Round 5 of the 2016 MotoGP championship brings those daring young men on their wingleted machines to the French countryside for the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France. The Loire river valley is wine country and, as most folks know, you need rain and mild temperatures to grow a decent sauvignon blanc. What’s good for the grapes is, unfortunately, bad for motorcycle racing. Without a clue who might win Sunday’s race, it’s a safe bet that the Rain Gods will play a part in the outcome.

Before we start, let’s address this writer’s predictions concerning Round 4 in Jerez. I suggested that Valentino Rossi might be under-motivated, being handsomely contracted through the end of 2018, and that Jorge Lorenzo could be inclined to hold back in order to punish Yamaha for lovin’ on Vale so much that he jumped ship to Ducati for the next two seasons. Accordingly, the two finished one-two in a Yamaha rout. We’ll just set all that on a side burner to simmer for a while; I’m much better at discussing past events than predicting future ones.

A jubilant Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo formed a Yamaha one-two finish at Jerez.

Recent History at Le Mans

Early in 2013, Dani Pedrosa was having the best premier class season of his career. Starting the year with a 4th in Qatar, he chased race winner and rookie Repsol Honda teammate Marc Marquez all over the joint in Austin before settling for second. He followed that up with a decisive win in Jerez. Somehow, in a steady downpour, he outran Cal Crutchlow and Marquez to the flag at Le Mans, extending his lead for the year. He held this lead until a heavy crash in practice at Round 8 in Germany, clearing the way for Marquez to eventually take the title. At Le Mans that year, Lorenzo and Rossi floundered, so to speak, ultimately finishing seventh and 12th, respectively.

The sun was out and shining for the 2014 French Grand Prix. Rain, however, is a frequent wild card at Le Mans.

The 2014 French Grand Prix was a dry race, during The Year of Marc Marquez. The defending champion continued his historic run of poles and wins in France, although the top six finishers – Marquez, Rossi, Alvaro Bautista, Pol Espargaro, Pedrosa and Lorenzo – were separated by a mere seven seconds. Bautista, on the Gresini Honda, worked Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro by 6/10ths at the finish to deprive Herve Poncharal’s French team of what would have been an oh-so-sweet podium at their home race.

Jorge Lorenzo pulled away from the field early in last year’s race to take the win.

Last year, on a perfect afternoon, Movistar Yamaha delivered a clear message to the grid, notably Marquez: anyone contemplating, say, a third world championship in 2015 would need to go through The Bruise Brothers. Lorenzo, in a replay of his win in Jerez two weeks earlier, got away early and was never challenged on the way to his 35th career win in MotoGP. Rossi had to slice his way through several Andreas on Ducatis to secure his ninth podium in a row and 13th out of 14 dating back to 2014. It was a forgettable Sunday for team Repsol Honda, as Marquez crossed the line fourth, while Pedrosa, just back from radical arm pump surgery, hung on to finish 16th.

Les Étrangers en France

Dani Pedrosa crashed in last year’s Le Mans race but managed to remount and finished 16th. He’s hoping for a better result this year.

Of the three current Aliens – Pedrosa’s membership status is under double secret probation – Lorenzo has enjoyed the most success at Le Mans. Since his promotion to the premier class in 2008 he has won four of his eight starts at the Bugatti Circuit, including last year. Marquez, with eight starts across three classes (the first when he was 15) has stood on the top step twice, in 2011 (Moto2) and 2014. Valentino Rossi, with 16 MotoGP starts at Le Mans, has tasted victory only three times here, the most recent in 2008. If history is a teacher, one would be reasonable to expect Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi to appear on Sunday’s podium. Pedrosa could upgrade his Alien status with a podium finish, especially if he were to knock one of the Yamahas off. Most especially if that Yamaha bore #46.

The Return of the Tranches

A tranche, as some of you will recall, is just a fancy word for stratum which, itself, is just a fancy word for a level or layer in a stack of widgets, which is a word economists use in place of “whatever.” Back in the day, I used to assert that the grid would divide itself into rather discreet tranches based upon rider performance and character, or lack thereof in the case of Alvaro Bautista. For the past few seasons it was difficult to discern natural breaks in the standings. Not so after four rounds in 2016:

