Monday, May 21

LORENZO PERFECT AT LE MANS

By MICHAEL ESDAILE

Perfect traction, a focussed mind, clear vision and millimetre perfect lines – all four were demonstrated in an absolutely sublime performance by Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo as he splashed his way to his second win of the season on a rain-drenched Bugati circuit at Le Mans to win the Monster Energy French MotoGP on May 20.

The win boosted Lorenzo and Yamaha’s chances of another world championship as he ended the day eight points ahead of defending MotoGP Champion Casey Stoner after starting the day one point behind the Australian.

The contrast with his first win of the season, at the opening round at Qatar’s Losail circuit, could not have been dramatic.  At Qatar, Lorenzo had started from pole position, led the race for two laps before Casey Stoner sliced past on the Repsol Honda then spent most of the race chasing the Australian before snatching the lead back four laps from home when race leader was struggling with ‘arm pump’.  
The Qatar race was run at night when the air temperature was a pleasant 24°C, humidity was 53% and the track was dry with a surface temperature of 23°C. 

In contrast, at Le Mans the track was streaming wet, the race was run in the mid-afternoon in chilly 13°C conditions, humidity was a water vapour saturated 96%, the track surface was 19°C – and Lorenzo was starting from the second row of the grid after a fraught qualifying session which saw Dani Pedrosa put his Repsol Honda on pole

Although Pedrosa made his trademark lightning start and Stoner went with him, the two Honda men were less inclined to push hard early on than Lorenzo, who rounded the two of them up in the first corner, took the lead and from there to the finish was never headed.


The Honda men knew their rear Bridgestones took a while to get up to temperature in cool, wet conditions so both of them took it easy in the opening laps, Pedrosa more so than Stoner who had his bike twitching around on the edge of disaster as he sliced past his team-mate and tried to give chase to Lorenzo.

Behind the pair Valentino Rossi was on the move.  The petulant, distant, deeply depressed understudy we have become far too used to seeing over the past year was replaced by the real Valentino Rossi.  Prior to the race he was laughing and joking with seven times Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher in the Ducati pit and looking supremely confident as he watched the rain falling.

On the opening lap the Ducati man was past the Tech 3 Yamahas of Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow and was stalking third-placed Pedrosa a lap later.  Nipping past the Spaniard, Rossi gave chase to Stoner and a lap later both Tech 3 bikes followed him.

For a while, Stoner looked under threat but once he felt his Bridgestones getting some good grip, off he went in pursuit of Lorenzo, leaving Rossi and the Tech 3 twins locked in an enthralling battle for third.  It was a tremendous performance by all three with both the satellite Yamahas getting ahead of him at one point.  Rossi fought back, getting past Crutchlow to chase Dovizioso.

For several laps these three had the crowd on tenterhooks as they thrust and parried in the treacherous conditions then on the 19th lap Crutchlow relieved some of the pressure on the Ducati man by crashing.  He quickly remounted dropping just three positions but his podium chances were gone.  Almost right on cue, Rossi nipped past Dovizioso to take third with Stoner more than three seconds ahead as he edged closer to Lorenzo, a tenth of a second at a time.

Rossi revealed later he had been forced to take things easier in the early laps as he struggled to clear a partially fogged visor.

After matching and sometimes bettering Lorenzo’s lap times for the middle third of the race, Stoner was drifting back as he started getting more and more wheel-spin from his rear tyre as the rain had stopped and a dry line was emerging.  Three things had happened: Lorenzo had upped his pace in response to Stoner’s challenge, getting down into the 1m44s lap time bracket; Stoner had eased off as he searched for rear traction, and Rossi had sped up.  The result was Lorenzo stetched away to a bigger lead while Rossi was closing on Stoner, his task made easier when the Aussie was momentarily baulked by the lapped Columbian Yonny Hernandez.

Dovizioso, trying to stay with Rossi in a potential podium bid, crashed but like Crutchlow he was able to re-join after losing three positions.

With Dovi gone, Rossi only had to stay upright to secure a podium but he felt confident, especially with Stoner’s Honda sliding around more than the Ducati.  Thus, over the final three laps these old adversaries were swopping second place, Rossi now much more confident in the front-end of the Ducati as her probed deep on the brakes, but Stoner was up to the challenge and was back ahead on each occasion.

It went down to the last lap and Rossi made one more attempt at second and this time it paid off.  Stoner tried to respond but ended up just lighting up the rear tyre.  Later he said he was happy enough with third place, given the conditions and he congratulated Rossi on his performance and shook hands with the Ducati crew before joining his
Repsol Honda crew in the parc fermé.

Rossi’s second place finish was his best result since joining Ducati: last year he was third at Le Mans in the dry, so second place a year later was a confidence boost.

Behind Stoner, Pedrosa was a distant fourth thanks to the over-eagerness of the Tech 3 twins, while last year’s Moto2 champion Stefan Bradl rode a heady race to finish fifth.


Out front though there was no dispute over who had turned in the finest performance.  That honour unquestionably belonged to Lorenzo who did not put a foot wrong and raced home almost 10 seconds ahead of Rossi, with Stoner 11.2 seconds back from the lead.

For full results, click here