Today at the 30th running of the French Grand Prix at Le Mans, youth triumphed over experience. Yamaha Top Gun Maverick Viñales withstood a classic last lap challenge brought by teammate and legend Valentino Rossi to capture Yamaha’s 500th grand prix win. The youngster ended his day on the top step of the podium, the grizzled veteran his prostrate in the gravel. Ten years ago, Rossi would have won this race. In 2017, the tide may be beginning to turn.

Maverick Viñales won his third race in five rounds this season, putting him back on top of the championship standings.

Practice and Qualifying

FP1, on a wet but drying track, provided the usual comedic results found in wet sessions, with Jack Miller over a second clear of Marc Marquez and Johann Zarco, with the Espargaro brothers, Pol on the KTM and Aleix on the Aprilia, finishing dead last together, not having it. FP2, wetter yet, saw Andrea Dovizioso put his Ducati in front of Marquez and Danilo Petrucci, another mudder. FP3, still soggy, was topped by Scott Redding, Cal Crutchlow and Miller again. FP4 was dry – Viñales, Dani Pedrosa, Rossi, and Zarco – but by then the lambs and goats had been separated. That things were out of kilter was exemplified by Redding leading the Q2 lambs.

Scott Redding was a surprise name on top of the time sheets after FP3.

The goats relegated to Q1 included some recognizable names – Tech 3 rookies Zarco and Jonas Folger, plus Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dovizioso. Dovizioso led Zarco into Q2 after an exhilarating 15 minutes, with the Frenchman climbing into second place at the tail end of the session. But both KTM bikes – Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro – had already passed straight into Q2, along with a few other surprises – Karel Abraham and Loris Baz among them. Go KTM. Go GP15s.

When the dust and fumes cleared after Q2, we were left with an all-Yamaha front row of Viñales, Rossi, and Zarco, followed by Crutchlow, Marquez and Dovizioso. The announcers were so caught up in homeboy Zarco’s last lap push for the front row – crowd going mental – it barely registered, to me anyway, that Viñales had taken his second pole of the season, his first since Qatar.

Johann Zarco was fast all weekend, qualifying on the front row and earning his first career MotoGP podium. Doing it all on his (and his Tech3 Yamaha team’s) home race made it that much sweeter for the Frenchman.

Meanwhile, Pedrosa and Lorenzo, both having podiumed at Jerez two weeks ago, found themselves starting 13th and 16th, respectively, having failed to pass through Q1. The cool temperatures, one believes, hindered Pedrosa, who always has trouble heating up his front tire. The possibility that it was raining somewhere in France appeared to affect Lorenzo, whom one reader has described as suffering from aquaphobia, not to mention bipolar disorder, gobs of self-recrimination, and in need of a full reset. His ride today, from 16th to 6th was respectable, his Friday and Saturday not so much.

The Race – A Yamaha Cakewalk. Almost.

Maverick Viñales, Johann Zarco and Valentino Rossi put up an impressive display for Yamaha at the front of the Le Mans Grand Prix.

Zarco, starting from the middle of the front row, put his head down at the start and, entering the second turn, had taken the lead, with Viñales, Rossi, and Marquez comprising the front group. It appeared that Marquez was working harder than the Yamahas and that Viñales and Rossi were keeping their powder dry, waiting for their fuel loads to drop before taking on the rookie. On Lap 7, Viñales went through cleanly on Zarco while Marquez began dogging Rossi.

A second group had formed up consisting of LCR Honda hooligan Crutchlow, factory Ducati #1 Dovizioso, and Repsol Honda #2 Pedrosa who, having started 13th, was busily slicing his way through the field. Pedrosa pushed his way past Crutchlow and into 5th place by Lap 15, turning his attention to teammate Marquez. Suddenly, on Lap 17, under pressure from Pedrosa and with the Yamahas getting away, Marquez lost the front in Turn 3 (for the third time in two days). His two DNFs in the first five rounds have a decidedly 2015 flavor to them.

After scoring back-to-back podium finishes, Marc Marquez had his second DNF of the season, dropping him to fourth overall on the season.

Rossi went through Zarco on Lap 23 and unsurprisingly began lining up Viñales. Thus began five laps of primo quality racing, as the veteran and the wünderkind squared off, one on one, for bragging rights. Rossi went through into the lead on Lap 26, a scene we’ve witnessed scores of times over the years. But Viñales took it back as Rossi ran wide midway through the last lap, trying to block Viñales, then laid his M1 down in a gentle low side late in the lap trying to overtake him yet again.

