The record books will show that Yamaha defector Jorge Lorenzo won today’s French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi. The mainstream racing media will be busy slavering over young Maverick Vinales, who put a Suzuki on the podium for the first time since Loris Capirossi did so at Brno in 2008. The real story of today’s race, however, was the eight riders, including at least three contenders, who crashed out as if the race had been run in the wet, marking the first time the Rain Gods have ruined a race on a clear sunny day.

Maverick Vinales records his first career MotoGP podium and first for Suzuki since 2008. For those wondering, Vinales was just 13 when that happened.

Q2 on Saturday was a study in contrasts. Defending world champion Lorenzo lay down a 1:32.2 early in the session, which would have sufficed to put him on his first ever premier class pole at Le Mans, in front of Marc Marquez. Later, he pitted, changed the rear tire, trimmed an annoying hangnail, then went back out and casually posted a 1:31.975, becoming the first rider ever to crack the 1:32 barrier at the Bugatti Circuit on two wheels. Meanwhile, Dani Pedrosa, suddenly the “presumptive” #2 rider on the factory Yamaha team for the next two years, lost the front entering the Dunlop Chicane, narrowly avoided getting creamed by several following riders, and ended the session sucking canal water in 11th place. Rossi, for his part, struggled through a flashback to 2015 while securing 7th, mired on the third row on a narrow track not terribly conducive to overtaking, as if that made any difference to the Italian icon.

Jorge Lorenzo was not to be denied this weekend.

Lorenzo’s lap begs the question: What’s all the fuss about the standard ECU? If qualifying lap times were two seconds slower than last year, opponents might have an argument. From here, it doesn’t appear to make any difference in qualifying. That it makes things more difficult at race distance is somewhat more credible.

28 Laps of Mayhem

As his qualifying times foreshadowed, Jorge Lorenzo jumped out to an early lead in the race and was completely untouchable.

As expected, when the lights went out, Lorenzo took the hole shot, assumed the lead, withstood a minor early threat from the factory Ducatis, and ran away from the field. My notes on Lap 2: “race over.” Fans were thus reduced to enduring a battle for second place, comparable to spending 45 minutes to see who would lose The Super Bowl. For the record, the early first group was comprised of Lorenzo, Ducati teammates Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, Marquez and Pol Espargaro on the Tech 3 Yamaha, who got swallowed up by Rossi on Lap 3.

Marquez appeared to be struggling, while Rossi was recovering from a poor start. Iannone went through on Dovizioso on Lap 6, and it appeared Dovi was ready to strike back until he perhaps remembered the newly issued and oppressive team rule prohibiting such a move until the next lap. Fortunately for him, Iannone, who seems to be developing some kind of adversarial relationship with success, crashed unassisted out of second place on the Lap 7 in a replay of his bonehead move in the season opener in Qatar. The hapless Scott Redding’s Pramac Ducati retired at about the same time when his engine, in his words, “simply stopped.”

Yonny Hernandez failed to finish for the third time in five rounds. The young Colombian has just three points on the season.

Iannone’s crash moved Marquez up to 3rd and Rossi to 4th. On Lap 8, Cal Crutchlow crashed out of Tranche 5, as did Tito Rabat. By now, Lorenzo’s lead over Dovizioso was 1.5 seconds. Yonny Hernandez, working his way out of a good job, crashed on Lap 9. On Lap 12 my only note was “here comes Rossi.” Vale went through on Marquez at Garage Vert on Lap 13 and passed Dovizioso one lap later to take over 2nd place, with Lorenzo barely visible in the distance.

Marc Marquez was able to recover from his crash and finished 13th, scoring three points and matching Hernandez’s season-long total.

Marquez was losing great gobs of yardage to Lorenzo and Rossi exiting the corners, forcing him to brake late and hard entering the turns and putting a big load on his front tire. My sole note on Lap 15: “Marquez going down.” Sure enough, on Lap 16, both he and Dovizioso went down simultaneously at the Museum Corner. The remarkable visual reminded me of an old James Bond movie in which his tricked-out Aston Martin, at the mere touch of a button, sprayed oil on the road, causing the bad guys chasing him on motorcycles to slide off into the woods. The net effect of the Lap 16 double dip was to elevate Vinales to third place, from which he would hold off Pedrosa. Otherwise, aside from Jack Miller’s customary crash on Lap 18 and Bradley Smith’s unfortunate off on Lap 20, that was that.

