Gordon Hatch, MotoGP Correspondent
Yamaha Factory Racing man takes victory at action packed French GP
Jorge Lorenzo took his second win of the 2012 MotoGP season with a perfect race on a drenched Le Mans circuit for the Monster Energy Grand Prix de France with the French fans sent wild thanks to Valentino Rossi claiming his best ever result for the Ducat Racing Team in taking a brilliantly thought-out second place finish ahead of Repsol Honda rider and reigning World Champion Casey Stoner in third.
The 28 lap race started on a soaking Le Mans circuit and that is the way things would stay making for a treacherous race for the riders but a very exciting prospect for the French fans and right from the very start there was drama with French rider Randy de Puniet spinning up his Power Electronics Aspar bike on the grid and crashing while Ben Spies (Yamaha factory Racing) also spun his rear wheel on the grid sending the American to the near the back of the field.
A big thank you to my team who worked very hard in difficult conditions to make a set up that worked for me.
While De Puniet managed to re-join the race on a spare machine, back at the front Lorenzo got a perfect start from 4th place and moved into the lead within the first few corners with Stoner and his teammate Dani Pedrosa slotting into second and third. Rossi had also made a lighting start from 8th and was up to 4th at the end of the first lap. Monster Yamaha Tech 3 riders Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow were both battling each other for 5th place with a gaggle of satellite machines lining up behind in the early stages. The first lap also saw the second crash in the form of Ivan Silva on the Avintia Blusens machine.
The first quarter of the race saw Rossi moving right up behind Pedrosa and passing the Spaniard and Rossi then setting off in pursuit of Stoner. Crutchlow and Dovizioso then passed with Stefan Bradl and his LCR Honda then chasing down the Repsol Honda rider. Ben Spies had a nightmare first few laps and had with just 7 laps gone apparently because of a misting visor. Nicky Hayden (Ducati Racing Team) and Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini) were holding station in the top ten as was Hector Barbera on the Pramac Racing machine with the CRT machines being led by Danilo Petrucci on the Came IodaRacing bike.
Back at the front Rossi was now fighting back towards Stoner who had put in a number of fast laps after learning Rossi was catching him while Crutchlow and Dovizioso were battling for 4th despite both riders having passed Rossi but then being re-passed. Lorenzo maintained his lead of over 4 seconds while Stoner was doing his best to catch the Spanish rider. Karel Abraham retired approaching the halfway point while the rest of the riders held station towards the halfway point.
Moving towards the final ten laps Rossi had been passed by both Tech 3 riders and then started to fight back and then moving in between the teammates and disaster then striking Crutchlow when he lost the front of his machine going into the first chicane. Crutchlow managed to rejoin in eight place while Rossi was now back battling with Dovizioso for 3rd and eventually passing ‘Dovi’ and then in pursuit of Stoner who was beginning to lose time to Lorenzo and falling into the clutches of an inspired Rossi who racked up his only podium of 2011 – a third place finish - at the French circuit.
Rossi had reduced the gap to Stoner within a couple of laps and with just 5 laps to go he began challenging Stoner for 2nd place. Pedrosa remained in 5th place while Bradl was passed Hayden into 6th place by this stage. De Puniet had a day to forget at his home race after crashing out with under 3 laps to go while Mattia Pasini (Speed Master), Petrucci and James Ellison (Paul Bird Motorsport) were dueling for the bragging rights of fastest CRT Machine.
The French fans had something to cheer about though despite the misfortunes of De Puniet after Rossi, after making a number of attempts, finally moved into 2nd place ahead of Stoner who eventually gave best with Rossi evidently having more confidence in his machine on the tricky Le Mans asphalt. Lorenzo was delighted with his second win of the 2012 season while the French fans went wild for Rossi crossing the line for 2nd to the delight of the seven times MotoGP World champion and his Ducati Team while Stoner came home in a safe 3rd position.
Disaster struck the Tech 3 squad just approaching the final lap when Dovizioso went into the gravel while chasing Stoner. Pedrosa managed to bring his RC213V in 4th while Bradl claimed his best finish of his rookie year in 5th with Hayden in 6th and teammates Dovizioso and Crutchlow in 7th and 8th respectively and remaining in point scoring positions. Barbera finished in 9th and the last place in the top ten went to Bautista. Ellison eventually won the best CRT placing in 11th with Pasini in 12th. Aleix Espargaro had a quiet race and finished in 13th for the Power Electronics Team while Michele Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini CRT) and Yonny Hernandez (Avintia Blusens) both finished ahead respectively of Spies in 16th. Chris Vermeulen finished in 17th while deputizing for an injured Colin Edwards and NGM Forward Racing team with Silva sitting in the final classified position of 18th.
Coming away leading the Championship now by 8 points Lorenzo was really happy with his second win of the season saying, "It was really difficult to hold concentration today, in the dry it’s complicated but in the wet it’s even more. The race feels much longer and you have to remember where the corners are slippery every lap. If you forget one you can crash very easily. I started the race determined to be in first position from the beginning and managed to keep my concentration even when Casey was catching me. It would have been easy to push a bit more and make a mistake at that moment but I waited for a few more laps to see what happened then opened the gap again to win this fantastic race. A big thank you to my team who worked very hard in difficult conditions to make a set up that worked for me."
Rossi was delighted with his best ever finish for Ducati and is hoping to make more improvements on his GP12 machine. Rossi said, I’m really, really happy. We knew we had a special opportunity in the wet today, so I tried to ride perfectly and not throw it away. I started well and immediately made up some positions, and then I passed the two Yamahas to get behind Stoner. I was able to match his pace, but then my visor started to fog and I had to slow down for a couple of laps until I was able to clear it by lifting it a little. Once I could see again, I re-passed Cal and then Dovi. When I realized that I could really push hard and that it was possible to catch Stoner again, I went for it.
It was a great race and a nice, fun battle with Stoner to the last lap. I enjoyed myself and I’m happy for my team and all the guys at Ducati, who are working so hard for me. Now we must continue giving our all until we’re also able to be competitive in the dry. We found a good base to work from in Portugal, and it wasn’t bad in the dry here, either, although not as good as in the wet. Now our main goal is to take another step forward and make up some more tenths," Rossi added.
Stoner was just happy with a podium after running into tire problems during the race. "I was pretty happy to hold on for a podium today. In the early stages Cal, Valentino and Dovi were behind me putting on a lot of pressure, but we managed to pull a small gap on them as I was chasing Jorge. Then as soon as the rain stopped and the track was less wet, our tyre temperatures got too high, we started spinning and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I thought the three of them would catch up and perhaps overtake me but we managed to hold on for third."
Stoner added, "I enjoyed the battle with Valentino at the end, there was clean overtaking and we swapped positions a few times but in the end we knew that Valentino had better pace than us and after he passed there was no way I could stay with him. We did everything we could today and to come away with a podium is a good result."
MotoGP Round 5 continues on Sunday 3rd June at the Gran Premi Aperol de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain.