KEVIN'S INSIGHTS: 2017 Le Mans MotoGP Wrap-Up

Vinales notches his third victory of the season

Just as events take on fairy-tale shape, reality gives an awful yank. The old fox Valentino Rossi felt he had enough tire to attack at the very end, moving past youngsters Johann Zarco in second and then leader Maverick Vinales to lead this race and pull out 4/10 of a second. He’s gonna do it again!

Then he ran wide at Garage Vert, putting Vinales in first again. Rossi had more! Almost—while pushing hard to recover, he fell at Turn 11, last lap. Vinales made his season total three race wins. Johann Zarco, first-year sensation of the 2017 season, miraculously still upright and on the pace despite his daring choice of soft/soft tires, was just three seconds back. Then came Dani Pedrosa, 7.7 seconds down in 3rd, having started 13th.

maverick vinales french gp race action 2017
1st: Maverick Vinales, Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, Grand Prix of France 2017Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha

Completing the top-five were Andrea Dovizioso, as so often mysteriously able to make tires last on the super-powerful Ducati, followed by clear-thinking Cal Crutchlow, the only rider to choose a hard front for his factory Honda.

I say clear-thinking because in this race Marc Marquez, having topped the “Cool-Up” (that’s the normal Sunday Warm-up, but at 61 degrees) outbraked himself on lap 18, losing the front (a medium) while approaching the Dunlop Chicane;

johann zarco with team at french gp 2017
2nd: Johann Zarco, Monster Yamaha Tech3, Grand Prix of France 2017Courtesy of Monster Yamaha Tech3

"I knew what my pace was and that the Yamaha riders were stronger today, but my target was to fight for fourth of fifth place and just be competitive until the end. I tried to be careful but then for some reason I lost the front very fast."

Some background for his attitude toward Le Mans comes from this 2016 quote; “These things can happen when you’re at the limit on every lap. I could have been more conservative but here you can end up far back if you do that. I had to take risks with the braking.”

Why were the Yamaha riders stronger? In the past two years, for whatever reason, the Hondas have not accelerated or top-ended well. Le Mans is a series of folded short straights—drag strips. Yes, Hondas used to excel at acceleration, but since their engineering adopted “kinder, gentler” as their guiding principle they haven’t been able to get their V4 reverse-rotation Big-Bang engine to express itself through the medium of the ‘single software’ all teams must now use.

dani pedrosa arrives in paddock french gp 2017
3rd: Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda Team, Grand Prix of France 2017Courtesy of Repsol Honda

Further, the Yamahas excel in corner speed when traction is good—and Le Mans has just been freshly paved, causing pundits to predict lap times 1-1.5 seconds faster than on the old pavement. Early practices this weekend were wet, and water down in the texture evaporated slowly and in patches, creating the never-land that lurks between slicks and full rains. A dry line on this corner, and…Whoops! You’re in the gravel.

FP4 and qualifying were dry but there was no time for the usual longer runs to evaluate tires, turning the Warm-Up into everyone’s last research opportunity. What do you do when facts are scarce? Make a best guess and then cope. As always it is the strong riders who cope best.

Dani Pedrosa gave a welcome insight into rider mental process;

andrea dovizioso french gp race action 2017
4th: Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team, Grand Prix of France 2017Courtesy of Ducati Team

“I was thinking all night how to make it through the first chicane because it’s so tight and when you’re back in the pack it’s so hard to not touch someone or make a mistake then. Then the race stretches out so much it’s so hard to make up ground later, even if you’re fast.

“It was a demanding mental exercise to try to be fast but not crash, being aggressive but calm!

“It was tough behind Dovizioso because he was riding well and he was so fast out of corners and good in braking.”

In passing Cal Crutchlow, Pedrosa’s bike touched his, forcing Crutchlow to lift and go wide.

“…the pass with Cal was on the limit. He made a little mistake and I went through but then he closed the door recovering his line and we hit together.”

Crutchlow shrugged it off;

cal crutchlow french gp headshot 2017
5th: Cal Crutchlow, LCR Honda, Grand Prix of France 2017Courtesy of LCR Honda

“I have no hard feelings at all and to be honest he probably couldn’t see me because he was hanging off the bike on the inside. And I did run wide.”

How did Zarco make his soft tires go the distance?

“I used only the soft during the weekend and we wanted to go with the soft to keep this confidence.”

The soft tires made an immediate difference; Zarco’s opening lap was half-a-second quicker than his competition. Making them last at the necessary pace?

Zarco speaks of calming himself and taking stock of his situation. In this case he worked to achieve what was possible. He is cool, not hot. The mind and not the wrist.

jorge lorenzo french gp race action 2017
6th: Jorge Lorenzo, Ducati Team, Grand Prix of France 2017Courtesy of Ducati Team

Why is Marquez so often having to ride at the limit to be competitive? Broadcaster Julian Ryder characterized Marquez as ‘looking wild’ through the weekend.

