2012-05-16 11:45
Repsol Honda riders Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa arrive for the French Grand Prix at Le Mans with an eye toward maintaining a perfect podium record in the 2012 MotoGP World Championship. Reigning world champion Stoner rides an 18-race podium streak into the iconic French circuit, while Pedrosa has been three-for-three in podiums this season.

The 55th running of the French Grand Prix at Le Mans is meaningful for both Stoner and Pedrosa. The 4.180Km circuit west of Paris is a scrapper’s track and not one that Stoner favours. That did not prevent him from taking his first MotoGP victory at Le Mans last year from the pole position to kick off a string of three wins in a row en route to his second world championship.

The 26-year-old Australian has been brilliant this year, but the season has not been without its challenges. The front end chatter that has affected every motorcycle on the grid has been frustratingly difficult to resolve. And Stoner has repeatedly been afflicted with arm pump. Yet he has overcome both to win two of the first three races, something he has not done since his 2007 title-winning season.

Pedrosa has been waiting a year to put the 2011 French GP behind him. Pedrosa got off to a lightning start in 2011, finishing third, second, and first in the first three races before heading to Le Mans. But his championship hopes were derailed when he fractured his right collarbone in a racing incident with the late Marco Simoncelli. His 2012 start has been almost as strong-he currently sits third in the championship-having shown versatility with podium results in differing conditions on different tracks.
Pedrosa has finished on the MotoGP podium in France, and won both times during his two 250cc World Championship seasons, which gives him optimism heading into the fourth race of the championship. Pedrosa has not gotten the lightning starts that have characterised his career, which he hopes to change in France, a track where passing is difficult and racing from the front is often the path to success.

Alvaro Bautista (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V) has not gotten the full measure of Honda RC213V in his first season with the San Carlo Honda Gresini team. Weather is one of the culprits. The previous two races were complicated by wet weather, which prevented the Spaniard from increasing his comfort level on the motorcycle that has won two of the first three races. Le Mans could certainly continue the trend of inclement weather, which makes setting up his motorcycle with limited dry track time that much more of a challenge.

Bautista has one year’s experience in the MotoGP class at Le Mans, having missed the 2010 race. But in his last year in the 250cc class, he started from the pole and finished fourth.

Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda MotoGP RC213V) finished second in Le Mans during his strong early season run that led to the 2011 Moto2 World Championship. The young German rider has three finishes in the top nine in his rookie MotoGP campaign, having finished seventh in Jerez, a track similar to Estoril. Still, he arrives in France having to learn how to tame the track on the much more powerful Honda RC213V. The emphasis here is on braking, specifically braking into the corners where the front tyre is put under great stress, a technique which Bradl is quickly learning.

Michele Pirro (San Carlo Honda Gresini FTR-Honda), another MotoGP rookie, comes to Le Mans having improved his finishing position in each of his first three races, culminating with his first MotoGP points in Estoril. The development of the FTR-Honda CRT machine has been done entirely at the race track since the start of the season. Pirro and the team were hopeful of making a development step at the post-Estoril test, but rain washed out that opportunity. Le Mans is not one of his favourite circuits, but his early season progress on similar tracks makes him confident that his upward path can continue.

After a worrying off-season dominated by concerns about his vision, Spaniard Marc Marquez (Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol – Suter) has begun the season stronger than ever. The 2011 Moto2 runner-up has two wins and a second in the first three races, as well as two pole positions. He’s coming off his best race yet; a win in Estoril from the pole.

That win put him in a good frame of mind for Le Mans, a venue that he sees as similar to the Portuguese track. It was at Le Mans where he won his first Moto2 race last year, the first of seven wins. And it is at Le Mans where he hopes to continue his dream season.

The only other rider to win a Moto2 race in 2012 is Pol Espargaro (Pons 40 HP Tuenti – Kalex). The Spaniard sits second in the Moto2 championship having had a season nearly as successful as Marquez’s. Espargaro celebrated his first Moto2 win in his home race in Jerez, a win that he sandwiched between a third in Qatar and second in Estoril. Espargaro has fond memories of Le Mans, having won there on a 125 in 2010.

Le Mans also has a special hold on Swiss rider Thomas Luthi (Interwetten Paddock – Suter). Luthi won his first ever grand prix at Le Mans in 2005 aboard a Honda RS125 and he repeated the win in 2006. Other than a fifth place finish in the Qatar season-opener, Luthi has been on the podium every time out, with thirds in the next two races. Luthi had led every race this season, finishing less than half a second from victory in Spain and less than a tenth of a second out of second in Estoril, where he led from laps two through 19 before being passed by Marquez and Espargaro on the same 20th lap.

