We’ve seen some of this before. In the MotoGP tilt, Marc Marquez took the hole shot, held off an early challenge from Ducati hothead Jack Miller, and won the French Grand Prix going away, never seriously challenged. This, after little brother Alex, whose last win came in Japan in 2017, survived the demolition derby that was Moto2 and brought joy to Catalans everywhere. After the race, dad Julià, jubilant, sought out a quiet corner of the garage and gave birth to a litter of kittens.

Embed from Getty Images

Marc Marquez’s victory was the 300th premier class win for Honda.

At various points during the weekend, it appeared the winner might come from any number of camps. The Petronas Yamaha and factory Ducati teams were heard from early. Marquez was buzzing around the top of the timesheets in each session. Maverick Viñales had some encouraging moments, and there was a Jorge Lorenzo sighting in the top five during FP2. Valentino Rossi would finagle his way onto the second row after a forgettable couple of days. The Suzukis were struggling, and KTM had but one rider, Pol Espargaro, who seemed capable of wrestling the RC16 to a top ten finish.

Practice and Qualifying

Embed from Getty Images

After his outing at Jerez, Fabio Quartararo continued to impress in his home race at Le Mans, leading after the first practice session.

With the weekend forecast looking dismal, there came the growing possibility that Friday could determine which riders passed into Q2. This moved the majority to put on their big boy leathers and let it all hang out late in FP1, with startling rookie homeboy Fabio Quartararo topping the sheets, followed by Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci, Viñales and Marquez. My boy Alex Rins didn’t get the memo about the weather, easing into 17th. Fan fave Johann Zarco and the legendary Valentino Rossi snuck into the top ten.

It stayed dry for FP2. Lorenzo somehow improved his time by a full 1.3 seconds. Aleix Espargaro flogged his Aprilia into the Top Ten Combined, as did Honda climber Takaa Nakagami. All of which came at the expense of Suzuki rookie Joan Mir, and the aforementioned Mssrs. Zarco and Rossi. When Saturday dawned wet, it confirmed that the three would be joining a gaggle of big names amongst the great unwashed in Q1, names like Cal Crutchlow, Franco Morbidelli, and Rins.

Embed from Getty Images

Valentino Rossi knew he had to get through Q1 to have any chance on Sunday.

Until this moment, I have underestimated the pressure some of these riders feel as they approach Q1. Should they fail to advance to Q2, their weekend will be effectively shot. Rossi and Zarco, especially, must have been tied in knots. Fifteen minutes that could have a real effect on their immediate career prospects; never mind the championship. And those minutes would likely unfold on a wet track.

As expected, FP3 was run on rain tires. Viñales, Marquez and Miller put in the best times, followed in close order by Rins, Zarco and Petrucci. The session was significant only due to the conditions, as the radar made it appear likely we would get to see the WET RACE sign on Sunday. FP4 ran on a drying track that was too wet for slicks and too dry for wets. Such would be the conditions in Q1, in which Franco Morbidelli turned in the best lap on rain tires and Valentino Rossi, jumping out of the gate on slicks, beat the field by 1½ seconds, putting both in Q2 as the rain picked up steam and the track went from dryish to humid to damp to moist to wettish.

Embed from Getty Images

Marc Marquez took his third pole position of the season.

On rain tires, Marquez laid down his marker on Lap 2 of Q2 and it stood up, by 4/10ths, for the entire session. The two notorious Ducati mudders, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, completed the front row. The Italian crew on Row 2 included Andrea Dovizioso, Rossi and the overachieving Morbidelli. Alas, homeboy Fabio Quartararo could not maintain the magic in the wet, qualifying 10th, while the erratic Top Gun, Maverick Viñales, once again made a hash of qualifying and would start Sunday in the middle of Row 4. At day’s end, riders Zarco (14th), Crutchlow (15th) and Rins (19th, currently second in the championship) were radioactive, glowing in the dark. Not Suitable for Interviewing.