Valentino Rossi was not interested in finishing second today. It was his for the asking, and he politely refused. Upon his departure from the racing surface, Zarco got promoted to a silver while Pedrosa suddenly found himself on the podium, through almost no fault of his own. One more time, class: “In order to finish first…”

Valentino Rossi had a good race up until the final lap when he crashed out trying to chase down his teammate. It’ll be interesting to see at the end of the season how much of a difference finishing second at Le Mans would affect the final standings.

Those of you who recall my prediction that Aleix Espargaro would put his Aprilia on the podium today undoubtedly share my angst at seeing him parked by the side of the track, head lowered, smoke wisping from his engine. After a terrible qualifying session, he had been climbing the order all day from 18th place at the start and, to my thinking, could have easily snagged third place had his engine not given out. Just sayin’. No need for anyone to point out that he crashed out of 8th place on Lap 24.

Ranking the Bikes

The results haven’t been there yet but the fledgling KTM RC16 has shown some potential.

Sparing no expense, we here at MO have commissioned a non-scientific study ranking the overall capabilities of the various machines found on the grid. In doing so, we relied on mood more than methodology. The following rankings emerged:

  1. 2017 Yamaha M1
  2. 2016 Yamaha M1
  3. 2017 Honda RC213V
  4. 2017 Ducati GP17
  5. 2017 Suzuki GSX-RR
  6. 2017 KTM RC16
  7. 2015 Ducati GP15
  8. 2016 Honda RC213V
  9. 2017 Aprilia RS-GP
  10. 2016 Ducati GP16

Readers are encouraged to take issue with these rankings. We will re-rank the riders in our preview of the upcoming Mugello round.

Sidebars

Jack Miller is very fortunate to escape serious harm after this crash in qualifying

The fact that Jack Miller is still with us after the crash he experienced on Saturday is nothing short of a miracle. He later qualified in 11th place in the dry Q2 after dominating FP1 by a second and a half, having gambled on slicks late in the session. (I wonder if the “mudders” – Miller, Petrucci, etc. – regret having developed a reputation for riding well in the rain at 190 mph. Comparable to those guys who make a living tying themselves to the back of an enraged bull and trying to stay attached for 10 seconds after someone touches an electric prod to his nuts. That moment when you think, “Am I really doing this? Is this at all sustainable?”)

Was it my imagination, or did pretty much every satellite Ducati in the field crap out today?

Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi set several lap records through the race.

Finally. The grippy new racing surface was supposed to lower qualifying times by a second or two. Last year Lorenzo qualified at 1’31.975. This year, on a dry, perhaps somewhat dirty track, Viñales qualified at 1’31.994. But at the end of the 28-lap race on medium tires, Viñales and Rossi were trading lap records every time around. Viñales set the newest lap record on the last lap of the race. So, the new asphalt appears to meet the ideal spec of non-abrasive with good grip. And Michelin appears to have figured out Le Mans.

The Big Picture

Watching all three races today, I got the distinct impression that MotoGP is on the verge of being taken over by the ludicrously fast young riders populating Moto3 and Moto2. Viñales beats Rossi and Zarco beats Pedrosa today, and one gets the impression that leadership amongst the premier class is on its way to turning over. The Rossis, Pedrosas and Lorenzos seem to be in jeopardy of being pushed off center stage by names like Viñales, Zarco, Bagnaia, Morbidelli, Mir and Fenati, among others.

Until you look at the 2017 standings and see Dani Pedrosa and Vale Rossi grazing near the top of the food chain. Veteran riders occupy four of the top seven spots for the year, five if you count Marquez. Maverick Viñales has put himself 17 points clear of his nearest competitor as the season turns toward Mugello. He will have to keep eating his Wheaties if he intends to stay there.

Several riders showed their support for Nicky Hayden this weekend. Everyone is hoping for good news for the Kentucky Kid.
  • Starmag

    It’s a good thing #46 is a doctor, he may need to prescribe himself some pain killers after a last lap crash while in second. That had to hurt.

    Sacré bleu! I wonder when the last rookie on a satellite bike got to spray trophy girls with champagne?

    If someone knows where the crystal ball is that predicted Dani at #2 in the Championship at this point in the season is, I need to borrow it for some stock picks.

    • Gruf Rude

      Rossi was in second when he crashed and he should have stayed there, but he wouldn’t be Rossi if he had. Vinales and Yamaha were perfection. Marquez could not stay in contact and stay aboard the Honda.
      Zarco is showing himself to be really fast, decisive, clinically level-headed and an amazing tire manager.
      Michelin finally showed up with decent tires.

