Fresh off his convincing win in Jerez, Repsol Honda mighty mite Dani Pedrosa has been reinstated in The Alien Club, looking relaxed, comfortable and fast on his RC213V. For the first time in five years, his name is coming up in conversations about who might take the 2017 title. Given his age, his panoply of surgical scars and generally lousy karma, I make him a longshot for the championship. But other than a few Americans with pathologically long memories, there are a number of fans who wouldn’t mind seeing Dani Pedrosa win a premier class title.

Dani Pedrosa returned to winning form at Jerez but will be hard-pressed to continue in Le Mans.

Pedrosa is unlikely to gain much ground on his rivals this weekend, as his record in France is decidedly poor – one win, back in 2013, to show for 11 premier class starts, along with two other podia. Jorge Lorenzo, having won decisively at Le Mans the past two years, is unlikely to threepeat, unless the progress we saw in Jerez, where he flogged his Ducati GP17 to third place, accelerates as fast as the bike itself. Movistar Yamaha legend Valentino Rossi and defending world champion Marc Marquez will almost certainly be in the mix on Sunday, along with Maverick Vinales, the prodigious youngster and his big blue YZR-M1. A healthy number of other riders – Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow, and the two ridiculous Tech 3 Yamaha rookies – are entertaining visions of sugarplums dancing in their helmets.

For some unknown reason, Le Mans has always felt to me like kind of a hole in the schedule. Iffy weather, strange results (remember Pedrosa getting Simoncellied there in 2011?), all these people speaking French; just never been a big fan. But this weekend feels different. We have four contenders, all healthy. Michelin has had a year to address its embarrassment from last year. One shrill voice in my head is drowning out all the others, screaming something about Aleix Espargaro putting an Aprilia on the podium for the first time in recent MotoGP history. And Johann Zarco, in front of his and his team’s home crowd, is bound to have some extra motivation, which could find him challenging for the podium or limping out of the kitty litter.

Johann Zarco, a native of Cannes, and the France-based Tech 3 squad

Recent History at Le Mans

In 2014, The Year of Marc Marquez, the French Grand Prix was a dry race. 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. Alvaro Bautista – yes, THAT Alvaro Bautista – on the Gresini Honda, worked Tech 3 Yamaha pilot Pol Espargaro by 6/10ths at the finish to deprive Herve Poncharal’s team of what would have been an oh-so-sweet podium at their home race. Purely out of spite, Espargaro did the same to Pedrosa by a paper-thin quarter second.

Jorge Lorenzo delivered a solid performance in winning the 2015 French Grand Prix.

The following year, on another idyllic 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 cakewalk in Jerez last time out, got away early and was never challenged on the way to his 35th career win in MotoGP. Rossi, starting on the third row, 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, in the year of his discontent, crossed the line fourth, while teammate Pedrosa, just back from radical arm pump surgery, hung on to finish 16th.

Jorge Lorenzo won again last year, topping a podium that included then-teammate Valentino Rossi and his replacement at Yamaha, Maverick Vinales.

The record books will show that declared Yamaha defector Jorge Lorenzo won last year’s French Grand Prix by 10 seconds over teammate and rival Valentino Rossi. Maverick Vinales, starting to flex his muscles, did what no Suzuki rider since Loris Capirossi in 2009 could do – put a Suzuki on the podium, courtesy, in part, of having eight riders crash out in perfect conditions, three of whom probably would have beaten him. Michelin, the new tire supplier for MotoGP, had a miserable day, as the consensus on the grid was that nobody was in control of their machines on that track on that rubber.

Faster Times Likely This Weekend

The Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans, which ought to be a national historic monument in France, has been the object of complaints from riders for several years, due to the slick, bumpy, patched-and-then-patched-again asphalt, some of which was ten years old. Management bit the bullet during the offseason and contracted to have the entire track re-surfaced. In that it was a three-day paving job (pretty amazing in itself!), there are now only three seams, and none in or around the turns.

Le Mans organizers hope the repaved track will result in fewer crashes such as this one that took out Adam Norrodin in last year’s Moto3 race.

Circuit spokesman Pepe LePew predicted that lap times will be one to two seconds faster than last year, referring to the new surface as “très grippy.” He also predicted fewer crashes, many of which had been caused by riders hitting seams or bumps in and around the turns. Last year, Lorenzo took pole with a 1:31.975 (half a second clear of Marquez in second). If Monsieur LePew is correct, it will take a time closer to 1:30 to secure pole this year. All in all, it appears the main beneficiaries of the new surface will be the Hondas, in that it should allow them to use the hard front tire with fewer concerns than usual.

Bout of Political Correctness Hits Catalunya

Do grid girls have a place in MotoGP in 2017? Spanish politicians are proposing dress codes as well as grid boys for next month’s Catalunya round.

