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Preview Grand Prix of France, Le Mans
Posted by: newsla on May 14, 2014 - 06:40 AM
Preview Grand Prix of France, Le Mans


Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda RC213V) travels to legendary motorsport venue Le Mans this week with the aim of continuing his historic run of successes. So far this year the 21-year-old has dominated the MotoGP World Championship, taking pole position and race victory at all four rounds.


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Not since 1971 – when MV Agusta and Giacomo Agostini were utterly dominant – has a rider taken the pole/win double at the first five races of the season. Indeed Agostini took pole and victory at the first eight races of 1971. Of course, that was a very different era, when MV Agusta were the lone factory team, competing against a grid made up mostly of privateers. Marquez races against 11 factory-equipped riders, including team-mate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC213V) who holds second place in the points chase, having taken four podium finishes from the first four races.

Marquez’s 2014 successes in Qatar, Texas, Argentina and Spain have all been dominant performances in their own way and have shown the youngster getting more and more confident and consistent on his RC213V. At the last three rounds the former 125 and Moto2 World Champion was able to break away from the pack and fully control the race. Perhaps Le Mans could be a trickier event because the French Grand Prix is often marked by rainy weather. However, during last year’s rainy Le Mans GP – Marquez’s first MotoGP race in the wet – it took him just eight laps to become the fastest man on track and finish in third place, so it would take a brave man to bet against him continuing his winning streak.

If there’s one man who knows he can better Marquez this weekend it is Pedrosa, who won that race at Le Mans last May. Some years ago the former 125 and 250 World Champion struggled in the rain, but some specialist training – riding a dirt bike on slick tyres in sandy terrain – helped him perfect the art of racing in low-grip situations and now he is one of the most accomplished wet-weather riders.

Following his third-place finish at Jerez a fortnight ago, Pedrosa underwent surgery for arm pump. He wasn’t the only one. Former Moto2 title winner Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda RC213V) also had an operation to fix arm pump, a condition that affects many racers due to the huge forces they contend with while controlling a high-powered motorcycle, especially during heavy braking.

Arm pump ruined Bradl’s race at Jerez, where he was in the battle for fifth place, only to slip back to tenth as his right arm became weaker. The German has shown that he can run close to the front this year, with a front-row start at the Grand Prix of the Americas in Texas where he finished fourth, less than two seconds off the podium.

Nicky Hayden (Drive 7 Aspar Honda RCV1000R) has had a good start to 2014 aboard Honda’s brand-new production MotoGP racer, built by the factory to give private teams a chance of gunning for top-ten results. Eighth at the season-opening Qatar GP, the 2006 MotoGP World Champion has been 11th at the last three GPs, crossing the line at Jerez less than three seconds outside the top ten.

The American’s team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama (Drive 7 Aspar Honda RCV1000R) had a slightly slower start to the year but the former 250 World Champion beat Hayden in Argentina after a last-lap sort-out and finished just a few seconds behind him at Jerez. No doubt the pair will continue their duel to be the top RCV1000R rider at Le Mans on Sunday.

MotoGP rookie Scott Redding (Team GO&FUN Honda Gresini RCV1000R) continues his MotoGP apprenticeship at Le Mans, where he scored his first Moto2 victory this time last year. The Briton has scored points in three of the four races so far this season, working all the time to increase his knowledge of electronic rider control systems, which aren’t used in Moto2.

Alvaro Bautista (Team GO&FUN Honda Gresini RC213V) scored his first points of the year at Jerez, following three crashes at the opening three races. The Spaniard’s hard-fought sixth-place result could have been better but for the fact that he was determined to take no big risks to be sure of his first score of 2014. Bautista was also sixth at last year’s soaking French GP.

Like most MotoGP riders, Karel Abraham (Cardion AB Motoracing Honda RCV1000R) stayed on at Jerez for a one-day test session and the Czech rider believes his team gained important information that will improve his performance at Le Mans and beyond.

The top two teams in the Honda-powered Moto2 series arrive at Le Mans fresh from separate test sessions in Spain. Team-mates Tito Rabat (Marc VDS Racing Team, Kalex) and Mika Kallio (Marc VDS Racing Team, Kalex) spent two days at Almeria to fine-tune the set-up of their machines. Both riders announced themselves happy with progress which will make them difficult to beat – at the moment the pair hold first and second in the championship following Rabat’s victories in Qatar and Argentina and Kallio’s first win of the year at Jerez.

If anyone can take the fight to the Belgian-based team it is Moto2 rookie and reigning Moto3 World Champion Maverick Vinales (Pons HP 40, Kalex), who won his first race in the intermediate class in Texas last month and also won last year’s Moto3 race at Le Mans. Vinales could only manage fifth at Jerez, but after an intense test session at Aragon the 19-year-old says he is ready to push towards the front once again.

