Zarco and Quartararo complete the podium on home turf, but Miller reigns supreme as Le Mans delivers a flag-to-flag thriller
It says Thriller on the back of his helmet and twice on the bounce that’s now been a fitting moniker for Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team). This time round at the SHARK Grand Prix de France it was a flag-to-flag spectacular that saw him come out on top, overcoming two Long Lap penalties to become the first Australian since Casey Stoner in 2012 to win back-to-back races in the premier class. He said on Thursday he had a score to settle with Le Mans, and settled it now very much is. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) hunted down compatriot Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) in the latter stages to take second place, with the French riders completing the podium on home turf and Quartararo now back in the points lead to boot.
Ahead of lights out for the premier class, the race was declared dry. No rain had fallen since Warm Up but there were some looming dark clouds in the surrounding area, and tensions were understandably palpable on the grid. The entire field had selected the soft-soft slick Michelins to begin the race on, with some forecasts suggesting there might be some rain on the way…
It was dry for the time being though and as somewhat expected, Miller propelled his Ducati off the line for the holeshot from third on the grid, with both Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Quartararo holding firm ish to stay inside the top three. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) had two bites of the cherry for P4 against Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), first at Turn 7, then Turn 8.
Not long after coming out of Turn 10, Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) then had a huge moment. The Spaniard stayed on but it gave Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and his teammate Franco Morbidelli a look up the inside at Turn 11, but three into one didn’t go and the door was closed on Morbidelli as the Italian ran wide before crashing in the gravel. That caused Rossi and Pol Espargaro to lose places too, with Morbidelli able to re-join but at the back.
Meanwhile at the front, Miller, Viñales and Quartararo were the top three, with fast-starting Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Marc Marquez inside the top five… but the rain had started falling. It was light to begin with and Quartararo made a phenomenal two-in-one move on Viñales and Miller at Turn 3, but then it got heavier. On Lap 5, the heavens properly opened and it was time for the field to come into pitlane for a bike swap. For the first time in four years, we had a flag-to-flag.
Miller ran wide at Turn 11 as the riders struggled to finish the lap on slicks, and reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) sadly found that out. The number 36 crashed on Lap 5 when the rain started bucketing down, and more drama followed elsewhere in pitlane. Both Miller and teammate Francesco Bagnaia were handed two Long Lap penalties each for speeding in pitlane, and Quartararo pulled into Viñales’ box slot by accident to earn himself a Long Lap. After that, Marc Marquez emerged as the race leader in the shuffle…
Rins was second as the riders re-entered the track too, but at Turn 4, the Spaniard was down. That left Marc Marquez and Quartararo clear of Miller at the front, but the eight-time World Champion was then down at the final corner in another bout of drama not long after. The 93 did manage to get back on track but that put Quartararo back in front as the race leader again. Miller was rapidly closing in but the Australian had two long laps to take. He did so quickly on Laps 9 and 10, getting back out and setting his sights back on Quartararo, soon able to home back in.
On Lap 12, Quartararo dived through the Long Lap penalty area but still came out in P2. His advantage over third place, who then was Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), was 12 seconds and Miller was in the groove at the front to pull out a four second lead over Quartararo. Zarco was coming though, and the Pramac rider soon grabbed P3 from Nakagami at Turn 3. The Frenchman then started to close down compatriot Quartararo at a high rate of knots as well, nearly two seconds a lap as dry lines started to appear. There was no rain falling either, so could we actually see the riders come into pitlane for another bike swap?
Marc Marquez then crashed again at Turn 6, his second of the race, and he was out on Lap 18. We then saw Miller kick his right leg out on the front straight – was he signalling to get the dry bike ready? He and Quartararo were on the soft and Zarco on the medium, and the Pramac rider was reeling in his compatriot at least with the gap down to 2.5s with seven to go…
Astonishingly, the sun was shining too. Zarco was 1.8s quicker than Quartararo once again, as Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) got the better of Nakagami for P4 and P5 respectively, relegating the Japanese rider to sixth. Bagnaia was on his own charge too after a terrible start and two Long Laps, and he overtook the Japanese rider with six to go.