  • Tranche One: Marquez, Lorenzo and Rossi. The crème de la crème.
  • Tranche Two: Pedrosa, Pol Espargaro (Tech 3), and Team Suzuki Ecstar, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales. Vinales figures to jump up sometime in the next year or two.
Andrea Dovizioso should probably be higher on this list if it weren’t for a series of unfortunate events.
  • Tranche Three: Four Ducati pilots – Hector Barbera, Eugene Laverty, and the two Andreas, plus Tech 3 Yamaha slacker Bradley Smith. Barbera and Laverty are punching above their weight, while Iannone and Dovizioso actually belong in Tranche Two, where they would reside were it not for bad luck (Dovizioso) and oversized testicles (Iannone). Smith, so far this season, is making KTM as nervous as Mike Tyson in a spelling bee about having tapped him for the next two years.
  • Tranche Four: Stefan Bradl (Gresini Aprilia), Scott Redding (Pramac Ducati), Bautista (Gresini) and Tito Rabat (Marc VDS Honda). Redding and Rabat are underachieving while heading up; Bradl and Bautista are overachieving while heading down. Imagine how these standings would look had Gigi Dall’Igna stayed at Aprilia.
  • Tranche Five: Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), Loris Baz (Avintia Ducati), Yonny Hernandez (Avintia) and Jack Miller (Marc VDS). These four just can’t get arrested. Crutchlow, especially, has top ten talent and a world of excuses to go along with his five (5) points for 2016. Baz has potential but must overcome a height problem, a tall order indeed. Yonny appears to have peaked a year or two ago, while Miller really has no business in the premier class at this point in his career.
Grand Prix’s French contingent of reigning Moto2 Champion Johann Zarco, Moto3 racer Fabio Quartararo, MotoGP giant Loris Baz and Moto3 racer Alexis Masbou dress in period costumes for a photo op at the Chateau du Lude ahead of this weekend’s race.

Pramac Ducati hard luck case Danilo Petrucci is, as yet, untranched, having missed the entire season with injuries. He is slated to return this week and is said to be anxious to claim a spot in Tranche Two. Readers are encouraged to feign outrage over the tranching (?) of their favorite riders in the Comments section below.

What to Expect This Weekend

Wine in cardboard boxes and goatskins. Rain at least one day. Breathtaking brolly girls. Lorenzo and Marquez in a cage match, with Rossi and Pedrosa tangling in the undercard. Dovizioso on the podium if it rains on Sunday. Herve Poncharal playing the “home race” card. Michelin people everywhere, the dopey anachronistic Bib getting seriously outdrawn by the paddock gals.

Expect French team Tech 3 Yamaha to make a big deal about representing France in the French Grand Prix. French French French French French.

People riding scooters smoking Gauloises. Heavy security – guys in shorts and Jimmy Buffet t-shirts wearing black steel-toed boots, with machine pistols sticking out of their waistbands. And at least one trio of Brits in those ridiculous head-to-toe Union Jack outfits, drunk out of their gourds, thinking they had bought tickets to a football match in Germany.

As of Monday evening, the weather looks promising, partly cloudy with temps in the 70’s and a slight chance of rain. Rain is forecast for Monday and Tuesday; if it arrives early, Jorge Lorenzo will not win the race. The Rain Gods, currently working overtime in the U.S., have yet to turn their attention to France. If and when they do, anything can happen.

The race goes off early Sunday morning in the states. We’ll have results and analysis right here later in the day.

  • Old MOron

    Okay, the return of the tranches! I think you got it about right, though it might be unfair to stick Dovi in with the other Ducatis, poor schlimazel. I hope Petrux comes back and makes a strong showing.

    Good what-if question regarding Gigi and Aprilia. I wish he’d stayed with the Noale factory – same reason everyone is hoping Maverick will stick with Hamamatsu.

    • spiff

      I agree with the Aprilia and Suzuki wishes. As Far a Suzuki is concerned, I hope that they can continue to improve. The rider is not important to me.

      • Bruce Allen

        So, do you think your boy Vale could put a Suzuki on the podium? Conventional wisdom suggesting it’s 80% rider, 20% bike?

        • TroySiahaan

          Methinks 2004 Rossi could do it.

          • spiff

            He might be able to do it with the Aprilia. :)

          • Bruce Allen

            Podium, for sure. Win? I dunno.

        • Gruf Rude

          I thought conventional wisdom was weighting the bikes a lot higher with the advent of electronics.

          • Bruce Allen

            I first saw this comment (Matt Oxley?) in maybe 2011. At the time I thought it overstated the importance of the rider. Certainly during the ART era it did. Now, if someone insisted, I’d probably put it at 60/40 or so. I guess I’m agreeing with you.

        • spiff

          I think 46,93, and 99 could podium the Suzuki. It would have to be a track that was conducive to the bike. They may also need more than FP1 to set it up, but I think the GSXRR is close.

        • spiff

          Last yearLast year I think the ratio of rider:bike would have been 50:50. This year I guess 76:24.

  • Starmag

    The three aliens on the podium and everybody else wherever is a good bet. I think I’ll just stay in bed and snore rather than get suckered into another snooze-fest. Or just watch Moto3.

    • Old MOron

      Everyone is out for blood. The track is slick and treacherous. It could rain.
      Keep the faith.

  • BDan75

    “Nervous as Mike Tyson in a spelling bee.” Love it!

