World champion Marc Marquez pulled out a 36 point lead in the MotoGP world title race after yet another demolition job at the French Grand Prix.
Like Jerez two weeks earlier, the Le Mans Bugatti circuit had been identified as one of the weaker tracks for the Marquez/Honda combination, but with rivals Andrea Dovizioso and Johann Zarco crashing out in the early stages of the race, the Spaniard was able to easily take his third consecutive win, and his 38thin the premier class.
Hopes had been high for a home win when Zarco grabbed the pole position on Saturday. The Frenchman, riding for the satellite Monster Tech3 Yamaha squad, had been in the leading group before tipping off out of second on the eighth lap. Earlier in the race Dovizioso, fresh from signing a new two-year deal with Ducati, had crashed out from a similar position, as team-mate Jorge Lorenzo made the early running.
Marquez had started slowly, being the only rider in the field to choose the harder compound rear Michelin tyre, but worked his way through the field as the rubber came up to temperature. He took the lead on lap 10 and would never be headed on the remaining 17 laps.
“Of course, today was an important victory because Le Mans is a race track where we usually struggle a lot, and if we can be competitive here we can be competitive in all race tracks,” said Marquez. “When Dovi crashed the race was different. The pace was good but he lost the front and then I changed a little bit my strategy, cooling down a bit, but then Petrucci was pushing in the end.
“My team and I discussed the tyre choice with the Michelin technician and although the other riders all chose the soft tyre, for some reason I felt best with the hard tyre. I had to take it easy in the first few laps but when the tyre got up to temperature it was like having a new tyre every lap.”
Behind Marquez, Danilo Petrucci moved into second on his Ducati, with fellow Italian Valentino Rossi third. The top three remained static from mid-race, with the main interest being in the mid-pack, where plucky Brit Cal Crutchlow fought through to eighth. The Coventry rider had spent the night in hospital after suffering a monster crash in qualifying and, despite the pain and a lack of sleep, Crutchlow (pictured) was able to overtake Alex Rins and Aleix Espargaro in the closing laps to score eight valuable race points. “I was actually a bit disappointed with the race because I knew all weekend I had the pace, but I finished where I finished because of the consequences of what happened yesterday” rued Crutchlow. “I wasn’t willing to push in the first laps, it was as simple as that. Over the first 10 or 15 laps I didn’t want to make any mistakes, I just needed to stay on the bike otherwise I could have done myself some serious injury. After that, I was able to push a little bit and pick some riders off, but I have to give credit to the team. It’s the first race we’ve finished for a while, it’s not a great result, but I’m happy to have finished and done a good enough job.”
Bradley Smith scored two points for 14thon his KTM, while the other Brit in the race, Scott Redding, was another crasher.
In the championship, Marquez is the runaway leader with 95 points after five races. The consistent Maverick Vinales, seventh in Le Mans, moved up to second on 59 points, one ahead of Zarco and three ahead of Rossi. Crutchlow is the top British rider, in eighth, on 46 points.
Round six of the championship takes place at the Mugello circuit in Italy, in two weeks’ time.