Cup champion has already shown some impressive speed in Moto2 this year, scoring a superb tenth-place finish in last month's Argentine GP. He finished 17th last time out at Jerez.
Team-mate Dimas Ekky Pratama (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia Kalex) was another of the unlucky few to be taken out of the Spanish Moto2 race by the first-lap accident. The 26-year-old Indonesian rider, who finished fifth in last year's FIM CEV Moto2 European Championship, is learning his way in Grand Prix racing and still chasing his first World Champion points.
Honda's highest-placed rider in the Moto3 World Championship is Niccolo Antonelli (Sic58 Squadra Corse Honda NSF250RW), whose superb victory at Jerez two Sundays ago moved him into second place overall, just one point behind series leader Aron Canet.
Antonelli's Spanish GP success confirmed the 23-year-old Italian's return to top form after a challenging few seasons. His last win before Jerez came at Qatar 2016.
Sixteen points behind Antonelli in fourth overall is 2014 Asia Talent Cup Champion Kaito Toba (Honda Team Asia Honda NSF250RW), who had another brilliant race to sixth place at Jerez, after starting from 24th on the grid. The 19-year-old from Fukuoka, who won the season-opening Qatar GP, once again proved at Jerez that he has remarkable speed, which he will aim to use at Le Mans to score his first points at the French track.
The fifth Honda NSF250RW rider in the top six of the Moto3 standings is Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing Honda NSF250RW), who showed his speed at Jerez by starting from pole position. However, the 21-year-old Italian was out of luck in the race during which a collision with another rider damaged his machine, dropping him to eighth.
Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers Honda NSF250RW), Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3 Honda NSF250RW) and Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing Honda NSF250RW) are ninth, tenth and 11th, just ahead of Antonelli's team-mate Tatsuki Suzuki (Sic58 Squadra Corse Honda NSF250RW), who scored his first Grand Prix podium at Jerez. The 21-year-old from Chiba took the checkered flag two tenths of a second behind the winner, bettering his previous best result of fourth.
Toba's team-mate Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia Honda NSF250RW) also had a superb ride at Jerez, coming through from 20th on the grid to finish ninth. The 18-year-old rookie from Tokyo already knows his way around Le Mans, having taken a superb third-place-finish in last year's FIM CEV Moto3™ Junior World Championship race, so he will be targeting another great result on Sunday.
Following Sunday's fifth round of the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 World Championship the paddock once again heads south, for another hugely popular race, the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello on June 2.
Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team:
“We had a very strong weekend in Jerez and a productive test but this is MotoGP and we must always keep working. Le Mans can be a tricky GP, especially with the weather so we must be prepared for any conditions. Last year I was able to win here but we always face a lot of opposition.”
Jorge Lorenzo, Repsol Honda Team:
“After a tough weekend I am pleased to be able to get back on the Honda without too much time between races. In the past, I have gone well in France but we will need to see how this weekend goes. The test we had on Monday after Jerez was productive and importantly I was able to get more time on the bike which should help us to understand and improve.”
Takaaki Nakagami, LCR Honda IDEMITSU:
“After a good test at Jerez, the first official test of this season, I feel confident for this weekend because we were able to improve my feeling with the bike. Last year at Le Mans we struggled a bit during the weekend, but hopefully this year we will be able to show our full potential. We will try as hard as always – focusing on each session, trying to always stay in the top ten, so that we can get a good position in qualifying. Also, we will need to watch the weather because sometimes the weather at Le Mans can be a bit critical. Anyway, we will try to prepare ourselves for all conditions, work well with the team like always and try to be strong on Sunday.”
Cal Crutchlow, LCR Honda CASTROL:
“After a strong test at Jerez we are looking forward to going to Le Mans and seeing what we are able to do with the LCR Honda CASTROL team. We know that HRC have been putting in a lot of work lately, trying as hard as always to give us an even better motorcycle and overall package; so we are looking forward to taking advantage of that and seeing if we can have a good result at a hopefully sunny Le Mans.”
Lorenzo Baldassarri, Flexbox HP 40:
“We come to Le Mans from another great weekend at Jerez and a useful one-day test, during which we focused on improving the front-end feedback I get from the machine. We made a good step, so I am feeling good about this next race. The important thing is that we stay fast and consistent, from one race to the next. Le Mans isn't an easy track, so we will work hard and hope for good weather.”
Thomas Luthi, Dynavolt Intact GP:
“It is kind of a strange story with Le Mans. I was more successful there than on any other track, but I don't really know why. There are other circuits and layouts, which I like more, but at Le Mans I've been really successful. So for sure, I'm always excited to go there and it is the same this year. Many times we have to face challenges weather-wise there. Also the forecast this time looks mixed. This can make things even more interesting than they already are. But I think again it is important to focus on myself, on my job and to look to try to be up front again. We did a lot of testing at Aragon last week and there were some interesting things. We have found a direction we can take that will hopefully help us at Le Mans.”
Marcel Schrötter, Dynavolt Intact GP:
“I am looking forward to Le Mans. Jerez was disappointing for me, as things didn't go well there. I rode there with two broken metatarsal bones [from a training accident]. Of course I did not expect a podium finish, but we tried to do damage containment and take a top-ten finish. Unfortunately that did not go to plan. We had the foot fixed with some screws and now I'm working with my physiotherapist to be as well prepared for the weekend as possible. Everything goes well so far. We are in a good position in the championship, so I can't risk being absent. We have to return to the front; therefore I am looking forward to Le Mans. Last year it was there that I started to feel confident and get good results. It was the first step into the right direction.”
Somkiat Chantra, IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia:
“Since Jerez I have been working very hard at my training in Barcelona, so I should be in good shape at Le Mans. I like the Le Mans circuit and had quite a good race there in last year's CEV Moto3 championship race, so I know the track, but of course it will be very different on a Moto2 bike. I'm really happy to go there again and I will try my best to get a good result on Sunday.”
Dimas Ekky Pratama, IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia:
“Le Mans is a new track for me – I have never been there on a bike – so after the Jerez weekend I started watching videos of previous Le Mans races from the last few years, so I can try and learn something about the track. From FP1 I will work with my team to find a good pace around the circuit and on Sunday I will do my best to get a good result there.”
Niccolo Antonelli, Sic58 Squadra Corse:
“It was great to win again at Jerez, but now it's back to work as normal; always looking forward! We now know that the bike is working well for me, so we just need to work on the details to get the set-up right for Le Mans. I've had some good races there – including fifth last time – so we want to build one that and fight for the podium once again.”
Kaito Toba, Honda Team Asia:
“This weekend, after my ride at Jerez, I want to get a podium. As always we will try to work hard and well all weekend and try to make a good job of qualifying so we can make a good start to the race. I have a good feeling at the Le Mans circuit and I like it, so I hope that we can target the podium on Sunday.”
Lorenzo Dalla Porta, Leopard Racing:
“We were unlucky at Jerez, but this kind of thing can happen because the racing in Moto3 is so close. Le Mans has not been so good for me for results, but my target is to change that this year. We know that we have a very good base setting with our bike, so we need to take that into FP1 and work from there to get the best set-up for what is quite an unusual layout. We can fight up front on Sunday and see what happens.”
Ai Ogura, Honda Team Asia:
“At Jerez I was able to finish inside the top ten, then we stayed at the track for some testing and I had a good feeling in the tests. We learned many good things that should help us at Le Mans – bike settings and also my riding style. This weekend I will try to get a better result than I got at Jerez.”