      • Starmag

        You’re right. My computer crashed right before Rossi did and I though he was still in the lead.

      • It will be fun to watch Zarco on a full factory bike in 2019.

  • JMDGT

    Rossi Rossi Rossi. WTFO?

  • BDan75

    I was wondering if the satellite Ducatis all caught the same software virus. I count only one race finisher and 5 DNFs. As far as bike rankings, seems maybe a bit premature to have the KTM ahead of the GP15 and 16 (today’s results aside)?

    • I think KTM is on a highly positive vector. Premature to promote them this way–entirely possible. Their stock is rising, however.

    • john phyyt

      Yes KTM is STILL 2 seconds a lap down on leaders. Mr Allen is perhaps using a little poetic licence ..

      Just to show how good Moto GP is compared to F1 is that their third place ( Yes Third) was over a minute behind winner.

      • spiff

        Half the distance between Vinales and the KTMs is Lorenzo. He Podiumed last time out. Bruce is correct. KTM is improving. 5 races in both to Q2 (weather not perfect) and scoring points. While it maybe in part to others crashing that just shows their bike is not crashing. Finishing is the first step to winning. I see their progress being reserved and methodical.

        Edit: 5 seconds behind the fastest Suzuki…whuch I believe was on the podium here last year, and a race winning bike.

        • john phyyt

          When they are within half a second a lap of winners . Yeah whatever.
          What I am banging on about is that YAMAHA have the best current Moto GP pedigree , by far !. Yet these companies have some sort of racing kudos which helps them sell bikes.
          KTM have a very rich off-road heritage no doubt. But , from my point of view they are simply not ,ready to race.

          • spiff

            KTM has been racing MotoGP for five (5) races. Aprilia on the other hand has been road racing in multiple series for years. I would say Aprila is a race worthy company, and they are in danger of being the weakest manufacturer on the grid. How quickly did Suzuki advance? They showed up with a plethora of data sheets to start their latest program, and they had Vinales. I’m not saying KTM is going to run with the Yamahas (I agree the best package on the track), but their learning curve should be respected.

        • I see their ascent as being well-financed and very Germanic in that it is deliberate and precise. Their slow start (!) in Moto2 is more of a concern.

          • spiff

            They only have $10 of concentration. They are spending $8.93 on MotoGP.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            I think they are not as enthusiastic in Moto2 as they are in Moto3 and MotoGP because they are having to use Honda’s engine which is their “most hated rival” according to Mr. Pierer. They will feel better when they start using the Triumph.

      • BDan75

        Wow, surprised by that in F1. Of course, the races are a lot longer…but even if you scale down the results to match MotoGP race length, the podium spread in F1 would still cover the first 8 bikes.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        In Q2 they were only 1.5 seconds from the top. This is only their fifth GP race ever, and they have never been on some of these tracks before. They are making steady progress. As Bruce said so eloquently: “they are on a highly positive vector”.

      • First of all, it wasn’t me, it was the damned consultants. Secondly, it was mood-based–Presidential, if you will–rather than empirical–the rest of the lucid world, if you will. Personally, I take issue with a number of these rankings.

  • spiff

    Totally bummed, and excited about a great race. Damn.

  • john burns

    why, Vale, why?

    • elgar

      in my best Rossi impression, ‘…sincerely buh, I doh noh. I lusa grippa at duh rear anduh I fall down’
      awesome race!

      • How’s your Italian? Mine sucks.

        • elgar

          Well…Luigi is my first name…non e cosi male, e abbastanza buono. Grazie Bruce, i tuoi articoli sono sempre interessanti!

          • Got it. I have no problem with Italians making fun of Italians. My heritage is English/Danish/Polish Jew/Scot, so I can make fun of pretty much everyone.

    • Losing his edge? It’s time, you know.

      • Old MOron

        Losing his edge due to age? Old man syndrome?
        He crashed out like an overzealous rookie.

  • Old MOron

    That was a hell of a race, and Brucey’s review is a match. Oh, what a pity that Vale should crash out. But we head to Mugello next, and he’ll have a chance to make amends.

    I think Aleix repaid Brucey’s faith. The commentators noted mid-race that he was running similar lap times as the leaders.

    I guess Lorenzo for hung in there. He even passed a few people. But he sure had a lot of people retire ahead of him. I cannot believe how the satellite Ducatis crapped out. The teams should be furious with the Bologna bike builder.

