On a picture-perfect afternoon in the French countryside, Movistar Yamaha bruise brothers Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi delivered a clear message to the grid, notably Repsol Honda upstart Marc Marquez: anyone even hallucinating about a world championship in 2015 will need to go through them. Lorenzo, in a replay of his win in Jerez last time out, took the early lead and was never challenged on the way to his 35th career victory in MotoGP. Rossi had to slice his way through several Ducati GP15s to secure his ninth podium in a row and 13th out of 14 dating back to last year. Meanwhile, it was another forgettable Sunday for Repsol Honda.
Lorenzo had been fast during the three dry practice sessions, got himself a mani-pedi during a wet FP4 (led by the Great French Hope Loris Baz), and qualified on the front row despite electronics issues. Marquez, appearing rather unsettled all weekend, rallied during QP2 for a blistering pole lap, half a second clear of factory Ducati #1 Andrea Dovizioso, in what would be his high point of Round 5. Rossi, once again unable to get anything going in qualifying, started from the front of Row 3, as if it matters where he starts. With 201 podia under his belt, The Doctor knows it’s where you finish that counts.
A typically hectic start to the race saw The Rider Formerly Known as Crazy Joe, recently Maniac Joe, and now Ironman Joe (racing despite a dislocated shoulder suffered on Monday) Andrea Iannone immediately trade paint with Marquez, the Spaniard getting the worst of it. Once the dust settled, it was Lorenzo, Dovizioso, Iannone, Marquez and Rossi forming up the first group. Repsol #2 Dani Pedrosa, in his first race back from arm surgery, started eighth and was running seventh on Lap 2 when he lost the front in Turn 4. He re-entered the race in 24th place, and spent the day testing his arm, finishing 16th. His condition heading to Mugello in two weeks is anyone’s guess.
The race announcers speculated it was braking problems that were causing Marquez to climb from fourth place early to sixth place by Lap 5, as he ran wide several times, seeming, with a full fuel load, more out of control than usual. Rossi, once again looking young and dangerous, pushed Marquez out of the way on Lap 3, bolted past Iannone on Lap 11 and stole Dovizioso’s lunch money on Lap 13, appearing eager to set up a battle with Lorenzo for the win. And though that joust did not materialize, an epic battle behind Dovizioso for fourth place did, the combatants being Marquez, the wounded Iannone, and Last Englishman Standing Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 Yamaha (countrymen Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding having by this time ended up in the gravel).
With the race three-quarters over, whatever had been bugging Marquez early on appeared solved as he stalked Smith, who was himself preparing to go through on Iannone into 4th place. Over the last seven laps of the race, Marquez and Iannone conducted a cage match reminiscent of their days fighting in Moto2. Smith, who on Lap 21 was lining up Iannone for fourth, found himself, instead, in sixth place on Lap 23, sucking air, while Marquez and Iannone went at each other with bayonets, changing places at least a dozen times. Some of the best racing of the year was going on here, with Smith waiting for the seemingly inevitable crash of one or both riders that never came. Marquez crossed the line on Lap 24 in fourth position, where he finished, while Iannone held Smith off long enough to claim fifth in as gutty a performance as one is likely to see, his left shoulder held in place by adhesive tape and popsicle sticks. One might argue that Smith deserved a better result today, but in the end the factory bikes prevailed over his satellite entry. Hard cheese for sure; no apology needed.
Elsewhere on the Grid
Aleix Espargaro and his factory Suzuki called it a day with mechanical issues early, the rider nursing a world of hurt suffered in a brutal high side in FP4. Brother Pol on the other Tech 3 Yamaha finished quietly in seventh, with an overachieving Yonny Hernandez driving his Pramac Ducati to a gratifying eighth. Maverick Vinales, who seems to be getting the hang of things on his own Suzuki Ecstar, punked Pramac’s Danilo Petrucci at the flag for a very decent ninth place finish, with Petrucci, promoted up from the hapless Ioda Racing team after last season, showing us why, ending the day in the top ten. Nicky Hayden took top open class honors on his Aspar Honda in 11th place, followed by Baz, Avintia Ducati plodder Hector Barbera 13th, Eugene Laverty 14th (for his first premier class points) and Alvaro Baustista closing out the points on his Gresini Aprilia.
The Big Picture
After five rounds, Movistar Yamaha owns the top two spots in the standings, Rossi clear of Lorenzo by 15 points, both looking ready to rumble into Mugello. Dovizioso, sits four points behind Lorenzo in third, while Marquez, in a completely unexpected turn of events, saw his 2015 season deteriorate even farther, trailing Rossi by 33, his swagger and apparent invincibility of the past two years missing in action. Iannone, who with Dovizioso figures to do well in Mugello, sits eight points behind Marquez, with Crutchlow and Smith waging The Second Battle of Britain in seventh and eighth places, separated by a single point.
A word about Valentino Rossi – podium #201 was his today, leading me to project when he will reach #300 (2022), #400 (2030) and #500 (2039), just in time for his 60th birthday. I hope that whomever is writing this column at that time remembers to give him props.
Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. At age 36 he shows no signs of slowing down, dominating a young man’s game like no other before him. Had he not gotten his nose out of joint and accepted the millions offered him by Ducati for two years of perdition, he would already have a leg up on podium #300. Much like Michael Jordan after his two season train wreck/experiment with baseball, Rossi has been welcomed back by the Yamaha team he should never have left, picking up right where he left off at the end of 2010. Better, in fact, than he was at the end of 2010. His next venture after MotoGP should be the marketing of The Valentino Rossi Diet, one which guarantees to take five years off your appearance every ten years. The diet, one imagines, will preclude alcohol, tobacco and chasing women. And while strict adherents to the plan will not live forever, it will certainly seem that way.
Old jokes are good jokes.
On to Mugello
As if the Repsol Honda team didn’t have enough to worry about already, the next stop on the schedule rests in the picturesque Tuscan hills overlooking the fabled city of Bologna, Italy, home of Mugello, a Yamaha track if ever there was one. These days, it must also be considered a Ducati track. Today’s result at Le Mans – a top ten comprised of four Yamahas, four Ducatis, a Honda and a Suzuki – came at a neutral site. Mugello, as most of you know, is anything but neutral.
|2015 MotoGP Le Mans Top Ten Results|
|1||Jorge Lorenzo||Movistar Yamaha||–|
|2||Valentino Rossi||Movistar Yamaha||+3.820|
|3||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Corse||+12.380|
|4||Marc Marquez||Repsol Honda||+19.890|
|5||Andrea Iannone||Ducati Corse||+20.237|
|6||Bradley Smith||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+21.145|
|7||Pol Espargaro||Monster Yamaha Tech3||+35.493|
|8||Yonny Hernandez||Pramac Ducati||+39.601|
|9||Maverick Vinales||Suzuki ECSTAR||+41.571|
|10||Danilo Petrucci||Pramac Ducati||+42.789|
|2015 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 5 Rounds|