    Not sure I’m with you on Tito’s tranche placement (or, at least, his tranche trajectory). He seems like a really nice guy–and apparently he works like a slave–but I can’t help but wonder if he’s just out of his league talent-wise.

    • Bruce Allen

      David Emmett observes that Moto2 may not be the best training ground for MotoGP; perhaps WSB would be better, but all the top guys there are 30 years old. It takes the best riders a couple of years to adjust from Moto2/250cc–thinking Sic–while #93 is just plain unworldly. Rabat may figure it out, but he’s not 20 years old, and the window is not as large as it is for younger riders.

      • TroySiahaan

        Bradl didn’t exactly set MotoGP on fire after his Moto2 career…

        • Bruce Allen

          Great point. Even though his title was a gift, courtesy of the most damaging crash of Marquez’ career, he looked to be a hot property. Perhaps the team owners (other than Poncharal) see Bradl when they look at Zarco and Folger. Most everyone seems to want a Spaniard or an Italian in the saddle.

    • Starmag

      I went out on a date with Simile. I don’t know what I metaphor.
      Tim Vine

  • Bruce Allen

    Team Orders! Never thought I’d see the day. Shows how frustrated the suits at Ducati Corse are about the recent turn of events between the Andreas. Read all about it! http://www.sportrider.com/motogp-ducati-mandates-passing-rules-for-iannone-and-dovizioso#page-6

    • Old MOron

      Wow! I can understand management’s frustration, but they have to understand, “That’s racing.” This response could not be worse. I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose both Andreas.

  • Gruf Rude

    Let’s see if French Michelin can provide competent tires for the first time this year for their home race . . .

  • john phyyt

    Crutchlow in tranche FIVE. Ouch!
    I wonder what goes on in his head; when he sees you at the Airport?

    • Starmag

      ” don’t bring me down……..Bruce”

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxELf7F5xlY

      • Ozzy Mick

        Love it….”Bruce”….hahahahaha

        • Starmag

          According to the liner notes of the ELO compilation Flashback, he is saying a made-up lyric, “Grroosss,” which some have suggested sounds like the southern German expression “Grüß Gott.”
          After the song’s release, so many people had misinterpreted the word as
          “Bruce” that Lynne actually began to sing the word as “Bruce” for fun
          at live shows.[5]

    • Bruce Allen

      I think he probably blames me for the fact that he’s only gathered 5 points all season. If we know one thing, he rarely blames himself. In a normal year he would actually be in two or three.

  • Vrooom

    Lorenzo and Marquez in something closer to a mud wrestling vat than a cage match, slap and tickle for play only. If it rains it’s Rossi’s race. Hopefully Iannone doesn’t crash, and Vinales gets his mojo back, but no objection to the tranching.

  • Old MOron

    Hmm, if you look at Valentino’s last outing, his times were very, very consistent.
    http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2016/FRA/MotoGP/FP2/Analysis.pdf
    Unfortunately he was consistently slow. I wonder what he’s cooking up.

    • DKing

      I know..dang it! Hopefully he’s just biding his time searching for the perfect setting…

      • Old MOron

        Shucks, he was on the front row for the first half of Q2, but in the second half, after everyone pitted for fresh tires, he went backward. Seems to me he got stuck behind Vinalez and just stayed there.

        • Bruce Allen

          I don’t think he necessarily cares where he starts. Sure, front row is nice, but he’ll be in the hunt from the third row anyway.

          • Old MOron

            In Parc Ferme, Lorenzo said the race pace would be in the low 1’33s. Free practice 4 seems to support his estimate.
            http://resources.motogp.com/files/results/2016/FRA/MotoGP/FP4/Analysis.pdf

            Vale’s pace looks to be in the mid 1’33s, but he always finds a few tenths on Sunday, so he should be able to hang with the leaders.

            But based on qualifying, it seems the other guys can turn it up for a fast lap while Vale can’t. He always improves with the heat of battle, though, so I hope we have a good race tomorrow with all of the aliens, plus the Suzukis and the Ducatis fighting for the podium. Hey, I can dream!

          • spiff

            Unfortunately it won’t matter if Rossi has the speed unless he can go through the field in the first 2 to 3 laps. IF 99 and 93 get a 2 second cushion it will be tough to reel them in.

          • Old MOron

            Yes, and it’s going to be tough. All the guys lined up next to him are going to have a similar pace. And the track is fairly narrow.

  • Old MOron

    How about this news: Danny Eslick is in Moto 2 as a substitute rider. That was kind of a cool little surprise for me. Unfortunately he’s on the lone Suter at the very back of the grid. The bike’s regular rider, Efren Vasquez, scored five podia in Moto 3 last year, but he’s also been at the very back of the order on the Suter, so I guess Danny is doing about as well as can be expected.

  • JMDonald

    More breathtaking brolly girls I say.