    Did you see the crash fest in Moto 3. Holy crap! I forget whose bike sprayed oil all over the place, but what a dramatic affect it had. Thank goodness that no one was seriously injured.

    • At your insistence, I watched Moto3, and saw the crash that red-flagged the race. Amazing only one rider–Beluga?–got hurt. The most impressive performance of that race was the crews, some of whom essentially built highly tuned racing motorcycles in half an hour. Mir and Fenati have Alien written all over them.

  • Old MOron

    PS: Hey Brucey, what about your tranches? Ranking the bikes is interesting, but the rider tranches are more fun still.

    • Ran out of space, confused about where to put some of the guys. Look for the Mugello preview next week.

      • spiff

        Bruce, you are our fearless writer. You must not doubt yourself.

  • mikstr

    Real shame for Vale (and to a much lesser degree Marc). Another great ride for Vinales and Zarco. Good outing for Dani too, who is now 2nd in the championship. I can’t help but wonder how Marc and Dani would be doing if they didn’t have to wrestle that HRC mule…

  • Cale

    I still don’t understand why Vinales cutting the corner did not receive a penalty, he clearly made up a lot of time in cutting that corner.

    • Old MOron

      If I understand correctly, this is how the race stewards do it.

      Let’s say that Vinny cut the track in sector 3.
      The race stewards look at the gap from the previous sector, sector 2.

      If the gap at the end of 3 is smaller than it was at the end of sector 2, that means Vinny gained an advantage by cutting the track, and the stewards impose a correction.

      In this case the gap between Vinny and Vale did not change, so Vinny gained no advantage, and the stewards did not make a correction.

      • Cale

        Thank you, that makes sense. But to the eye it did appear as if he closed the gap quite a lot.

  • Vrooom

    Rossi just blew it there, a second would have left him in a very close second for the championship with Marquez out of the race and Lorenzo languishing back at the pool bar. Personally I think you’ve got the KTM dramatically overranked, you were predicting an Ape on the podium, but you have the bike two slots behind the perennial back of the lot Katoom? I realize the KTM will develop, but just speaking from today’s perspective, it has to be closer to the bottom. Switch the Ape and Katoom and I’m with you.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      KTM will podium this year.

    • Mood swings.

  • Vrooom

    Just wrote the greatest comment ever (kidding), to have my page reload. Apologies if this turns up twice. What a shame for Rossi, he would have been 3 points out of the championship lead had he just stayed rubber side down. I think you’ve got KTM about 2-3 spots too high Bruce. After predicting an Ape on the podium, you have them two spots below KTM, who aren’t going to be on a podium this year, or next. Switch them and I’m with ya.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      You will have to eat your words.

  • schizuki

    BBC reporting that Nicky has died.

    Words fail.

    • Old MOron

      Words fail me, too.
      I hope this is one of those times when respectful silence is appropriate.

    • Prakasit

      Will be thinking of Nicky’s family and hoping for good karma to come their way.

  • Dave

    Getting my news about the race here, so I apologize for the uninformed question. Did A. Espargaro crash at the beginning and then work himself back up the order before engine failure? From the article, “No need for anyone to point out that he crashed out of 8th place on Lap 24.”

    • No, just a crummy start. I had picked him as my darkhorse for the podium and gave his ride more attention than it perhaps deserved.

  • Kos

    Great report as usual, Bruce. Tough to see Rossi put on such a show, and come up shy at the end.

    Zarco for the hole shot! Frenchman at a French track. Great stuff! And then he just kept it rolling, soft tires and all.

    I agree that we are almost certainly seeing the beginning of a generational shift at the front. Time will tell whether this will be a quick revolution or a slow-drip process.

    It’s early days for KTM. My roots are in the dirt, and I can remember how long KTM was considered a bit of a joke (unless you were an enduro rider), then they became a farily strong #4, and now they can fill a podium at a supercross race. Give them five years.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      You don’t have to give them five years. You will see something this year.

  • spiff

    I am flip flopping on the front tire Michelin is bringing. At first I figured majority rules. Then Pedrosa and Lorenzo sucked together and I thought “two guys of that caliber shouldn’t be punished if the stiffer version just doesn’t work”. Then Pedrosa adjusted. If he, being on the lighter side, can make it work then everyone should be able to. Now I am back to majority rules.

    • Old MOron

      Spiff, you are a fearless commentator. You must not doubt yourself. http://disq.us/p/1ixwri9

      • spiff

        Fearless? Maybe. Flawed? Definitely.