Andrea Dovizioso’s string of hard luck continues with his third consecutive DNF.

So. Someone please tell me the last time a race run under perfect conditions featured eight riders crashing out, not counting Redding’s retirement. At the post-race press conference, Lorenzo said it was an ongoing issue with the Michelins, with riders not being fully under control at any time on the track. Rossi said it was just racing. Vinales said it was having less control on the brakes with a full fuel load. I wasn’t asked, but my belief is that the Rain Gods planted the expectation of a wet track in the riders’ heads and it stuck. Having gone out on slicks, the results were almost predictable.

Danilo Petrucci made his much delayed season debut. Finishing seventh as the highest-placed Ducati, one wonders what could have been for the promising Italian if he wasn’t injured to start the season.

Yamaha to Settle for Dani Pedrosa?

The latest rumors in the media suggest that Vinales, having played too hard in his negotiations with Yamaha, has been turned away in favor of… Dani Pedrosa? It may be that today’s podium will cause Yamaha to up the ante again, but, if not, it seems Yamaha has taken a very short term, conservative and dull approach to filling Lorenzo’s seat. Yes, Dani is still a good rider; that his best days are behind him is pretty clear. Yes, he will be a threat to podium most weekends, with perhaps a few wins left in him, but he will not win a title. Instead of taking a bold step, choosing a young gun, a Vinales or Rins, to serve as Rossi’s wingman and #2, primed to take over the top spot in 2019, Yamaha appears to have kicked the can down the road.

If Iannone, Dovizioso and Marquez had not collapsed mentally today, Pedrosa would have finished seventh. Just sayin’.

Dani Pedrosa is, naturally, playing it coy about potential contract talks for next season. It is important to note that Yamaha’s title sponsor, Spanish mobile phone company Movistar, would likely want a big name Spaniard to replace Jorge Lorenzo.

If Pedrosa signs with Yamaha, it raises a larger question concerning who will take over the #2 seat at Repsol Honda. Iannone would have been the logical choice last year, but has proven himself thoroughly unpredictable, a personality trait not highly prized in Japanese culture. Marquez would object to Alex Rins, and Rins might not be enamored of the idea of wrestling with the RC213V in its current state. Pol Espargaro could be a good candidate, except he’s always been a Yamaha guy. (Why Yamaha has not given Pol more consideration is a mystery.) And any reader who suggests that Cal Crutchlow is the obvious choice should immediately seek therapy. Five points in five rounds; the scoreboard doesn’t lie. Honda might as well promote Alex Marquez, who himself has managed four crashes and five points in five rounds in Moto2.

Valentino Rossi doesn't have a teammate for next season yet but at least he's found a Friend.

Valentino Rossi doesn’t have a teammate for next season yet but at least he’s found a Friend.

Looking Ahead

A recent Facebook meme, directed at women, said, “Sure, it’s all fun and games until your jeans don’t fit anymore.” The same could be said for the MotoGP calendar, with Mugello, Catalunya, Assen and The Sachsenring looming. Two weeks from now the season will be a third gone, and the standings at the top are as tight as wallpaper. The Movistar Yamaha team loves Mugello; I’m not sure Marquez loves any circuit other than Austin right now. The factory Ducati team will be looking for something, anything good to happen at their home crib in a season racked by disappointment and bad luck. Team Suzuki Ecstar, brimming with optimism, will want to build upon their recent success.

Meanwhile, in Moto2 action, Alex Rins beat Simone Corsi by 1.8 seconds for the win, taking over the championship lead over Sam Lowes.

We have arrived at the heart of the 2016 MotoGP calendar. The silly season will be heating up, too, with Tech 3 Yamaha having this week signed Jonas Folger from Moto2. (Folger celebrated his promotion by crashing four times at Le Mans, providing a reasonable impression of Toni Elias at his most lethal.) Even on days like today, when the race was a snooze, there’s always something to argue about in MotoGP.

