We are only three rounds into the 2011 MotoGP season and we already have a great championship battle developing after witnessing intense racing throughout the grid. This weekend sees the continuation of the championship, as the grid head to Le Mans, for the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France.
Currently sitting pretty at the top of the table is Yamaha‘s reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, who will be starting his 150th premier class race this weekend, closely followed by long time rival, Repsol Honda‘s Dani Pedrosa only 4 points behind. Lorenzo won the race last year and will be hoping to emulate the achievement again this year.
Pedrosa’s team-mate Casey Stoner sits in 3rd place in the championship, 20 points behind the pocket sized Spaniard, and will be hoping to score only his 2nd podium finish at the French circuit. Considering Stoner was the man to beat in pre-season, he’ll be hoping for the win to climb back up the table.
Ducati‘s Valentino Rossi sits in 4th place in the table, and has 3 wins under his belt at Le Mans, with 4 other podium finishes aswell. Speaking before the weekend, Rossi said, “Le Mans is a historic track, and I always like to go to these places with rich motorsport traditions, even if the stop-and-go layout is a little particular.”
He continued. “The atmosphere is always really nice, with the grandstand filled with fans on both Saturday and Sunday. The track isn't particularly technical but maintaining a good rhythm is tricky: there are many points where we brake really hard for corners, so then it's important to have strong acceleration on the exit. We'll see how well we're able to deal with those characteristics. We're coming off a test that confirmed that we've started to go in the right direction and, although we're still in the first phase, we hope we can find a good setup for Le Mans so that we can be faster in the qualifying session. We're all working hard, and we're making progress, but we still have to keep improving.”
Rossi’s team-mate Nicky Hayden is currently tied in 5th place in the championship with the third Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso and in last years race they finished 3rd and 4th respectively. Hayden spoke before the weekend and said, “Traditionally, Le Mans hasn't been a good track for me. I've never had a podium or a front row there, but I was fourth there last year, which was my best-ever result. You can't really make too much out of that, but we'll try to take the information we collected during the test at Estoril and see if we can put it to good use in France. The weather at Le Mans can be either way, especially this time of year, which is just part of racing.”
He continued. “One good thing I look forward to is that I think the best strength of our bike right now is stability under hard braking, and Le Mans has a lot of hard braking. Traditionally, the grip there isn't very good, so that's something we're probably really going to have to work on. We'll go there and see what we've got.”
San Carlo Honda Gresini‘s Hiroshi Aoyama has enjoyed a good start to the season as he lays in 6th in the championship, but team-mate Marco Simoncelli‘s position does not reflect his form so far this season. The promising talent is currently lying in 13th on the table, but should be much higher. After crashing out of the lead in Jerez whilst in the lead, and crashing in Estoril after showing winning promise in the practice sessions, Simoncelli will be hoping for a win at Le Mans.
Monster Yamaha rider Cal Crutchlow‘s learning journey continues in Le Mans when he will make his racing debut at the circuit after an impressive finish in Estoril. “I’m heading to Le Mans with a lot of confidence, even though it is another track I’ve only ever seen before on TV. I know it won’t be an easy task but Estoril was obviously another great weekend form me and then to finish fourth quickest in the test showed what I am capable of. Each time I get on the bike I am learning more and more and thanks to my guys at Monster Yamaha Tech 3 I’ve been able to make some big progress.” he said.
“I’m always determined to get the best result possible but this weekend definitely has extra significance being the Team’s home race and Monster being title sponsor of the event. If I can replicate the results I achieved in Jerez and Estoril I’ll be really happy.” he continued.
Team-mate Colin Edwards will also be hoping for a repeat of his performance in Estoril, after grabbing 2 podiums at Le Mans before. “I am really looking forward to Le Mans because it is a track where I’ve had a lot of success at in the past. The Yamaha YZR-M1 has always worked well there too with the sweet handling characteristics of our bike suiting the layout of the track.” he said before the weekend.
“We had a really good test after the race in Portugal and found a good direction to work with for improving rear grip and that should help us a lot. The new Yamaha chassis has a lot of potential but we still have to understand it a lot more to get the best performance out of it. A top six in Portugal is going to be hard to repeat because the field is so strong this season, but that’s what I’ll be aiming for. This weekend is huge for Tech 3 and Monster and I’ll be giving it 100 per cent to deliver a good result for both.“ he continued.
HÃ©ctor BarberÃ¡ suffered his first crash on a premier class machine in Portugal and will be determined to make up lost ground in France, as will rookie Karel Abraham on the Cardion AB Motoracing Ducati. Toni ElÃas on the LCR Honda has twice won at Le Mans, once in 250s and last year in Moto2 on his way to the championship, so will be hoping to emulate his past successes this weekend.
Ben Spies first season with the factory Yamaha squad has not started as he would have expected after two crashes in the last two races, his target will be a points-scoring finish even though Le Mans is a circuit at which he did not finish last year's race.
The Pramac Racing pair of Loris Capirossi and Randy de Puniet will try to follow up their results in Estoril with another step forward, whilst Rizla Suzuki‘s Ãlvaro Bautista has had further time to recover from his injury following his comeback at Estoril.