Maverick Vinales (Blusens Avintia - FTR Honda) earned a thrilling first grand prix win with a last lap pass in Le Mans last year in only his fourth 125cc grand prix. Vinales is amongst the riders who likes Le Mans. The track plays to his style, with hard braking and fast acceleration. He’s hopeful that the similarity to Estoril is reflected in his results; he finished second in Estoril by .055s.

Team Italia FMI - FTR Honda rider Romano Fenati was the revelation of the early part of the inaugural Moto3 season. The Moto3 rookie led his first race in Qatar, then won his second race in mixed conditions in Jerez by an astounding 36s. The margin of victory was the largest in the smallest displacement class for nearly 25 years, since San Carlo Honda Gresini team owner Fausto Gresini won the 1987 Swedish Grand Prix by 37s over Bruno Casanova. Fenati’s strong start hit a speed bump when he failed to finish in Portugal, but that has not affected his preparations for Le Mans.

Like most tracks on the 2012 calendar, Le Mans is another that Fenati will be seeing for the first time. But that was no different than Qatar and Jerez, where he had great success.

Alex Rins (Estrella Galicia 0.0 – Suter Honda), like Fenati a grand prix debutante, will also be visiting Le Mans for the first time. He has been training for Le Mans on his computer, and will also call on the vast experience of team manager Emilio Alzamora; the 1999 125cc World Champion, aboard a Honda RS125, finished on the Le Mans podium three times during his career.

In his first grand prix season Rins continues to look for consistency. He announced his presence by taking the pole in his second race in Jerez, which he followed up with a fourth place finish and less than a second from second place. In Estoril he learned how competitive the Moto3 class can be by engaging in an 11-rider fight en route to a seventh place finish.

Le Mans first hosted a motorcycle grand prix in 1969 on the 4.422Km Bugatti Grand Prix Circuit, which was built in 1965 around the much larger 13Km 24-hour track. Le Mans alternated with a number of other circuits up until 2000 when it became the permanent venue of the French Grand Prix following extensive rider safety enhancements.

Honda’s first win at Le Mans came in 1983 with Freddie Spencer, who won the 500cc World Championship that season and again in 1985, when he also won Le Mans. In the 20-year history of the French GP in Le Mans, Honda has 11 wins, with Spencer’s fellow Honda world champions Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Alex Criville, Valentino Rossi, and Casey Stoner also winning in the premier class. Marco Melandri and Sete Gibernau also raced Hondas to victory in the premier class in Le Mans.

The now 4.180Km circuit has a number of slow corners connected by short straightaways, with the second half right-hand biased, which mandates the use of asymmetric rear tyres. There are 13 corners in all, nine rights and four lefts, with the longest straightaway of 674m. The Honda technicians will set up the motorcycles with an emphasis on stability under the repeated hard braking, with riders standing up their motorcycles on corner entry to make the best use of the thick part of the rear tyres.

The other challenge is the weather. The late spring date always brings some measure of rain, which complicates machine set-up if the race is held on a dry track. And the often cool temperatures make it imperative that riders get heat into their tyres quickly.

MotoGP Rider Quotes

Repsol Honda rider Casey Stoner says:
“The past two tracks have not historically been my best, but I've managed wins at both of them, so I'm hoping we can go to Le Mans and be competitive again. I've had some mixed results there in the past. The track layout is unique, it's a little stop-start with a lot of braking and I think this year both the Hondas and Yamahas will be competitive there. It was disappointing that the weather in Estoril on Monday prevented us from testing. We need to work on the chatter issue we have on the bike, so let's hope we have some dry sessions from day one in Le Mans so we can get out on track and work on it.”

Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa says:
“Le Mans is a hard circuit, quite similar to Estoril, a stop-and-go track where you need to prepare a bike with good stability, traction and acceleration. In the past I’ve felt comfortable riding there. I had good results in 125cc and 250cc, but not really perfect in MotoGP, so I have something small inside me I want to achieve. Last year I did the fastest race lap, but I couldn't keep the pace before the crash, so I want to do better this time. We've had three good races so far. I'm riding well, but I missed something in all of them, especially on the first laps, where I've been stronger in the past. I need to put everything together and if we get better starts, we will start winning races.”