2016 MotoGP Le Mans Results
Pos. Rider Team Time
1 Jorge Lorenzo Movistar Yamaha
2 Valentino Rossi Movistar Yamaha +10.654
3 Maverick Vinales Suzuki Ecstar +14.177
4 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda +18.719
5 Pol Espargaro Monster Yamaha Tech3 +24.931
6 Aleix Espargaro Suzuki Ecstar +32.921
7 Danilo Petrucci Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati +38.251
8 Hector Barbera Avintia Racing +38.504
9 Alvaro Bautista Aprilia Gresini +48.536
10 Stefan Bradl Aprilia Gresini +54.502
11 Eugene Laverty Aspar Ducati +1:02.677
12 Loris Baz Avintia Ducati +1:07.658
13 Marc Marquez Repsol Honda +1 Lap
Not Classified
Bradley Smith Monster Yamaha Tech3 9 Laps
Jack Miller Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda 11 Laps
Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Corse 13 Laps
Andrea Iannone Ducati 17 Laps
Tito Rabat Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda 21 Laps
Cal Crutchlow LCR Honda 22 Laps
Yonny Hernandez Aspar Ducati 22 Laps
Scott Redding Octo Pramac Yaknich Ducati 23 Laps
2016 MotoGP Top Ten Standings After 5 Rounds
Pos. Rider Motorcycle Points
1 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha 90
2 Marc Marquez Honda 85
3 Valentino Rossi Yamaha 78
4 Dani Pedrosa Honda 53
5 Maverick Vinales Suzuki 49
6 Pol Espargaro Yamaha 47
7 Aleix Espargaro Yamaha 42
8 Hector Barbera Ducati 39
9 Eugene Laverty Ducati 33
10 Andrea Iannone Ducati 23
  • spiff

    Is it possible that the wing that push you down in the straights push you to the gravel in a turn?

    • Bruce Allen

      There was an excellent detailed comment on about that very subject, correlating degree of lean with downforce and lateral push. The writer, some kind of scientist, did the math and determined that at more than, say, 30 degrees of lean the force pushing the rider out is greater than the force pushing him down. Difficult to read without thinking the winglets will either be short-lived, or will evolve into expensive, dynamic things that move in relation to the rider’s direction and degree of lean. Get rid of ’em, I say.

      • spiff

        So I’m no aerodynamic engineer, but look at the Yamaha at full lean. Does the wing meet with the fairing just so that it may offer some down force when leaned over? It also drops off at the perimeter. Does that keep it out of the wind?

        • Bruce Allen

          spiff, I’m out of my depth on so many counts here. The most I can do is share your curiosity. Gruf Rude or some of the other tech-oriented readers may be more help. I’m just here for comic relief.

          • Old MOron

            We crashed out of the Engineering Tranche long ago.

      • Old MOron

        I haven’t seen this comment, but right off the bat, I have to be a little skeptical. Are we really to believe that the best engineers in moto racing all failed to calculate the effect of winglets when the bike is leaned over?

        Okay, engineers make mistakes. It’s possible. But I think it’s highly unlikely. Before the race started, every commentator pointed out that Le Mans is known to be a slippery track. I think the riders just got caught out.

  • spiff

    Bruce, you bring up a good question about the ecu. Does traction control work fine on fresh rubber, but not able to preserve tires on the long run? Can we start to compare year to year race times? Weather would have to be factored in.

  • DKing

    I know they seem to want to replace Jorge with another Spaniard, but I wish Yamaha would hold off and take Iannone if he becomes available. I think with a more stable bike and a little experience; he has what it takes to challenge for the title. It would be even better if he then beat Jorge on the Ducati.

    • Bruce Allen

      Apparently Movistar has a new CEO who’s not a big fan of the whole sponsorship deal and who is insisting, at a minimum, that a well-known Spanish rider join Rossi.

      • DKing

        Ahh….thanks for the info!

  • Bruce Allen

    Would someone please go to Old MOron’s house and make sure he’s okay? Usually he’s the first one on this page. The article wasn’t THAT bad. Just want to make sure the old boy’s okay and not lying in a puddle of his own drool.

    • DKing kidding! I would, but I think I’m on the wrong continent…

      • Old MOron

        Ha ha, thanks for your concern, Gents. Between my mother, my wife, her mother, I had lots to do yesterday.

        But I did see the race, and while it was boring in some ways, it was exciting in others. Then there’s Bruce’s analysis:

        Crutchlow crashing out of Tranche 5, ha ha ha! Even as I’m laughing, I’m starting to feel bad for him. Truth is I’ve always liked him because he never seemed overly concerned with being a media darling. He also seemed to have a sweet relationship with his girlfriend, now his wife, and maybe because I’m getting old and soft, I just thought that was a nice thing to see in the paddock, in contrast to all of the glitz and glamour.

