By Antonio López
Main favorite for the win: Johann Zarco
The Le Mans circuit has a very different layout than the other tracks thus far visited. It’s referred to as a stop & go track because it is made up of strong acceleration points followed by hard braking.
The race here last year was dominated by Yamaha. They occupied the full first row of the grid, and would have taken the three podiums if Valentino Rossi hadn’t crashed with just a few corners to go. Maverick Viñales got the victory but he has not tasted triumph since then. For Maverick, this weekend will be all or nothing for him, because if he is not involved in the fight for the win here in Le Mans, it would mean the distance from Honda is even greater than seen thus far. In Jerez, Yamaha complained again about the same problems they’ve had for quite some time, but they hold onto hope after the performance in Austin where Viñales was comfortable with the bike.
Johann Zarco represents the other side of the coin. He is the best placed Yamaha rider in the Championship, and the only rider who has had more than one podium in 2018. He will be racing at home – last year he had his first MotoGP podium here. In Argentina he was fighting for the victory then raced conservatively in the final laps, preferring to secure the first podium of the year rather than risk everything. Now it will be different. His goal is his first victory in MotoGP, and it would be idyllic to win in front of his people, something he never accomplished in the lower categories.
Those competitors who could spoil the party for the Frenchman are Valentino Rossi, who last year was on the verge of winning, and Marquez. This is the worst circuit for Honda – they have not been on the podium here in the last three years, however, today their rider and motorcycle package is the best on the grid. Marc is still affected by the criticism he received in Argentina, so his plan is to attack at each GP.
Moto2: Pecco Bagnaia
We mentioned before that Bagnaia is a specialist at certain circuits. There are tracks where he is indomitable, and Le Mans is one of them. It was at this track he had the first podium of his career, aboard the uncompetitive Mahindra. Last year he finished second fighting for the victory against Morbidelli and this time he is the main favorite for the win. Lorenzo Baldasarri arrives in France after his first victory of the year, the second of his sporting career, after a weekend in which he also had his first Pole Position and the fastest race lap. Lorenzo is very strong although at Le Mans he has never managed to finish in the top 15. Last year he had the pace but had to retire from the race. Miguel Oliveira is still the great hope who hasn’t managed to finish on top and this weekend it doesn’t look like that will change since Le Mans is a circuit that he chokes at. Alex Márquez expected a lot at Jerez however he had his first DNF of the season there. For him, Le Mans is not one of the tracks he goes well at. Among those who could surprise us we have the unpredictable Mattia Pasini, and Xavi Vierge.
Unfortunately for Aaron Canet, the penalty he received n Jerez will force him start last on the grid and Le Mans is a circuit that he goes well at. This leaves Jorge Martín as the main candidate for victory. He is the fastest rider; he won in Qatar and Austin; he couldn’t manage a win in Argentina because of a strategy error with the bike change; and he could not fight for victory in Jerez because of multiple crashes. Marco Bezzecchi is still the promise of the season. In the last two races he has shown that he not only knows how to go fast in the wet (which by the way, is common at this GP) although the forecasts for the weekend are clear.