San Carlo Honda Gresini rider Alvaro Bautista says:
“The weather at Estoril finally afforded us some dry track time and we were able to make some changes to the bike and get a good rhythm together before the race. At the start we were struggling for feeling with the front Bridgestone, but gradually it improved. In the race I was struggling in T4 because the bike did not feel great in corner entry so I was just focused on holding my position. Now we go to another circuit where the weather is always unpredictable so we have to be ready to adapt. With the data we gathered in Portugal I think we can take another step forward and find a few important tenths to close the gap to the guys in front of us. I don't really like this circuit, unfortunately. Le Mans has a lot of direction changes, short straights and the worst thing is the low grip levels and cool track temperatures. I have never finished on the podium here in the 125 or 250 classes, but hopefully we can have a good race this weekend and improve on the results from Estoril.”

LCR Honda MotoGP rider Stefan Bradl says:
“Le Mans is another good circuit which I like and last year I gained the second position in the Moto2 race. However, as I said for the previous rounds every track is different from the past because the MotoGP bike is another story. I am quite confident we can proceed with our good results: On this surface you must find the right setup in braking and you use the front tyre more than the rear one. It’s important to pick up the bike faster. We shouldn’t struggle with rear grip issues here. Estoril was a different layout and the asphalt was not excellent. I had a look at the weather forecast, probably we will have another rainy weekend so I must remain focused”.

San Carlo Honda Gresini FTR-Honda rider Michele Pirro says:
“The memory of picking up our first points at Estoril is still fresh in my mind and I think it is a nice confidence boost for myself and all the guys in the team, who have been working tirelessly on this new project, which we all believe in. We have achieved our first objective and now we need to focus on developing from here. Unfortunately the post-race test at Estoril was cancelled so we missed the opportunity to try some new things but as usual we remain upbeat and look to make up for it this weekend at Le Mans. The circuit is definitely not one of my favourites but that doesn't matter one bit. We have to try our best to improve and close the gap to the top guys in the championship.”

Moto2 Rider Quotes

Team CatalunyaCaixa Repsol - Suter rider Marc Marquez says:
“Le Mans is a similar track to Estoril, based around braking, getting into the corner and then getting on the gas. Although every track has its complications, we will be trying to start calmly and find the best setting for the race, which is the most important thing. I have some good memories of the track from last season, although this year is sure to be different. I hope that everything goes well over the weekend, as I am more comfortable on the bike every time and very motivated after winning in Portugal.”

Pons 40 HP Tuenti – Kalex rider Pol Espargaro says:
“We have a very good feeling with the motorbike, with the team and we are working so good for the championship. As far as the French Grand Prix, I don’t know because it’s in Le Mans, all circuits are different, there are many riders different in front. It’s very difficult to predict one result here in Moto2. But I’m sure that we must be in front for the championship; we are so consistent. Three podiums in three races it’s so good for us and we have to work more to take the second victory there.”

Interwetten Paddock – Suter rider Thomas Luthi says:
“It’s a very good start, I’m very happy with the start of the season and with the podium as well. It was quite a good race and I was a long time leading the race and that’s a good feeling for sure. So I’m just looking forward to Le Mans and I think we can keep up the pace and we’ll be stronger in the future.”

Moto3 Rider Quotes

Blusens Avintia - FTR Honda rider Maverick Vinales says:
This is a circuit that I like a lot, above all because of the win last year. Le Mans is a good track for me and fits my style, with strong braking and fast acceleration. I think that Honda will have to get on the case, just like us, as hard work is needed. We arrive in France happy to be up there with the frontrunners, with the confidence of Qatar back again. Now we need to make some steady improvement.”

Team Italia FMI - FTR Honda rider Romano Fenati says:
''I will race at Le Mans for the first time and I'm very excited to discover this track that has made a lot of history in racing cars and motorcycles. I cannot wait to try out the asphalt and the French curves to discover their charm. I am sure that I will like the track a lot and look forward to putting the Estoril race behind me.”

Estrella Galicia 0.0 – Suter Honda rider Alex Rins says:
“We have to keep pushing ourselves as we have been up to now, as the team have been doing a fabulous job. When we arrive at Le Mans we will need to try to adapt to the track as soon as possible and get a good result. As I haven’t ridden at the track before, what I have done is visualise it playing a computer game; when I get there, Emilio [Alzamora] and José Carrión will take me for a couple of laps to give me some advice for doing as well as possible on Sunday.”

Source: Honda Pro Image

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