It would have been great to talk to Danilo Petrucci after the French GP, but he couldn’t be found. He was in the Clinica Mobile hooked up to a drip after fighting to a remarkable seventh place. This, remember, was his first race of the season following a high-speed crash in testing at Phillip Island that disassembled most of his right hand. He tried to race in Qatar and made things worse. It took 20 screws and a couple of plates to sort it out.
At Le Mans he didn’t know whether he could complete a free practice session let alone race. In the end, he did all that and more. Worn out French tarmac, bumps, lack of testing with the new tyre, and good old-fashioned over-enthusiasm took its toll on the field and on the last lap Petrucci was in seventh but in severe trouble. The hand, the lack of training, the lack of bike time were torturing him. His whole body was shouting at him to stop, lack of race fitness magnified by having to compensate for his injury. And Hector Barbera was right behind him.
Hector had started the race by smacking into Stefan Bradl so hard it took the German two laps to bend his front-brake lever back into a shape he could use again. Now Hector observed Danilo patently struggling to brake or hit an apex. At Garage Vert, under heavy braking from speed, Danilo left a big gap and Hector accepted the invitation. It looked like a done deal. Until the second apex. Petrucci slammed back under the Spaniard, punting Hector out of the way with enough force to ensure there was no comeback. Danilo is a big bloke and knows how to use his weight. Andrea Dovizioso, who raced with Cairoli as a young motocrosser and therefore knows what he’s talking about, says Petrucci is not a man you want to tangle with when training on the dirt.
Hector is also now well aware of that.
Danilo arrived back in pit lane and slumped over his tank to be instantaneously submerged by his deliriously tearful team.
The thing about Danilo is that he isn’t just brave, he is immensely likeable and funny. Well aware that it wasn’t that long ago he was watching GPs from his sofa, he does a nice line in self-deprecating humor. I recommend his Twitter feed – follow @Petrux9 and you should check out his recent posts. The one about his welcome back from his fellow riders is typical.
It is also worth remembering that Pramac, his team, is now a true satellite team for the Ducati factory, which is currently considering who would be a suitable team mate for Jorge Lorenzo next season. Danilo was desperate to race at Le Mans in order to gauge his chances for his home race at Mugello in two weeks time. I suspect the factory will be very happy with his return to racing and have plans for him next year.