Swiss charger Dominique Aegerter (Technomag carXpert, Suter) is full of optimism for Le Mans, having had a superb start to his fifth season in Moto2, claiming a career-best second-place finish at Jerez, following a third place in Texas and a close-run fourth in Argentina.

Simone Corsi (NGM Forward Racing, Forward KLX) is fifth in the standings, despite a crash at Jerez, and will be looking to get back in the running at Le Mans, along with Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock, Suter) who had difficult outings at Jerez and in Argentina.

Local star Johann Zarco (AirAsia Caterham, Caterham Suter) hopes for his best weekend of the year following a tough start to 2014 that saw the Frenchman take his first points of the season at round four at Jerez.

Honda Moto3 star Efren Vazquez (SaxoPrint-RTG Honda NSF250R) is eager to get on with the job in France after a brilliant second-place finish at Jerez which maintained his second place in the Moto3 World Championship. The Spaniard has scored three podiums from the first four races and is a fan of the Le Mans layout, which isn’t so popular with many other riders.

Eleven points behind Vazquez sits compatriot Alex Rins (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda NSF250RW) who led into the last corner at Jerez but finished third in a hectic race to the finish line. The result nevertheless gave Rins his first podium of the year and hopefully ignited his push to be in contention for the Moto3 World Championship

Alex Marquez (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Honda NSF250RW) has already scored two second-place finishes this year but lies two points behind team-mate Rins due to a tumble in Texas. The 18-year-old younger brother of Marc finished fifth at Le Mans last year, three positions behind team-mate Rins.

Frenchman Alexis Masbou (Ongetta-Rivacold Honda NSF250R) contests his home race while holding eighth place in the championship, with a full house of points-scoring finishes at the first four races. His best so far this year is sixth in Texas, a result he aims to surpass on Sunday.

Le Mans first joined the motorcycle World Championship calendar in 1969, since when the French GP has been hosted at the Sarthe venue as well as Circuit Paul Ricard, Nogaro and Clermont-Ferrand. The motorcycle GP uses the 4.8km/2.6 mile Bugatti circuit, as opposed to the much longer street circuit used for the Le Mans 24 hour car race. Last month bike racing’s biggest 24 hour event – the Bol d’Or – was also staged at Le Mans.

The circuit is characterised by mostly slow-speed corners, which prioritise braking, steering, traction and acceleration. Honda have enjoyed many great premier-class victories at Le Mans, with Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Alex Crivillé, Valentino Rossi, Sete Gibernau, Marco Melandri, Casey Stoner and Pedrosa all enjoying victory at the circuit.

After Sunday’s racing the paddock packs up and heads south for the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello on June 1.

Honda MotoGP rider quotes

Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez says:
“After another really great weekend in Jerez and a positive day of testing on Monday, we are now on our way to Le Mans. You never know what the weather will do there so it is important to start strong from FP1. Last year we had our first wet race here and I really learned a lot, but this year I hope it will remain dry! We know that Dani, Jorge and Valentino will come back at us hard here, but we will work on our own programme - as usual - and fight for victory or at least some important championship points.”

Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa says:
“I enjoyed the weekend in Jerez, and the battle at the end with Rossi was a lot of fun. After Monday’s test I had a tight feeling in my right forearm. On Tuesday morning I went to see Dr Xavier Mir and he recommended surgery immediately. We took his advice and it seems to be healing up well but I guess I won’t know until I’m back on the bike on Friday for FP1. I won for the first time in Le Mans in MotoGP last year in a very tough race. I enjoy the circuit and we’ve had good results there in the past but we must always pay attention to the weather! The testing in Jerez was useful and we confirmed some feelings, now we must see if they translate to the track this weekend.”

LCR Honda rider Stefan Bradl says:
“As everybody knows I had another surgery to treat the arm-pump problem which affected my race in Jerez. The operation was quick and successful and in recent days I’ve made all the treatments required to be fit for Le Mans. Actually I cannot make any prediction because I must see how it goes when I am on track. Anyway, I had the operation at the right time because the season is still long and there’s enough time to recover completely and try to be in the front very soon.”

Drive 7 Aspar Honda rider Nicky Hayden says:
“Le Mans has never been a great track for me personally and truthfully it's not my favourite, but when we were kids my dad never let us say we don’t like a track so I never say it! What I can say is that there are some fun corners and great fans. Unfortunately for us at the moment there is a lot of acceleration coming out of slow corners, which is not the strongest point of our bike. Anyway, I need to understand how much my wrist irritation from Jerez has improved and try to keep the progress we made in Spain rolling, go have so fun and go fast!”

