A frenetic run of six European MotoGP events in two months gets underway at the Bugatti Circuit in Le Mans, France this weekend, round five of this year's 18-race championship. The French Grand Prix has been a fixture on the world championship...
A frenetic run of six European MotoGP events in two months gets underway at the Bugatti Circuit in Le Mans, France this weekend, round five of this year's 18-race championship.
The French Grand Prix has been a fixture on the world championship calendar since 1951 but it has changed venue repeatedly. Albi hosted the debut event while Rouen, Reims, Clermont-Ferrand, Paul Ricard, Nogaro, Magny-Cours and Le Mans have all held French GP status over the years. With 19 races held to date, Le Mans remains the most visited for the French GP, but the circuit also played host to 1991's 'Vitesse du Mans' round.
Bridgestone had a hugely successful French GP in 2007 in torrential wet conditions, scoring its first ever wet weather win, courtesy of an impressive Chris Vermeulen and his Suzuki team. Marco Melandri and Casey Stoner completed an all-Bridgestone podium in second and third places for Honda Gresini and Ducati Corse respectively. Loris Capirossi also claimed a podium result for Ducati at Le Mans back in 2006 finishing less than two seconds from the race winner, so Bridgestone will be hoping for another strong performance after its Chinese successes a fortnight ago.
The Bugatti circuit has been slightly modified for this year's event with a larger run-off area at turn eight increasing the overall length of the circuit by five metres to 4.185km.
Hiroshi Yamada - Bridgestone Motorsport - Manager, Motorcycle Sport Unit
"Last year's result at Le Mans was a breakthrough performance for Bridgestone because it was the first time one of our riders had taken victory in the wet. It was also our second podium clean sweep of the season after Turkey and one of our standout performances of the year. The competition has been very close in the first four races of the year so far, so I think we can expect another close battle at Le Mans. It is the home race for our rivals, who will undoubtedly be strong again this weekend. Because last year's race was wet, we have no dry weather race data from 2007, but we did show some encouraging performances in the dry practice sessions, so I hope we can have another successful event after the performance in China."
Tohru Ubukata - Bridgestone Motorsport - Manager, Race Tyre Development
"After the encouraging performance in China, we head to these European venues with renewed determination. Le Mans is composed mainly of slow-speed corners and places an emphasis on heavy braking, good change of direction and acceleration. The key focal areas for tyre performance are therefore on braking stability and traction. It is not one of the more technically demanding circuits for tyres, but the competition is so close, we cannot take anything for granted. In order to best prepare ourselves we will bring new compound and new construction rear race specification tyres for all teams, which have been developed from the post-race test in Estoril and adjusted to suit the character of the Le Mans circuit. I am hopeful that both new compound and new construction will help to improve the grip level in the lower temperature conditions that we expect this weekend.
Last year's French Grand Prix weekend started off strongly for Bridgestone in dry conditions with Honda Gresini's Marco Melandri, winner of the 2006 event, quickest of all in Friday free practice. Saturday morning practice was topped by John Hopkins with Toni Elias and Casey Stoner making it a Bridgestone 1-2-3 in the dry. Just 0.15s separated the top five. Three Bridgestone riders claimed top six grid positions with Stoner on the front row in second, a mere 0.094s from pole. Sunday's race was hit by rain and riders were forced to pit for wet set-up bikes after some difficult laps on slicks. As the rain worsened, Chris Vermeulen took charge and dominated en route to his maiden MotoGP win, leading a Bridgestone podium clean sweep with Melandri second and Stoner third.