Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) races at legendary Le Mans this weekend after taking the 2018 MotoGP World Championship lead for the first time at his home Grand Prix two weeks ago.
The 25-year-old racing phenomenon is contesting his sixth season in the premier class and chasing his fifth world title in the category, following earlier championship successes in the Moto2 and 125cc classes. Marquez’s runaway victory in Spain was his second consecutive win after a similarly dominant performance in the USA. Jerez was also his 37th premier-class success, which puts him equal with the late, great Mike Hailwood, one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time.
The 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017 MotoGP king is in particularly brilliant form, thanks largely to sterling work by Honda Racing Corporation engineers who revised the RC213V engine for 2018 to give the Spaniard the user-friendly power he needs to lap fast and consistently. Last week Marquez, HRC and the Repsol Honda Team made further improvements during tests at Jerez and Mugello, venue for next month’s Italian Grand Prix.
However, Marquez knows as well as anyone that MotoGP is more thrillingly unpredictable than ever, so two victories at the last two races will count for little this weekend. At Le Mans he will need to work as hard as always during practice to find the best bike set-up and tyre choice for Sunday’s race. And he knows he hasn’t had the best of times at Le Mans in recent years. The French track is short and tight, which makes incidents common. Last year Marquez crashed out; the year before he fell and bravely remounted to finish 13th. In 2015 he was fourth and in 2013 he finished third. His only French MotoGP victory came in 2014, when he won the first ten races of the season. He also won the Le Mans Moto2 race in 2011.
Team-mate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) has enjoyed greater success at Le Mans, which is most famous for its 24-hour car race (staged over a longer circuit) that started in 1923. The 32-year-old Spaniard won his first success at the track in 2003, riding a Honda RS125 to victory in the 125cc French Grand Prix. The following two years he won the 250cc race aboard a Honda RS250. And in 2013 he won the MotoGP race, riding a Honda RC213V.
Pedrosa has had a mostly luckless start to his 13th season in the premier class. He was the innocent victim of an accident at last month’s Argentine Grand Prix and again at Jerez two weeks ago. Both falls were caused by other riders; the first left him with a broken right wrist, the second with an injured right hip. He should be close to full fitness for Le Mans, but there’s no doubt that he will race in some pain and discomfort.
Pedrosa tested alongside Marquez at Mugello, as did Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V), who has had a strong start to his fourth MotoGP season with Honda, including victory in Argentina and pole position at Jerez. However, the 32-year-old Britain has come away from the last two races without scoring any points, after twice falling.
Crutchlow hasn’t stood on the Le Mans podium since 2013, when he finished second behind Pedrosa. But he does go well at the track and last year qualified just 0.071 seconds off the front row of the grid. With the speed he has shown so far this year, he has every chance of fighting for the top three once again.
MotoGP rookie Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS RC213V) comes to France boosted by his first top-ten result in the premier-class. The 23-year-old reigning Moto2 World Champion finished in ninth position at Jerez, comfortably beating his previous best of 12th place at the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix.
Three points-scoring rides from his first four MotoGP races make Morbidelli the highest-placed rookie in the championship, ahead of several much more experienced riders.
Also enjoying a very promising start to his MotoGP career is Morbidelli’s former Moto2 rival Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V), who stands four points further back in the points chase with a 13th, a 14th and a 12th from the last three races. The 26-year-old former Moto2 race winner from Chiba is showing excellent progression, learning his way in the toughest motorcycle-racing category of all.