Drive 7 Aspar Honda rider Hiroshi Aoyama says:
“We have been in good form over the first four races of the season and we have improved the set-up of our bike a lot, especially during the test following the race at Jerez. We found some things that I am looking forward to trying out at Le Mans. It will be a difficult circuit for us with so many straights and slow corners where you need to get the bike stopped. Anyway, we go there full of motivation and determined to maintain our good form from Jerez. Le Mans has a very rich history in motorsport and I love the atmosphere there. Hopefully we can have a good weekend in France and find some consistency in the first part of the race, which is what we lacked in Spain. That's the objective.”

Team GO&FUN Honda Gresini rider Scott Redding says:
“Last year in Le Mans I won my first race in the Moto2 class, so I am very happy to return to this circuit. The only concern is related to possible difficult conditions because of the bad weather: I’ve not had the opportunity to ride a MotoGP bike in wet conditions, so this would be a completely new situation for me. Otherwise, if the track will remain dry, I think that it can suit the characteristics of our bike, as long as we can find more grip than we did in Jerez. Like Jerez, Le Mans is quite a narrow and small track, so it will take a little time to adjust the electronic controls and to adapt my riding style, but I think that we learned a lot from this point of view from the Spanish GP weekend, also considering the positive day of testing carried out after the race.”

Team GO&FUN Honda Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista says:
“Le Mans is not one of my favourite tracks and probably this is due to the fact that often the bad weather makes it difficult to work properly on the bike during practice. In any case, our goal remains the same we set ourselves before Jerez, that is to collect as many points as possible. It’s difficult, however, to make a prediction, because the weather forecasts predict rain for Sunday. During the test we have carried out the day after the Spanish Grand Prix, we could test several new solutions that have worked well: therefore, we hope that they will prove useful also on this track.”

Cardion AB Motoracing rider Karel Abraham says:
“We had improved our bike thanks to the testing session after Jerez race. So I’m happy to say that we made another step to be competitive and our aim is to get back into the points after my weird crash in Jerez. It’s not a modest objective in Le Mans. It’s not a secret that I don’t like this track much. There are many types of asphalt and each of them has different grip, so the race is like playing roulette, especially in the wet. Hopefully it won’t rain this time.”

Moto2 rider quotes

Marc VDS Racing Team rider Tito Rabat says:
“To test at Almeria, my favourite circuit, with the team was like a dream for me. I really enjoyed the two days, as it was a chance to get to know everyone in the team even better, without the pressures of a race weekend. Also I got to spend some time with Marc van der Straten, our team owner. I know the Almeria circuit very well, so it was a great opportunity to see where we can improve with the bike and we are well prepared for Le Mans next week. We still have work to do, but the aim in France will remain the same; to win.”

Marc VDS Racing Team rider Mika Kallio says:
“The data we’ve collected over the first four races this season gave us some ideas as to how we could improve the bike, but it’s not possible to test these changes during a hectic race weekend. The two-days at Almeria provided an ideal opportunity for us to try seven or eight different things with the set up, and the results were quite positive. Now we head to Le Mans, which isn’t one of my favourite tracks as it’s a bit stop start, but it’s a circuit that I’ve gone well on in the past. Hopefully the work we did in Almeria will pay dividends next weekend in France.”

Pons HP 40 rider Maverick Vinales says:
“I’m very happy with the test we did at Aragon. It was very intense because we rode a lot of laps and tried many things with the bike. I think it went very well. The work we did there will help us at the GP of Aragon and also for Le Mans where I am eager to continue the good direction we have taken so far.”

Honda Moto3 rider quotes

SaxoPrint-RTG rider Efren Vazquez says:
“I really like Le Mans, and the way the season is going I think we can have another really strong race. My speed is good and the Honda is performing well. I need to keep on in the same way: concentrating on qualifying well but always focusing on the race, to give the best possible.”

Estrella Galicia 0,0 rider Alex Rins says:
“We go into the French Grand Prix eager to do well. At Jerez we got a bit closer to championship leader Jack Miller and after training in Aragon last week, we will try to finish a little closer or even ahead of him at Le Mans. The tests went well for us, so now we are even more motivated than we were.”

Estrella Galicia 0,0 rider Alex Marquez says:
“Le Mans is a quirky circuit, but I believe that we can adapt well to the track. We hope good weather will be with us throughout the weekend, because it usually rains on one day or another. Hopefully that won’t happen this year, so we can have plenty of dry track time to find the best direction with bike set-up. Last year I finished fifth at Le Mans. It’s a track that should work well for us, both me and the bike, so we will try to find the best settings from first practice.”

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