LE MANS: Fabio Quartararo (pix) heads into this weekend's MotoGP at Le Mans with the double incentive of winning his “special” home race and building on his slender lead at the top of the championship standings.
Victory at the Catalan GP a fortnight ago reestablished the 21-year-old Frenchman atop the standings and marked a return to form after wins in the opening two races of the season had been followed by a slump.
With six races remaining, he holds an eight-point lead over the Spaniard Joan Mir and is fired up to win the only race to be held in France this season.
“This Grand Prix is always special because it’s not like in Spain or Italy where they normally have several,” said the Yamaha rider.
“We only have one so you really have to enjoy it and I intend to do that this week.”
As has become normal in 2020, the race will be run in abnormal conditions with only 5,000 spectators allowed into the Sarthe circuit because of the coronavirus restrictions.
“We are lucky to keep our national GP. We will miss the public a lot but we can see that a lot of races have been cancelled in many countries and I think we should be very happy that we can stage a French GP,” Quartararo said.
Spectators will only be present for the race on Sunday – none are allowed in for practice or qualifying – and they will be dispersed in the stands facing the pits on the Bugatti circuit.
The Frenchman has won three times this season while Mir on his Suzuki has yet to win a race in the premier class.
However, the 23-year-old Spaniard has experienced winning at this track, having taken the chequered flag in 2017, the year he won the Moto3 title.
“My mind at the moment is focussed only on continuing getting the best positions I can and trying to build points,” he said.
“I’m really pleased with how the last few weeks have gone, and Le Mans is a track I quite like, although with the weather it could be tough for everyone this year.”
The outlook is certainly bleak for Sunday with forecasts predicting cold temperatures and possible showers. That could play into the hands of riders who flourish on a wet or damp track, such as the Australian Jack Miller (Ducati-Pramac), currently 6th in the championship.
Another rider who will be keen to shine in front of his home audience, even if it is a touch on the sparse side, is Ducati-Avintia’s Johann Zarco.
“There is always a little special emotion, extra, because the public is supporting the French more than elsewhere and we can feel that,” said the 30-year-old double Moto2 world champion who finished second in this race in 2017.
“This year, that feeling will be a less as there are just five thousand people but there will be this little extra pressure, this motivation to do well.”
Maverick Vinales, who is third in the championship, needs to make up for a disappointing ninth in Catalonia in a bid to claw back Quartararo’s 18-point lead.
His Yamaha teammate, however, the seven-time Italian world champion Valentino Rossi, will be keen to erase the memories of the falls that took him out of the last two races, especially as the 41-year-old has now decided to continue in MotoGP for at least one more year.
Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, who was second here last year behind his nemesis Marc Marquez who is still out of action with a broken arm, also needs a good showing if he is to stay in contention for the title – he is currently 24 points off the lead in fourth.
In the other categories, the Italian Luca Marini will seek to consolidate his lead in the Moto2 championship – this race for once starts after the MotoGP – while Moto3 leader Ai Ogura can expect another tight tussle with Albert Arenas who is just three points behind.
Defending champion Matteo Ferrari holds a four-point lead over Dominique Aegerter going into the final two races of the MotoE championship which take place on Saturday and Sunday. – AFP