Further up the road, Zarco had arrived on the scene and blasted past Quartararo on the home straight to take P2, seven seconds behind Miller. In turn, Quartararo had 12 seconds in his pocket to Alex Marquez, so it seemed the podium could be decided, barring any more drama.
Five to go and Zarco was hunting Miller, and there wasn’t time left to come into pitlane, head back out and use the slick tyre advantage – not for the leaders anyway. Miller was holding on with a cracking effort though, his lead was staying just above the five second mark as Bagnaia climbed his way to P4 just down the road.
Three to go. Miller’s lead was 4.9s, Zarco was holding Quartararo at bay by nearly seven seconds, and Bagnaia was eight seconds off the final podium place in fourth. Heading onto Lap 26 of 27, the gap was down to 4.3s between the leading duo and Bagnaia was cutting the gap to Quartararo by nearly two seconds a lap. By the final lap though, it remained Miller’s to lose, his advantage still above the four second mark. Quartararo’s gap to Pecco was 3.4s, and so that was all she wrote after a tense, taught and fairly dramatic French GP.
After banishing the early season demons in Jerez, Miller now sits just 16 points away from the title lead as Zarco returns to the podium following a trickier couple of races in Portugal and Spain. He and Quartararo make it two Frenchman on the podium at the French GP – not bad from the latter who underwent arm pump surgery after the Spanish GP and faced heartbreak at the venue in the wet last year. Bagnaia’s fourth was a uper ride and result after his two Long Lap penalties and a P16 start that saw him lose a few places off the line to boot. He may have lost his World Championship lead, but only by a point…
Petrucci has had a tough start to life as a KTM rider, but the 2020 Le Mans race winner delivered by far his best ride of the season to finish in an impressive P5. LCR Honda’s Alex Marquez also grabs his best result of the season at a circuit he scored a podium at last year, the double World Champion leading teammate Nakagami over the line in sixth and seventh for LCR. Pol Espargaro equals his best finish of the campaign in P8, with Iker Lecuona (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) snatching P9 off Viñales on the last lap to land a morale-boosting P9. Viñales had to settle for P10 at the chequered flag, a muted result after leading the race in the early stages.
Rossi lost some valuable time in the early stages and The Doctor wasn’t able to make up ground when the rain fell, taking P11 at Le Mans. Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) was 10 seconds behind his half brother in P12, and the Italian comfortably beat 13th place Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) after a tough weekend for the South African. Reigning Moto2™ World Champion Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) and Tito Rabat (Pramac Racing) were the final point scorers, with Morbidelli managing to finish the race but in a lonely P16.
Both Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini teammate Lorenzo Savadori suffered mechanical issues on Sunday afternoon, and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) joined the Suzukis and Marc Marquez in crashing out.
That was another absolutely breathtaking MotoGP™ race, and our first flag-to-flag in four years. An unbelievable afternoon in northern France sees the top four in the title race sit just 16 points apart, and it’s now Quartararo leading the way from Bagnaia, Zarco and Miller. Next up: the spectacular Mugello… Ducati home turf.
1 Jack Miller – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 47:25.473
2 Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – +3.970
3 Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – +14.468
*Independent Team rider
Jack Miller: “Hectic, very hectic, I mean, it was perfectly still just before but halfway through the race when the rain came, the wind came with it and it was…. honestly, as I came down pitlane, the barrier blew into pitlane and I said they are going to red flag this for sure, but then it dropped off relatively quickly. The first couple laps were dodgy on the wet tyres, but I got going and then I had the long laps, I wasn’t sure why, apparently for speeding. I generally do get speeding tickets in France, not the ones I want! I was able to bosh them out pretty quickly and get to work on Fabio and I got in front of him and I just felt comfortable to be honest, I was just riding into the conditions, I saw Johann was coming so I had to up her a bit for the last five laps but the track was pretty much dry again. I was thinking do I pit or not, because it such a long pit road here and you lose a lot of time so I was just counting down the laps but, yeah, absolutely amazing I can’t believe it. Back to back wins is just fantastic and I can’t thank the team enough, they’re awesome and yeah!”
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