Perhaps the worst bit of news to hit the calendar this week concerns the Catalunya Round 7 in June, as Spanish politicians mull the purpose of grid girls in MotoGP. Since politics is all about whose ox is getting gored lately, this piece helps me understand what life must feel like to Republicans. Injecting this particular morsel of political correctness in a male-dominated atmosphere reeking of money, gasoline, hospitality rooms, paid escorts, flatulence and testosterone is like expecting an eyedropper of bleach to clean up Lake Erie. One man’s visual objectification is another man’s simple admiration.

Your Weekend Forecast

Weather.com predicts cool, cloudy conditions for the weekend with temps in the 60’s and patches of rain in the area. With dry races here over the past three years, it figures that the weather might play a part in the weekend’s festivities. And since we haven’t had a wet race yet this season, it is doubly hard to foresee whom fortune will favor on Sunday. One thing is fairly certain: If it’s a wet race, Jorge Lorenzo will be freaking out on his GP17.

This is the only type of rain Jorge Lorenzo wants to see in France.

If the track is dry on Sunday, the voices in my head tell me, it will be Marc Marquez, Maverick Vinales and Aleix Espargaro standing on the podium. For those of you who feel such a prediction could only come from a schizoid, you may be right. I prefer to think of myself as normal; it’s the voices themselves that have issues.

As usual in most of Europe, the race goes off at 8 am EDT in the U.S. We’ll have results and analysis right here later in the day.

  • Old MOron

    Awright! We get Brucey’s preview early this week.
    But Bruce, what have you been smoking? Aleix Espargaro?

    Last year the factory Yamahas finished 1, 2. Those same bikes are now in the hands of Zarco and Folger. Then there’s Crutchlow, Dovi, the Maniac, Pedrobot, oh and Valentino. Do you really think that Espargaro is going to beat all of those guys?

    But you’re right about one thing. It’s going to be great to see how Michelin’s new tires and the track’s new surface combine for this Franco festival!

    • JMDGT

      Right on about the track and tires. I hope everyone stays upright and their bikes work well.

      • Old MOron

        You’re right, JM. I hope we have no crashes this weekend. Knife fight in a phone booth till the end!

        • The over/under on crashers Sunday is 4 1/2. You want some?

          • Old MOron

            Sure, I’ll bet my veganism pamphlets against your pizza coupons that neither Marky nor Vinny crashes during the race.

          • Old MOron

            Wow, Marky Marc sure has fallen off his bike a lot today. But I still think that he will play it safe tomorrow.

          • Old MOron

            Well, I hope you enjoy the pamphlets. I can’t believe Vale went down, too. And I really can’t believe how many satellite Ducati broke down. Don’t they give those bikes any maintenance?!

    • I don’t really believe we’ll see an Aprilia on the podium this week. Personally, I would love to see it. Wouldn’t bet on it at less than 20 to 1. But shit happens, guys crash, guys jump the start, etc. The voices would take him even up.

      • spiff

        The Aprilias are getting better, but it is a big jump to the podium. I think KTM will beat Aprilia to the podium.

      • Old MOron

        Tell the voices to start watching Moto 3!

  • spiff

    Rossi 2nd, Zarco 3rd. Who will win? Depends on which one, Marquez/Vinales, doesn’t crash.

    Cal, Lorenzo, and Pedrobot top six.

    • Pretty intrepid call. Thanks to you, I’ll probably watch the race on Sunday. 😉

      • spiff

        Sarcasm? Coming from a guy who sees an Ape on the podium? Good lord. Let me explain, I have logic for this one.

        Vinales and Marquez run away, and push each other until one visits the kitty litter. Zarco won’t leave Rossi alone until he runs out of tire, and the last three filter in with no predetermined order. That’s how it goes down. Just saying.

  • spiff

    Oh yeah, Go Rossi!!! End transmission.

  • JMDGT

    I think that the resurfacing of the track will definately be a factor. There isn’t a chick on the planet that doesn’t want to be objectified. Here’s to a safe exciting race.

  • Mahatma

    Pedrosa for the title! I’d put my money on the little guy 🙂

    • What money? If you’re like me, your portfolio consists of a box of pizza coupons.

      • Mahatma

        Fair enough.A few coupons then good man

  • Kos

    Bruce, you may have inadvertently hit upon Lorenzo’s troubles this season. Perhaps he is worrying himself to death, knowing that wet weather will come, sooner or later.

    If Pedrosa is looking like a title contender late in the season, Nicky will BUY a ride and take him out from below (based on last week’s supercross finales, those antics are no longer really frowned upon).

    And I’m with spiff. Go Rossi!

    • Pretty sure Hayden has put that one behind him. You guys with long memories. I say this while still pissed that the officials called it a completed catch when the Redskins got punked in St. Louis in 1973.

      • Vrooom

        Given he won the championship anyway, I’d guess you’re right. It’s the fans who have long memories. Don’t get me started on Marquez!

