MotoGP Le Mans 2013 Preview

Team Yamaha Ready to Rumble in the Rain

MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the fourth round of the 2013 season at the Le Mans Circuit in France. Check back on Sunday for the full report of the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France.

As the fastest sport on two wheels heads into France for Round Four, one thing is certain – the stakes for the 2013 championship are higher than they’ve been in years. The Repsol Honda team of Dani Pedrosa and rookie sensation Marc Marquez has youth and speed going for it. The factory Yamaha duo of defending champion Jorge Lorenzo and prodigal veteran Valentino Rossi has consistency and experience in its corner. And while it’s not quite the fabled Tortoise and the Hare, the analogy works.

Sure, rookie Marquez has been setting the world on fire thus far. And sure, Dani Pedrosa came through in Jerez when he really needed a win, aided by an assist from his young wingman. Lorenzo, though, is a double world champion, and Rossi, who is still getting used to the factory M1 on which he dominated the game for years, has another seven premier class trophies lying around his man cave back in Italy. It’s just too early in the season to suggest that this is Marquez’s year, or Pedrosa’s year, or even Honda’s year.

Marc Marquez

In 2013, He Who Remains Upright will win the title.

Take a look back at the last four champions. Rossi won in 2009 despite a comical wet/dry 16th place finish in France and crashing out in Indianapolis. In 2010, Lorenzo didn’t crash all year, but won the trophy by 140 points and could have easily absorbed a few lowsides without damaging his championship prospects. Casey Stoner in 2011 crashed out early in the season at Jerez and won the title

convincingly. And last year, Lorenzo repeated despite getting de-biked by Alvaro Bautista at Assen and falling unassisted in Valencia.

Let’s pile on a little. Here is the spread in points between first and third place, by year since 2009, after three rounds:

Year Leader/points Third place/points Spread
2009 Rossi – 65 Lorenzo – 41 24
2010 Lorenzo – 70 Dovizioso – 42 28
2011 Lorenzo – 65 Stoner – 41 24
2012 Stoner – 66 Pedrosa – 52 14
2013 Marquez – 61 Lorenzo – 57 4

All of which is a rather long way of saying that a DNF this season, by any of the top four riders, will put him squarely behind the eight ball. If Rossi can find a way onto the podium at Le Mans, surprising no one, it will make things that much tighter at the top of the class. And, judging from Marquez’s comportment in Jerez, I would say that he is the most likely of the four to get separated from his machine in the first half of the season. Even at 320 kph, slow and steady wins the race.

Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez

Recent History at Le Mans

2009 was the epic flag-to-flag affair that saw Lorenzo run away from the field, joined sometime later on the podium by one Marco Melandri on the Hayate Racing Kawasaki – I know, right? – and third place finisher Pedrosa. The following excerpt from that day’s coverage remains one of my all-time favorites:

The first rider to pit was Valentino Rossi, who was busily watching Lorenzo lengthen his lead until, on Lap 4, he couldn’t stand it anymore, and pitted to swap his wet bike for the dry. Thus began one of the worst days of his premier class career. In chronological order, he immediately executed a rousing lowside, limped back to the pits, traded his tattered dry bike for his original wet bike, got flagged for speeding on pit row, took his ride-through penalty, turned a few slow laps, pitted again, traded back his wet bike for his now-repaired dry bike, returned to the track and finished 16th, two laps down. He might as well have gone to Baltimore to watch the Preakness.

Valentino Rossi Le Mans 2012

In 2010 it was Lorenzo again, joined onstage by Rossi and Dovizioso. Stoner’s early crash left the door open for the Mallorcan. At the end of the day Lorenzo led the Australian by 59 points, and Stoner’s dream of a title in 2010 lay in ruins.

Two years ago, Casey Stoner took his first career win at Le Mans with an easy stroll past Dovizioso and Rossi. This was the race in which the late Marco Simoncelli undercut Pedrosa in one of the lefthanders and sent him flying off his bike and out of the 2011 championship race. For Rossi, the 2011 French Grand Prix podium would be the high water mark in a brutal inaugural season with Ducati.

Finally, in 2012, Lorenzo again led the way, this time in a driving rainstorm, while Rossi enjoyed one of his two podiums last year, finishing second, ten seconds behind Lorenzo and two seconds in front of Casey Stoner, who had announced his impending retirement only days earlier.

Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo

Having enjoyed three wins out of his last four outings in France, in the wet, the dry and in-between, Jorge Lorenzo should be the favorite going into the weekend. With weather conditions expected to be cold and damp, it’s not that hard to envision Rossi on the podium and Marquez in the gravel. And with but one third place podium finish at Le Mans since 2007, not to mention his season-ruining crash in 2011, Dan Pedrosa’s expectations for the weekend are bound to be fairly modest.

Ben Spies MIA Again

Michele Pirro

As was the case last time out in Jerez, Ben Spies will be reclining in Texas this weekend, nursing his shoulder, chest and ego. Michele Pirro will again be riding a Ducati on Sunday, this time as a substitute rider for the Ignite Pramac team. Last time out he was a wildcard. The difference being, this time he’s into Spies’ engine allotment, which can’t make Ben all too happy. According to, “After a medical check in Dallas, American Spies was advised that it was in his best interests to delay his comeback.” Um, perhaps until 2014, in World SuperBikes, running around with Nicky Hayden and becoming relevant again. Everyone’s pointing to Mugello, but we’re taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Quick Hitters

Hectic Hector Barbera received a bit of community service as his punishment for getting beat up by his ex-girlfriend a week ago in Jerez. Now he can focus on being beaten up by the non-CRT riders again.

Speaking of which, most of the CRT bikes are getting a software upgrade for their ECU units this weekend. The exceptions are the ART entries of Espargaro, de Puniet, Abraham and Hernandez. (No one seems to know, or actually care, whether Bryan Staring will be getting new software or not.) One of the upgrades to the package is referred to as “anti-jerk”, which came along too late to be of any use to James Toseland.

Aleix Espargaro

The rumors of Cal Crutchlow’s impending demise at Monster Tech 3 Yamaha just won’t go away. Stunning, in my opinion, that Pol Espargaro is being groomed to take the place of the gutsy Brit. This could mean, of course, that Nicky Hayden is toast at Ducati, and that he will be consigned to promoting the Ducati brand in WSB, while Crutchlow will get his long-awaited factory ride with Corse. (You gotta be careful what you wish for, Cal. Ask Andrea Dovizioso.) Following the dominoes, it suggests the brass at Yamaha corporate see the end of the Rossi era approaching, especially if Espargaro signs a one year deal with Tech 3.

The cool part will be watching the Espargaro brothers go at each other next season. Recall 2011 when both were working in Moto2, as older brother Aleix punked Pol by a single point for the season. Take that, hermano.

Pol Espargaro

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