During the Race

Embed from Getty Images

Suzuki’s Joan Mir and Reale Avintia’s Karel Abraham both crashed at the same corner during the warm-up lap. After arguing for a moment, both riders remembered there was a race going on. Mir was able to join the race in time but Abraham didn’t leave pitlane until after the race leader (Marc Marquez) had completed his first lap, earning himself a black flag.

To everyone’s surprise, the 2019 Le Mans battle was a dry race, the riders, always with a complaint at the ready, complaining that they had not had enough practice time in the dry. Once Marquez had stiff-armed Miller and cleared off, the battle for second place commenced, involving three Ducatis and Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha. The Ducatis prevailed over the Yamaha. The factory Ducatis prevailed over Miller’s satellite job. And Ducati #1 Dovizioso prevailed over his #2, Danilo Petrucci. Announcers Steve and Matt seem to have overlooked the fact that the 2019 Honda RC213V has as much grunt as the Ducati Desmosedici, remarking lap after lap how the chasing Ducs were unable to rocket past Marquez on the main straight as in years past.

Petrucci spent the last few laps seriously dogging teammate Dovizioso, and looked fully capable of mounting a challenge, your basic late dive underneath the foe, on the last lap. Had he trailed any other rider, and with nothing to lose, he would have made the attempt. But unlike his predecessor Jorge Lorenzo, he took account of the fact that Dovi is in the thick of the championship chase and internalized the fact that the consequences of sending him flying into the scenery would have been dire indeed. So he backed off, saved his honor, gained a podium, and avoided a major bruhaha with his compatriot and teammate. Good on ya, Petrux.

Embed from Getty Images

Danilo Petrucci had his eyes on Andrea Dovizioso but did not press his teammate. He was rewarded by joining Dovizioso on the podium instead of a stay in the dog house.

Elsewhere on the grid, two riders were busy making lemonade out of lemons. Pol Espargaro took his KTM from 12th to 6th, while Rins, after a disastrous Q1 on Saturday, made it into the top ten. Crutchlow, who also made hash on Saturday, moved from 15th at the start to a less-nauseating 9th, maintaining his average of 7 points per round.

As for the locals, Johann Zarco, he of the dreamy eyes and stiff upper lip, started 14th and finished 13th, not precisely what he and his team were looking for. Heartthrob Quartararo, whom some analysts had tagged for the win today, started in trouble from 10th place, worked his way backwards into the low teens early on before recovering during the second half of the race and finishing a respectable 8th. Saving grace for the French fans is that neither got chain-whipped by any German riders. Plenty of Spaniards and Italians, sure, but not a loathsome Boche. Vive la France!

It’s Tranching Time Again…

Embed from Getty Images

Marc Marquez remains on top of the championship standings and Bruce’s tranches.

After Jerez:

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins
Tranche 2: Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales
Tranche 3: Pecco Bagnaia, Takaa Nakagami, Franco Morbidelli, Pol and Aleix Espargaro
Tranche 4: Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira
Tranche 5: Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

After Le Mans:

Tranche 1: Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins
Tranche 2: Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Franco Morbidelli, Pol Espargaro
Tranche 3: Takaa Nakagami, Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales
Tranche 4: Joan Mir, Andrea Iannone, Jorge Lorenzo, Johann Zarco, Miguel Oliveira, Pecco Bagnaia
Tranche 5: Karel Abraham, Hafizh Syahrin, Tito Rabat

On to Mugello

Embed from Getty Images

Alex Marquez joined his brother with a victory in the Moto2 class.

Two short weeks until we arrive at one of the shrines of racing, the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello, nestled in the Tuscan hills above the Adriatic Riviera. Mugello is such a cool track that everyone, from Marquez to Abraham, feels they have an advantage racing there. All the Italian riders, all the Ducati pilots, and a number of others will be playing the ‘home race’ card. The fact is that Mugello, with its massive front straight constructed so as to magnify the noise of the bikes and amplify slipstreaming, is an adrenaline firehose. Those chasing Marc Marquez in 2019, notably Dovizioso and Rossi, need to make hay while the summer sun shines on their home crib.

Embed from Getty Images

Scottish racer John McPhee took the win in the Moto3 race. McPhee made Moto3 history earlier in the weekend as the first rider to go from Q1 to pole position.