  • spiff

    As far as the umbrella girls are concerned? If we are going to stop having beautiful woman posing beautifully then lets do it. No more Cosmopolitan magazines, fashion show runway models, etc. We live in a f#@ked up world and someone feels the need to make their mark on the world by taking a paying job from a young model? My guess is there is a line for that job.

  • mikstr

    I have a deep dislike of the Honda/HRC juggernaut and generally cheer for ABHRC (anybody but HRC), but I would love to see Pedrosa take the title… He has become so much more human and likeable over the years. Shame he stuck it out with (fighting the) Honda all those years as Yamaha could possibly have made him a multi-time champion

  • Vrooom

    Track spokesman Pepe LePew was a classic. Vinales, Rossi, Crutchlow, Pedrosa, Marquez say I, who never gets it right. Dovi and Zarco or even Folger could make it interesting. Don’t tell me were going to have umbrella boys, I’m all for equality but not absurdity.

  • spiff

    Hayden was in a bicycle accident. He is in pretty bad shape.

  • Starmag

    Spanish ICV needs some testosterone injections one way or the other. Or just cut back on the Virtue Signaling.

    • I don’t really get this, but suspect it’s hilarious.

  • Gruf Rude

    Not sure that Barry Sheene would have raced without the brolly girls – the quote from him as to his favorite part of GP, “The crumpet, I suppose.”

  • Jean René

    The article writer is a cretino, he does not speak French, is not a great fan of Le Mans, we are glad not to be involved with little talented people like that

    • Gruf Rude

      Haven’t got over the fact that French hasn’t been the language of diplomats for 100 years? Noticed that French tires seem to be the product of “little-talented people” yet?
      None the less, Jean, I’m a big Zarco fan . . .

    • Prakasit

      Ok, guys let’s not allow this to devolve into name calling. Bruce, may be you could move on the to the Canadians …. aah never mind.

      • My next European trip will include visits to the American cemeteries in France full of brave men who gave their lives fighting to save a nation that has shown precious little gratitude since then. Just sayin’.

        • spiff

          Been there. Sobering. Humanity has some evolving to do.

        • Prakasit

          Coming from an outsider’s perspective, I thought your bantering about Le Mans was funny. Lighten up seems apropos. On a more serious note, I would be living under Japanese occupation had the Americans stayed home some 70 odd years ago.

    • Old MOron

      Bienvenue mon gars. Ne t’inquietes pas.
      Ce n’etait q’un peu de sarcasme, seulement pour nous faire plaisir.

    • Wait. I spent a summer hitchhiking through France decades ago. Locals try to run you over, veering off to the side of the road at speed. But when I was apprehended stealing a couple of towels from a hostel, the proprietor told me my French accent was very good. And it’s a rare occasion when we get a comment on behalf of an entire nation. Welcome to the conversation. And lighten up.

      • And it was Steve Martin, not me, who first observed that the French have, like, their own word for EVERYTHING!

        • Gruf Rude

          Like, “Le weekend”?

    • spiff

      We live tongue and cheek here. Give him hell if you must, but execute with tonge and cheek. 🙂

      • Gruf Rude

        ‘tongue IN cheek’ – don’t confuse Jean with improper idiom. Oh, and ‘Go Zarco!!!’

        • spiff

          Fair enough. Did you hear? Zarco is on the podium Sunday.

  • Keep praying for Nicky, who is in a coma. I wanted to ask what was more likely to occur at Le Mans–a Lorenzo win or an AEspargaro podium. Weather looking iffy.

    • Old MOron

      So Jack showed his wet weather prowess again. Marky Marc is feeling good. And the Ducs took to the resurfaced wet track like ducks to water – except Lorenzo.

      Good thoughts for Nicky. He’s pedaling uphill, against the wind, in a cold rain right now.

  • spiff

    20 of the 23 riders prefer the stiffer front tire carcass. Why did they stray from it in the first place? Lorenzo. Make the Ducati run with the field, not the field run with the Ducati.

    • spiff

      I eat my words. They need to bring a tire that has both carcasses. These are small batch tires. They could do it.

  • Old MOron

    Wow, Pedrobot and Jorge at the very bottom of the standing in FP3. Both KTM’s straight into Q2, double wow!

  • Gruf Rude

    Go Zarco!!! Front row at home!

    • Old MOron

      He has good pace, too! But he’ll have to make the soft tires last.

  • Old MOron

    Ha ha ha! Miller hurt Lorenzo’s feelings.
    Lorenzo is a tough man on the track, no one can doubt that.
    But he’s such a narcissist. He’s impossible to respect.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    Bruce, what do you think of KTM now? 8 and 10 in Q2 ain’t shabby. Just 1.5 secs off the top. Ahead of Jack Miller, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone, and a bunch of others. Way ahead of Aprilia and Suzuki. In the big game now!