In the early 1970s it was clear that Kawasaki was saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per season because rider Yvon DuHamel’s over-the-limit riding made race bike development unnecessary. Is Honda saving money in a similar way? Are they over-budget? Or are the problems of the RC213V really taking years to solve? (Honda riders are careful to say that steady progress is being made, but…) Over and again, Marquez speaks of playing Honda’s strongest card—super-late hard braking—but this implies that the 213 in its present state is a one-trick pony. And today, Marquez fell while braking.

Never mind. The circus moves on to the next track, the Hondas look strong again, and life goes on.

Vinales’ last lap was the fastest of the race;

jonas folger french gp race action 2017
7th: Jonas Folger, Monster Yamaha Tech3, Grand Prix of France 2017Courtesy of Monster Yamaha Tech3

“When I saw (Rossi) made a mistake, I braked as late as I could and I took a lot of risks because I went with full pressure on the brakes and leaning a lot, but it was good for me because the bike had good grip on the front.

“I didn’t know that Valentino had crashed until I crossed the line on the last lap. I said OK, on the last corner he is going to try to overtake, so I was preparing myself for the attack.”

Rossi saw it this way;

“…at the end I felt comfortable on the bike, I had a good feeling so I tried to attack. Unfortunately on the last lap I made a mistake in Turn 6 and I fell back a little, so Maverick (was able to) overtake me. I knew I had another chance.

“Sincerely, what happened during the crash we don’t understand. Usually you have to pay attention to the front, but I lost the rear when I crashed.”

The attack never came and the fairy-tale ending evaporated.

2017 french gp podium
Johann Zarco, Maverick Vinales, and Dani Pedrosa, Grand Prix of France Podium 2017Courtesy of Repsol Honda

RACE RESULTS

Pos. Rider Num. Nation Points Team Time/Gap
1 VINALES Maverick 25 SPA 25 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 43'29.793
2 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 20 Monster Yamaha Tech3 3.134
3 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 16 Repsol Honda Team 7.717
4 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 13 Ducati Team 11.223
5 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR 11 LCR Honda 13.519
6 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 10 Ducati Team 24.002
7 FOLGER Jonas 94 GER 9 Monster Yamaha Tech3 25.733
8 MILLER Jack 43 AUS 8 Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 32.603
9 BAZ Loris 76 FRA 7 Reale Avintia Racing 45.784
10 IANNONE Andrea 29 ITA 6 Team Suzuki Ecstar 48.332
11 RABAT Tito 53 SPA 5 Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS 50.036
12 ESPARGARO Pol 44 SPA 4 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 52.661
13 SMITH Bradley 38 GBR 3 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 53.179
14 LOWES Sam 22 GBR 2 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 55.432
15 GUINTOLI Sylvain 50 FRA 1 Team Suzuki Ecstar 1'06.878
16 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 0 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP 1 lap
17 ESPARGARO Aleix 41 SPA 0 Aprilia Racing Team Gresini 5 laps
18 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 0 Repsol Honda Team 11 laps
19 PETRUCCI Danilo 9 ITA 0 Octo Pramac Racing 11 laps
20 REDDING Scott 45 GBR 0 Octo Pramac Racing 21 laps
21 ABRAHAM Karel 17 CZE 0 Pull&Bear Aspar Team 23 laps
22 BARBERA Hector 8 SPA 0 Reale Avintia Racing 25 laps
23 BAUTISTA Alvaro 19 SPA 0 Pull&Bear Aspar Team No Start

RIDER STANDINGS

Pos. Rider Num Nation Points Team
1 VINALES Maverick 25 SPA 85 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
2 PEDROSA Dani 26 SPA 68 Repsol Honda Team
3 ROSSI Valentino 46 ITA 62 Movistar Yamaha MotoGP
4 MARQUEZ Marc 93 SPA 58 Repsol Honda Team
5 ZARCO Johann 5 FRA 55 Monster Yamaha Tech3
6 DOVIZIOSO Andrea 4 ITA 54 Ducati Team
7 CRUTCHLOW Cal 35 GBR 40 LCR Honda
8 LORENZO Jorge 99 SPA 38 Ducati Team
9 FOLGER Jonas 94 GER 38 Monster Yamaha Tech3
10 MILLER Jack 43 AUS 29 Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS

More Photos From The Grand Prix of France 2017

jack miller french gp race action 2017
8th: Jack Miller, Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS, Grand Prix of France 2017Courtesy of Team EG 0,0 Marc VDS
loris baz french gp race action 2017
9th: Loris Baz, Reale Avintia Racing, Grand Prix of France 2017Courtesy of Reale Avintia Racing
andrea iannone french gp race action 2017
10th: Andrea Iannone, Team Suzuki Ecstar, Grand Prix of France 2017Courtesy of Team Suzuki Ecstar
zarco, vinales, pedrosa show support for nicky hayden
GoNickyCourtesy of Repsol Honda