Thomas Luthi kept calm in a chaotic French Moto2 Grand Prix, held in wet conditions, to claim his first victory of the season and move firmly into championship contention. The Swiss rider overhauled early leader Pol Espargaro and resisted the challenge of a determined Johann Zarco to win comfortably in the end.
Polesitter Marc Marquez didn't get away well and tumbled down the order in the opening few corners, leaving Espargaro to lead from Luthi but all three British riders were chasing them after sensational starts for all. Scott Redding was third, one place higher than he'd started while Bradley Smith and Gino Rea had scythed through the field to lay fourth and fifth despite starting on the seventh and eighth row respectively.
Despite racing in just his fourth Grand Prix, Rea was flying and charged past Redding and Smith in the space of a lap, moving on to the tail of the leading duo. The Gresini rider's aggression caught up with him on lap seven though when he was vaulted out of the seat of his Suter exiting the final corner. The Londoner kept going but found himself defending seventh from Zarco on the run down to turn one and the home favourite forced his way through, banging wheels with Rea and sending him into the gravel. The Briton's sensational ride was over and he was visibly furious with Zarco as he stomped away.
At the front, Espargaro's pace was tailing off and the leading group now included the recovering Marquez, Zarco and Claudio Corti. Realising this, Luthi set about passing the leading Kalex and succeeded at the Dunlop chicane. Redding repeated the move a lap later to grab second but Bradley Smith's victory hopes would disappear just as he was thinking about a move on the Kalex. The 21 year old lost the back end of his Tech 3 Mistral under braking for La Chapelle and had to run up the escape road, costing him 12 places.
Luthi took advantage of the action behind him to open up a three second lead over Redding but Zarco, Marquez and Corti were all desperate to reel him in having disposed of the Marc VDS rider just before half distance.
The race had already seen some spectacular crashes with Simone Corsi going down at the first chicane and Alex de Angelis suffering a scary accident at La Chapelle, thankfully escaping unhurt with riders navigating around him as he slid into their path. The next slip-up came from the championship leader as Marquez threw away third at the turn nine chicane. Zarco was alone in second and turned his attentions to the race leader.
Spurred by the patriotic crowd who's already seen a home winner in the Moto3 race, Zarco ate into Luthi's advantage and halved the gap in one fell swoop, leaving him just 1.5s adrift with just seven laps left. Another scorching lap, brought him to within a second but his charge was brought to an abrupt halt with a high side at the same corner that had caught out Marquez.
Luthi never seemed to be flustered despite Zarco's emergence and with the Frenchman out of the way, he eased through the final five laps to take victory by six seconds from Corti with Redding taking his first Moto2 podium in 23 races after holding off Andrea Iannone.
Mika Kallio won a thrilling battle for fifth after overtaking Pol Espargaro in the closing stages. The Pons Kalex rider still did enough to take the championship lead by virtue of Marquez's failure to score. With two corners remaining, he looked on course for seventh but Bradley Smith slid off the track for the second time, undoing all of the hard work which brought him back into the top six. The Briton remounted but Anthony West, Max Neukirchner and Ratthapark Wilairot had all gone past to leave him tenth. Julian Simon also came off his bike in the final couple of corners and the Avintia Blusens rider was forced to push his Suter all the way up the pit straight to score three points in thirteenth.