        • spiff

          I figured your mom would let you use your tablet at the dinner table.

        • Mahatma

          Crutchlow has an assortment of nicknames not entirely complimentary on his home shores.Why does he always have to be so grumpy?!Granted,yesterday he had reason for it,but generally…

          • spiff

            He grew up in the rain. 🙂

          • Old MOron

            I think the Brits are very good at supporting their countrymen in sport, then turning sarcastic if they don’t deliver. It’s just how they do it. I enjoy the sarcasm, myself, but I’m not on the receiving end.

  • Shlomi

    We have not seen good rider rise since Marquez. All the new young talent are not consistent, don’t finish races, and take down their teammate (I’m talking to you Maniac Joe). Vinales seems the closest one, but he has a very short track record, and the last podium was only due to crashing riders a head of him. Both Marquez and Pedrosa struggle with the Honda. Marquez is trying to find the limits (and beyond) while Danny has enough broken bones to know that his bike is not competitive, and there is no point.
    Outside of Marquez the alien consist on 2 stroke generation who dominated the class for over (15 years). Are we running out of alien talent ?

  • JMDonald

    And the wind cried Lorenzo.

    • DKing sure did. 🙁 Perfect weather, perfect temperature, a pole start…everything fell in place just the way he likes it. I was thinking the other day that people might like him a little more if he would stop qualifying so high…lol. That way he would have to battle through a couple of positions in order to win…maybe make him work for it a little more.

      • JMDonald

        That is what I like about this kind of racing. He worked hard got the pole and the rest is history. There is more to it than just the dynamics of the race itself. All kinds of factors go into a win.

  • William Marvin Parker

    I think its obvious that Michelin haven’t been consistent since they have returned as Rubber supplier this year. Lots of front tucks where riders weren’t doing much different, or got any warning. I suppose they’ll get better as the season progresses..

    • spiff

      I wonder if everyone playing with down force is messing with Michelin. Every bike is creating a unique front rear bias. Then what does the areo do in the turns. Michelin is playing the middle of a very large field.

    • Gruf Rude

      Nicolas Goubert, Michelin’s technical director claims “We’re quite happy” with Michelin’s performance. I suspect he’s the only one. This is the second race this year where eight top-flight riders have DNF’d, mostly due to tire related crashes (would have been NINE if Marquez hadn’t re-mounted and finished) . This level of carnage was simply unheard of in the past (last time 8 riders crashed in one race on Bridgestones was in a torrential downpour that ended with a red-flagged race).

      • Old MOron

        Had a look at Last year’s race took place under fine conditions, and even with Bridgestone’s highly-developed tires, there were seven DNF’s.

        And Lorenzo’s winning time this year, under similar conditions, was seven seconds faster than his time last year.

        He also set a new lap record in qualifying.

        I can imagine that Michelin are going to try to paint this as a positive weekend, but I don’t imagine they’ll have much trouble doing so.

        • Gruf Rude

          Good points, and the new rear tire is an improvement, but Lorenzo seemed to be occupying a world of his own this weekend while tire complaints from the riders (including Lorenzo) and tire-related crashes are still up.

        • spiff

          Good info MOron.

          I think Yamaha’s wing are superior design, and Lorenzo knows how to make use of an advantage.

  • Vrooom

    Congrats to Vinales, despite all the crashes, that’s impressive. He had Aleix beaten by 30 seconds if nothing else, that’s an accomplishment. Hard to believe Yamaha is going with Pedrosa, it’s not a stupid choice, but it is a boring one. Competent but not exciting and not going to win them any championships.

  • john phyyt

    Gosh; Bruce, Crutchlow will now have to have a tranche all to himself. Perhaps (5C) . Stay away from him for your own sake.
    You have been following the top class since the two strokes . Michelin has always had a reputation of astounding grip followed by NONE. Seems it is in their DNA. Doohan could say a thing or two. about knowing a bike so well that you could ride it beyond common reason because the feedback was instinctive. Even Marquez doesn’t know these tires well enough.
    Would Lorenzo have won if he was on a Ducati? ..
    Pedrosa is a great team player : an almost unheard of attribute amongst this class. He will support Rossi and ensure another Yamaha victory in 2017 . Unless Honda finally wake-up and give their boy horsepower.