MotoGP rookie Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) rode a remarkable race at rain-soaked Le Mans today to score his first podium in the premier class.
The reigning Moto2 World Champion showcased his talent on a treacherously slippery racetrack, charging through from 18th on the grid in his first wet-weather MotoGP race.
The conditions caught everyone by surprise. No rain had been forecast for race day and the rain only started falling as riders lined up on the grid, all of them equipped with slick tires. The start was delayed, then the race got underway with all riders using rain tires.
Marquez rode a stunning first lap, gaining eight positions to put himself in tenth place. The 24-year-old Spaniard was pushing hard, while also being careful to get a feel for the soaking track, which had six riders slide out of the 26-lap race. On lap four he moved into eighth place, then seventh three laps later. That put him behind fellow HRC rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V), who he finally put behind him at half-distance.
From there he had to bridge a two-second gap to fifth-placed Pol Espargaro. This is when Marquez was the fastest man on track, rapidly gaining on the three riders ahead of him: leader Danilo Petrucci, Alex Rins and Andrea Dovizioso.
The final laps were hectic. Rins fell with six laps to go which put Marquez third, just behind Dovizioso, who he passed with three laps to go. At the checkered flag he was 1.2 seconds behind winner Petrucci.
This is the second year in a row that Marquez performed brilliantly at le Mans – last year he won the Moto2 race at the track.
Coincidentally, older brother and reigning MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) also had his first rain-affected MotoGP race at Le Mans in 2013, when he was the fastest man on track for a while, on his way to finishing third and winning that year’s world title. The elder Marquez was again absent this weekend as he continues his recovery from injuries sustained.
Crutchlow, who is still struggling with complications from recent surgery to his right arm, performed gallantly all weekend. The 34-year-old Briton had a brilliant Saturday, qualifying fourth fastest, a fraction of a second off the front row. He was strong today as well, until he slid out of seventh place with nine laps remaining.
Crutchlow’s exit made team-mate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V) Honda’s next best finisher in seventh place. This continued his amazing run of 2020 results: Nakagami is the only rider on the grid to have scored points in all nine races so far and all of them top-ten results. He now stands fifth in the championship.
The 28-year-old from Chiba started from 13th on the grid, after a complicated Saturday. Despite his lowly grid position his race pace during practice had been fast, so he had high hopes of a good result in the dry. He made good progress in the rain, moving steadily forward from 12th on the first lap to seventh at the finish, just four seconds away from the podium.
Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) had a great ride to eighth place, which gave him his first points score since taking over Marquez’s machines at August’s Czech GP. The 30-year-old German and former Moto2 World Champion came through from 21st on the grid to take eighth place from current MotoGP points leader Fabio Quartararo on the final lap.
The HRC test rider’s result was especially impressive because he had missed the weekend’s only fully wet practice session – FP1 – after arriving late at Le Mans on Thursday evening following two busy days of testing at Portimao (Algarve International Circuit), where he helped the Repsol Honda Team prepare for November’s Portuguese GP.
Moto2 victory went to Sam Lowes (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Kalex), the 30-year-old Briton’s first success since he won the Moto2 race at Aragon in 2016. Lowes took the win after fellow Briton Jake Dixon (Petronas Sprinta Racing Kalex) crashed out of the lead. Lowes beat second-placed Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team Kalex) by almost four seconds. The podium was completed by Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46 Kalex).
Unusually, the Moto2 race was the last of the day. The rain that so affected the MotoGP race had gone, so the track was mostly dry, with riders using slick tires, but there were still many damp patches.
World championship leader Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46 Kalex) was still hurting from a big crash on Friday and finished out of the points in 17th, while his closest challenger Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team Kalex) was 11th, which reduced Marini’s championship advantage to 15 points with five races to go.
Somkiat Chantra (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia Kalex) had his best ride of the year so far, taking an excellent ninth-place finish. The 21-year-old Thai rider was 24th fastest in yesterday’s dry qualifying sessions and fought his way through from 22nd at the end of the opening lap. Chantra passed several riders per lap in the first half of the 25-lap race, then during the closing stages enjoyed a great battle with Bastianini and Marcel Schrotter (Liqui Moly Intact GP Kalex). This was his first top ten since he took ninth place at his home GP last October.
Team-mate and Grand Prix rookie Andi Farid Izdihar (IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia Kalex) was out of luck. The 23-year-old Indonesian was in 17th place and aiming for his first GP points when he was pushed wide by another rider – this put him onto a damp part of the track where his slick tires couldn’t grip and he crashed.
Italian Moto3 star Tony Arbolino (Snipers Team Honda NSF250RW) came within 0.142 seconds of scoring his first victory of 2020 in the opening race of the day. The 20-year-old was part of a big leading group, within which there were constant changes of position and several tumbles.
Arbolino led the race on several occasions but started the final lap in third place. He did well to overtake championship leader Albert Arenas at Turn Two but try as he might he wasn’t quite able to find a way past Celestino Vietti.
Nonetheless the result did wonders for Arbolino’s title hopes, because he moved into fourth overall, just 20 points behind Arenas, with five races remaining.
Honda’s big star of the weekend was Jaume Masia (Leopard Racing Honda NSF250RW), who started from pole position, led the first half of the race, then slipped back before returning to the front to dominate the closing stages. Sadly, halfway through the penultimate lap the 19-year-old Spaniard made one tiny mistake at Turn Eight. Moto3 is so close that three riders came past and he was unable to fight his way back into the top three before the checkered flag. He finished fourth, 0.138 seconds off the podium and 0.336 off the win.
Gabriel Rodrigo (Kommerling Gresini Moto3 Honda NSF250RW) was the next Honda man across the line, in eighth place. Jeremy Alcoba (Kommerling Gresini Moto3 Honda NSF250RW) and John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing Honda NSF250RW) had also been in the lead group, until Alcoba fell five laps from the finish, taking McPhee with him. Neither was hurt.
Another faller was Tatsuki Suzuki (Sic58 Squadra Corse Honda NSF250RW). The 23-year-old from Chiba was making an impressive return from injury and was the fastest man on track when he slid off.
Today was a challenging day for World Championship hopeful Ai Ogura (Honda Team Asia Honda NSF250RW), who arrived at Le Mans leading the points chase. The cool weather and tricky grip conditions haven’t been easy for the 19-year-old from Tokyo who crashed during qualifying, putting him 17th on the grid. He didn’t get a great start and was 24th in the early stages, but step by step he moved forward, leading the second group in ninth place at the finish. The result puts him second overall, just six points behind Arenas.
World Championship rookie Yuki Kunii (Honda Team Asia Honda NSF250RW) wanted his first points today but his hopes were spoiled by a poor first lap, which left him with too much work to do. His pace later in the race was better, putting him 20th at the finish, but the 17-year-old from Setagaya knows he needs to improve his speed from the start of the race.
Today’s action commenced the busiest period in MotoGP history, with six races over seven weekends to close the 2020 World Championship, postponed and shortened due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Next up are two races at Spain’s MotorLand Aragon, with next weekend’s Aragon Grand Prix and the following weekend’s Teruel Grand Prix.
The season concludes at Algarve International Circuit, with the Portuguese GP on November 22.