Drenched in history as much as a characteristically adverse climate, the Le Mans ‘Bugatti’ circuit welcomed MotoGP for the second European stop of the 2017 trail and the fast ‘stop-start’ layout saw Movistar Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales place his ‘size nines’ on the highest step of the box for the second time this year.
The fifth appointment of the FIM World Championship was another dramatic and gripping episode of the series: from the sombre mood over former champion Nicky Hayden’s accident to the shocking practice crash by Jack Miller to the incredible scenes of almost half the Moto3 grid falling down on the first lap due to liquid on the track necessitating a restart. Perhaps the icing on the cake for the excitable French fans was the competitiveness of Monster Tech3 Yamaha’s Johann Zarco; the former Moto2 World Champion was again a pace-setter and pushed his factory brandmates hard around the Gallic asphalt.
It was Viñales who made headlines among the many stories at Le Mans. #25 battled with Zarco and then faced intense pressure from teammate Valentino Rossi; the Italian enjoying his most potent weekend of the season so far in terms of race speed and form. To the dismay of his immense legion of fans around the world the championship leader lost control of the #46 M1 on the last lap and crashed out. Zarco moved through to second place and his first MotoGP podium in just his fifth attempt.
“Today it looked like we were going to have a dream scenario with a Yamaha 1-2-3, but unfortunately it wasn‘t to be,” lamented. Movistar Yamaha Team Director Massimo Meregalli.
“Until the end, in the last lap, I gave everything I had here in the French GP and, honestly, I'm so happy and so pleased,” beamed Viñales, who erased the disappointment of Jerez two weeks previously. “The team was working on an incredible level…I hope we can continue like that.”
An added bonus for Maverick – aside from assuming control of the MotoGP standings for the second time this season – was the status of providing Yamaha with their 500th Grand Prix triumph. Of that vast total Rossi has contributed 55. But in France it was not his day. “For sure, for me this could have been the best result of the season,” he said. “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. Anyway, I made a mistake, and it's like this. It is a great shame to go back home with zero points.”
In contrast to Rossi’s frustration Zarco was ecstatic. “There are many words that I could use but today has been just great. It’s a bit complicated to fight in Le Mans because the track is tight, so I was thinking that even though third at the time was fantastic, if they [Viñales and Rossi] fight like that, maybe something will happen and I can get a better position, and this came true. The crowd made a lot of noise and there was positive energy. I didn’t feel it at the time, but now I realise that they brought me to the top and now I need to enjoy this moment.”
LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow came home in fifth spot and a comfortable distance ahead of Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo. Moto2 saw EG 0,0 Marc VDS Franco Morbidelli back on form with his fourth set of spoils from five and an emphatic comeback from his crash in Spain a fortnight ago. The Italian placed ahead of Sky Racing Team VR46’s Pecco Bagnaia; the rookie now hitting an impressive stride with his second rostrum turn on the bounce. Estrella Galicia 0,0’s Aron Canet was again in the champagne with the runner-up slot in Moto3.
MotoGP powerslides to the epic surroundings of Mugello in two weeks for the Grand Prix of Italy and where Rossi has accrued years of spoils and some unforgettable scenes but is due a renewal with destiny after his mechanical heartbreak in 2016.