It was a high-stakes Friday in the Shark Helmets Grand Prix de France, with the weather fine on Day 1 but rain and worsening conditions expected on Saturday – meaning the end of FP2 became a frantic dash to ensure a provisional place in Q2. As the dust settled it was Monster Energy Yamaha’s Maverick Viñales at the top of the pile, with the 2017 race winner fast all day and deposing reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) by 0.190 seconds. Home hero Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) completed the top three after topping FP1, with the Frenchman’s pace showing no sign of abating.
The day started sunny before the Le Mans clouds loomed at the start of FP2 to serve as a reminder of the weather warnings for Saturday…not that anyone needed one. After some drama that saw Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) take a tumble and then Pramac Racing’s Jack Miller, it was Honda at the top with Marquez, followed by Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), but the timing screens were about to be painted red. With just under ten minutes to go to get that fast lap in, Repsol Honda Team’s Jorge Lorenzo bolted first and went fastest overall. It was game on.
Then Crutchlow crashed, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro capitalised to push the British rider out the provisional top ten, and Viñales moved the goal posts again to go top. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) then seemed on to go faster still but lost time near the end of the lap, before there was more drama as Aleix Espargaro crashed, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) crashed for a second time and then Miller followed his lead.
Meanwhile, Viñales was busy at the top going quicker again and that was, then, how it would stay. Marquez jumped from fifth to second across the two sessions, with Quartararo slotting into third and remaining ominous.
Lorenzo remained fourth overall as the Spaniard found some impressive pace in the afternoon, recovering from an FP1 crash to find some top form in France – a venue where he has six wins across all classes, five of which are in MotoGP™. Dovizioso stayed safely inside the top ten and ended Friday in fifth, just ahead of teammate Petrucci after ‘Petrux’ bounced back from his crash. Pol Espargaro, despite his eventful day, is seventh overall in yet another impressive performance from the 2013 Moto2™ Champion to put KTM on course for an automatic place in Q2, likewise brother Aleix, who puts Aprilia in P8.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was another with something to smile about after FP2, with the Japanese rider improving vastly upon his FP1 to end the day in ninth – just ahead of Miller. The Australian didn’t improve in FP2 but had done enough to edge out Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) by just 0.001 – something that could prove crucial.
That’s a phrase that two men will likely be repeating and regretting after a tough first day in France, chiefly Crutchlow down in P12 and nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). The ‘Doctor’ is P14 overall heading into FP3 and couldn’t crack the top ten, although he was another suffering some drama on Friday as one run in FP1 was interrupted by his chain coming off. Finally, second in the Championship Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) also had a tougher day. He’s down in P16 and could well face another fight through the pack on Sunday although it’s not stopped the Spaniard hitting the front yet.
That’s it from Day 1 at Le Mans and, come rain or shine on Saturday, we look set for a thriller of a qualifying day. Will FP3 stay dry and let the field improve? Or could Q1 even prove an advantage for those who are forced to fight it out and let them check out the conditions ahead of Q2? And, if the fight for pole in France sees rain shuffle the pack, who can master the classic venue in the wet? Find out from 9:55 (GMT +2) local time for FP3, before qualifying from 14:10.
1 – Maverick Viñales (SPA – Yamaha) 1’31.428
2 – Marc Marquez (SPA – Honda) +0.190
3 – Fabio Quartararo (FRA – Yamaha) +0.285
4 – Jorge Lorenzo (SPA – Honda) +0.288
5 – Andrea Dovizioso (ITA – Ducati) +0.308