Flying Frenchmen: Zarco and Quartararo reign Day 1 at Le Mans
It’s a home hero 1-2 as Viñales pips Pol Espargaro to third by just 0.001 at the SHARK Grand Prix de France
Friday, 14 May 2021
After Day 1 at Le Mans, it’s the home heroes on top! Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) topped the SHARK Grand Prix de France timesheets on Friday with some close company from compatriot Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), and the two Frenchmen were split by just 0.095. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) made it two Iwata marque machines in the top three, 0.389 back, with Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) denied the honour by just 0.001.
FP1 started wet but ended dry, ish, at least for Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team). The Aussie put in slicks and pulled out a whopping 1.481 seconds on the rest of the field by the flag, with Zarco leading the resistance in second ahead of reigning MotoGP™ World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). Mir was the first to stop in the damp session, however, as he suffered a technical problem at Turn 8. Two more riders crashed towards the end, first Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and then Viñales, riders ok.
By FP2, a few hours of mostly dry skies and no real extra rain saw the track start out dry and remain so. With the forecast looking decidedly damp for Saturday morning, it was even more important to get a provisional place in Q2 on Friday and predictably, that created a flurry of afternoon action as everyone rushed to set a lap and then better it.
Home hero Quartararo was untouchable in the opening stages, however. Everyone was slamming in lap after lap on soft or medium rears but after 15 minutes, Quartararo’s 1:32.120 was 0.591s better than second place Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu). The notorious Turn 3 caught out Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) and World Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) in the first 15 minutes too, both riders ok, before Espargaro – on his second bike – then slid into the gravel at Turn 3 again.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), ninth in the early stages, then had an off-track excursion at Turn 8. It was clear the riders were pushing as Turn 3 then saw Quartararo slide into the gravel too, rider also ok, before Jack Miller – just after going P6 – tucked the front of his GP21 at Turn 7 as well.
With just over 10 minutes to go, Quartararo was still leading the way by over half a second from Nakagami, with Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins in P3. Viñales made a move though, the Spaniard up to P2 and cutting his teammate’s advantage to 0.428s. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) then shot into P3, before Pol Espargaro took over in second to slash Quartararo’s lead to just 0.017s. Miller wasn’t fazed by his crash and got back nearer the front into fourth, and as Turn 3 claimed its latest victim in Rins – rider ok – Marc Marquez improved to move from outside the top 10 into sixth. That shoved Championship leader Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) outside the provisional Q2 places, soon to be confirmed alongside Joan Mir as the reigning Champion crashed at Turn 8 whilst in P12, his FP2 efforts over.
Meanwhile Quartararo rode on at the top, bouncing back quickly to set the first 1:31 of the weekend and lay down the gauntlet. Would he be beaten? Zarco soon made it a French 1-2 as he homed in and cut the gap, before the number 5 then pounced past Quartararo by just 0.095s to take over at the top and seal the deal.
That makes it a dream start to the weekend for French fans as Zarco leads Quartararo, with Viñales bagging a healthy P3 on Day 1. Pol Espargaro had a great afternoon at the office to pick up fourth and only a thousandth off the top three, with Franco Morbidelli completing the top five as the Petronas Yamaha SRT man continues to pull it out the bag.
Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the quickest KTM on Day 1, the Portuguese rider impressing once again to take sixth after a solid day’s work. Miller salvaged an important P7 after his tumble, just ahead of Marc Marquez in eighth.
Ninth position, meanwhile, sees the return of nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) to the Friday top ten. Just 0.037 off Marquez, the Doctor currently stands to move through and will be joined by the man in tenth: Nakagami.
So who’s missing? More key names than can make it through should FP3 turn wet. Championship leader Bagnaia is down in P12, just behind Rins and just ahead of Mir. There are only two more places available in Q2, so there will likely be a few prayers from that trio hoping it doesn’t rain on Saturday morning.
Day 1 belongs to the home heroes, but what will Day 2 bring? The ever-important FP3 stint will come your way at 09:55 local time (GMT+2), before qualifying begins from 14:10.
MotoGP™ Friday top five:
1 Johann Zarco – Pramac Racing – Ducati – 1:31.747
2 Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – +0.095
3 Maverick Viñales – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – +0.389
4 Pol Espargaro – Repsol Honda Team – Honda – +0.390
5 Franco Morbidelli* – Petronas Yamaha SRT – Yamah