By Dan Moakes
May 29 2015
Valentino Rossi’s last world championship title was the 2009 MotoGP crown, since when he has peaked with second in 2014 after leaving behind his Ducati seat (2011-12) and returning to the works Yamaha team. This year has him possibly on course to regain the top spot.
Rossi was holding a 15-point lead in the 2015 FIM MotoGP World Championship after four rounds, with two victories scored, and would surely be looking for another good result at Le Mans in the French Grand Prix. His qualifying form was familiar in that he did not trouble the front row contenders, lining up seventh on the MoviStar Yamaha. Team-mate Jorge Lorenzo was prominent on the grid in third, behind Honda and Ducati’s two team leaders. Marc Márquez earned another pole position on his Repsol-backed machine, with second for the man in red Andrea Dovizioso.
The second Ducati was in fifth place with Andrea Iannone, joined on row two by a couple of the customer riders: Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) was fourth and Bradley Smith (Tech 3 Yamaha) was sixth. Repsol Honda man Dani Pedrosa was back in action and starting eighth, followed by Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati), Aleix Espargaró (Suzuki), Yonny Hernández (Pramac Ducati), Pol Espargaró (Tech 3 Yamaha) and Maverick Viñales (Suzuki).
This time it was Nicky Hayden, for Aspar Honda, who led the way in the Open class, starting from P14. Then came Scott Redding (Marc VDS Honda), Stefan Bradl (Forward Yamaha), Mike di Meglio (Avintia Ducati), Jack Miller (LCR Honda), Héctor Barberá (Avintia Ducati), Karel Abraham (AB Honda), Eugene Laverty (Aspar Honda), Loris Baz (Forward Yamaha), Álvaro Bautistá (Aprilia), Alex de Angelis (Ioda ART) and Marco Melandri (Aprilia).
Form guide: GP wins at Le Mans
Lorenzo & Pedrosa 4; Rossi 3; Márquez & Viñales 2; Dovizioso, P.Espargaró, di Meglio, Melandri, Miller & Redding 1
The start of the race saw Dovizioso lead away into the fast right at Courbe Dunlop, where Lorenzo went past around the outside. Márquez was third heading towards the left-right Chicane Dunlop, but he went for the inside line for the first part in a pass on both the men ahead. However, he ran in deep and by the time he’d got turned for the second part he was back to fourth behind Iannone. Rossi was fifth, then Smith, Pedrosa, Crutchlow, Pol Espargaró and the Pramac pair, Hernández ahead of Petrucci. Aleix Espargaró was in trouble and was well back amongst the Open runners.
Pedrosa’s return to racing saw him with an early setback as the Honda went down when the rear end spun round on him. He rejoined the action at the back of the field and with quite some ground to make up. Meanwhile, Bradl crashed out at Virage de la Chapelle, a looping right-hander, and two more riders would soon have to call it a day in the pits: Aleix Espargaró and home rider di Meglio, the latter after an off-track excursion. Redding would also go down soon at Chapelle after running in P17.
At the front, Lorenzo held a slight margin over pursuers Dovizioso, Iannone and Márquez, with Rossi about to get involved. The back straight at Le Mans leads into the Virage du Chemin Aux Boeufs, a left-right combination. Valentino moved into fourth with a forceful pass, taking the inside for the right-hander. He then proceeded to break the lap record as he joined on behind Iannone. Marc would soon lose out as he ran off the track, ending up briefly behind Crutchlow but re-passing and carrying on in sixth behind Smith.
Lorenzo seemed to have a bit in hand over his three pursuers, but Rossi was threatening the two Ducati riders. A good run out of Chemin Aux Boeufs gave ‘the Doctor’ an opportunity into the right-left Garage Bleu ‘S’, so that he overtook Iannone on the inside for the right-hander. After that he ran with Dovizioso until taking his chance at the final double-right of Virage de Raccordement, where he dived inside his countryman for the first apex.
With 15 laps still to go, Rossi was about 1.7s behind leader Lorenzo, but from here the Spaniard was able to build his advantage to about 2.7s by the closing stages. First Iannone and then Dovizioso lost touch with the Yamaha pair, with the number 29 bike dropping back into reach for Smith and Márquez. The Chicane Dunlop would see Bradley go to the inside of Andrea only for Marc to go for the inside line on the pair of them. Somehow this resolved with the Yamaha rider leaving the corner behind the other two, with Iannone holding on ahead of Márquez.
There followed a dramatic couple of laps, with Iannone fighting back several times as Márquez made several passes to take on fourth position. There were moves at the long left-handed Courbe du Musée loop, as well as at the Virage du Garage Vert, the right-hander on to the back straight, and every time Andrea was straight through again. Finally the Honda man got in front and was able to stay ahead, with Smith trailing them home in that order behind a solitary Dovizioso in third.
Crutchlow had still been running seventh when he had a lowside get-off at Chapelle, promoting Pol Espargaró and Hernández to take the next two places at the flag. Viñales had run as the leading Suzuki, initially in P15 behind Miller. The Australian rider would be another faller, with Maverick getting in front of Hayden and Petrucci for ninth. Petrucci was tenth, then Hayden, Baz, Barberá, Laverty and Bautistá. Pedrosa caught and passed both Melandri and de Angelis, but therefore finished just outside the points, with Abraham another who called it a day when he returned to his pit garage.
Following the two years of domination by Moto2 graduate Marc Márquez on the Honda, 2015 had now seen the more experienced Yamaha duo take four wins from the first five races. Valentino Rossi was the man scoring podium finishes in every outing, but two wins in a row saw Jorge Lorenzo back in form and overtaking Ducati’s contender Andrea Dovizioso in the title race. Márquez had won in Austin, but at this stage was 33 points down on Rossi - and Dani Pedrosa was only on ten points from one sixth place. The next event is Rossi’s home race in Mugello, Italy, where he has won on nine occasions.
Standings after five races: Rossi 102; Lorenzo 87; Dovizioso 83; Márquez 69; Iannone 61; Crutchlow 47; Smith 46; P.Espargaró 35; A.Espargaró 31; Viñales 27; Petrucci 25 ·· Open leader: Barberá.
Yamaha 116; Ducati 86; Honda 85; Suzuki 38; Forward Yamaha 6; Aprilia 3.