The biggest race of the MotoGP World Championship campaign for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team started in positive fashion for British duo Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith at the historic Le Mans track today.
In extremely cool conditions this morning, Crutchlow was sixth fastest in a closely fought FP1 that saw the top nine covered by less than a second. In higher temperatures this afternoon, Crutchlow remained in sixth position, despite improving his pace by well over 0.5s. A best lap of 1.34.512 was only 0.477s off the best time, the second session proving to be another close affair with the top nine split by just over 0.7s.
Smith was 15th this morning, the British rider getting to grips with the world renowned Bugatti track while also working on the set-up of an updated YZR-M1 chassis which he tested with such positive results in Jerez recently.
He was able to improve by almost 1.5s in FP2 and he rocketed up into 11th place on the rankings with a best time of 1.35.362 that gave the 22-year-old a huge confidence boost ahead of Sunday’s 28-lap race.
Smith’s vast improvement was reflected in the gap to Jerez winner Dani Pedrosa, who led the way in FP1 and FP2. Smith was over two seconds behind Pedrosa this morning but he ended the second session just 1.327s off the quickest pace.
Cal Crutchlow (6th, Time - 1'34.512): “We did not have our best day today and I’m not really happy with how things started this weekend. We experimented quite a lot with the bike and made it shorter and longer but we did not find an ideal setting yet.
We have a lot of chatter and not too much grip, so clearly we are struggling quite a bit at the moment because the other guys seem to improve while I feel the same as on the first lap out there this morning.
So we still have a lot of work to do tonight and we have to improve in several areas. I’m having an issue with the brakes but we are still confident for tomorrow and I am sure we can improve to put on a good show in such a big race for Tech 3 and Monster Energy.”
Bradley Smith (11th, Time - 1'35.362): “Today was a good first day in Le Mans. I started to feel a lot more confident this afternoon compared to this morning because there was extra grip on track thanks to the higher track temperature. We found almost 1.5s and that’s really positive.
I like this circuit a lot, especially with a MotoGP bike and the differences compared to a smaller bike seem to be not that big compared to the other tracks I have experienced so far.
I just have to understand the different braking points like in the first corner where I’ve already made three mistakes so far. But now I think I understood where the limit is.
But it was a good day and we are closer than usual to the top after day one and I really feel confident with the new chassis, especially on new tyres, so we will work hard tonight and hopefully go straight into the second qualifying session tomorrow.”