French Grand Prix Preview

Sean Alexander
by Sean Alexander
Here's the ususal excellent preview of an upcoming MotoGP race, from our friends at Team Camel Pramac Pons


The 4.180 kms Bugatti circuit is part of the World famous 13.60 kms road circuit that hosts the Le Mans 24 hour car race. It was built in 1965 around the start and finish straight of the 24 hour circuit and incorporates the grandstand and paddock facilities. The track was modified and shortened last year to improve safety and returned to the MotoGP calendar in 2000 with the French Grand Prix, that had previously been held at the Paul Ricard circuit for the last four years.

The first motorcycle grand prix was held on the track in 1969 and won by Italian Giacomo Agostini, riding the MV Agusta. The circuit hosted just one Formula One car grand prix in 1967. It 's not the favourite circuit for many of the MotoGP riders because of it's start and stop characteristics. However, the fast up hill right hand bend between the grandstands on route to the chicane after the start and finish, still provides a breathtaking spectacle for the thousands of fans.

Both Camel Pramac Pons riders have a good record at the circuit. Max Biaggi won the 500cc race two years ago and and was third in the first MotoGP race at the track last year. Tohru Ukawa has fared even better, winning the 250cc race three years ago and finishing second behind team-mate Rossi in the rain shortened MotoGP race last year. Both riders have also won the 250cc French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit.

The Bugatti circuit has provided three separate winners in the 500/MotoGP class since it's return to the calendar. It also has sad memories for the Honda Pons team after their rider Alberto Puig was seriously injured there in 1995 during qualifying.


Length: 4.180 kms
Direction: Clockwise
Pole Position: Left
Width: 13 m
Right corners: Nine
Left corners: Four
Longest straight: 450 m
Constructed: May 1965
Modified: 2002

Lap record:
Valentino Rossi (Honda) 1m36.846s - 155.380 km/h (19/5/03)

Pole setting lap:
Valentino Rossi (Honda) 1m36.046s

2002 MotoGP Race winner:
Valentino Rossi (Honda) 34m22.335s - 153.228 (Race shortened because of rain)

Max Biaggi 2002: Third
Tohru Ukawa 2002: Second

COBAS INSIGHT - Antonio Cobas, the Technical Director of Camel Pramac Pons

Once again we arrive at a circuit on which we have never raced the four-stroke. My first thoughts about Le Mans are how to prevent the front wheel of the RC211V Honda spending too much time off the track and in the air. Le Mans has so many slow corners followed by straights, it's always been a difficult problem to beat. Slow corners followed by flat out acceleration onto the straights makes it so easy for the rider to be continually lifting the front wheel. The solution to the problem can be solved both electronically and by shortening the gear shift to produce less power, but then of course you have less acceleration. It makes setting up the bike very difficult and the rider will complain about the wheelies but when you solve that problem, he then complains about lack of acceleration. This was the problem with the two-stroke 500's and I'm sure it will be even worse with the four-strokes. It will make for a very busy weekend, working on the electronics, the engine mapping and the set-up and it's certainly where the team's technicians play a big part in the outcome. There is just one fast corner, the right hander after the start and finish but this should not cause too many problems. It's those slow corners and straights that make us work so hard all weekend. The engine set-up is the the priority because the suspension and tyre grip is not a great problem. The track takes plenty of wear out of the tyres but Michelin do a very good job at almost their home track. Both Max and Tohru have very good results at the circuit and I will be interested to find out just why.

Last year the race was shortened because of the rain and we'll be keeping a close eye on the forecast. We have hardly any experience with the four-stroke Honda in the wet. The only wet time we've experienced last year or this was during qualifying at Suzuka last month. We were able to make a lot of improvements on the bike in the wet after those sessions but since then it's been dry. We want to continue with those improvements, on certain aspects such as the traction control system, but the sun keeps shining.

That may change this weekend where we hope to provide Max and Tohru the machinery to continue their good records at Le Mans, whatever the weather.

This service is provided by Camel, title partner of the Camel Pramac Pons team.
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Sean Alexander
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