Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) goes into this weekend aiming to fight for the podium once again, as he did at the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez a fortnight ago.
The entire MotoGP grid stayed on for a day of testing at Jerez, allowing Honda’s six-times MotoGP World Champion and his fellow RC213V riders to continue development of their all-new 2022 machine. Fine weather is forecast for all three days of the French Grand Prix, which will give them the dry track time needed to keep working at finding a base set-up that will allow them to extract maximum performance from the 1000cc V4.
Marquez has enjoyed considerable success at Le Mans over the past decade or so. In 2011 he won the Honda-powered Moto2 race at the track, a prelude to taking the following year’s Moto2 World Championship. In 2014, 2018 and 2019 he won the MotoGP race. Last year at Le Mans Marquez led the race in treacherous rainy conditions until he slid off at a low-speed corner.
This season the 29-year-old Spaniard is still fighting back from the right-arm injury that forced him out of racing for nine months from July 2020 to April 2021. Although he can ride at full speed he still lacks that last bit of strength required to fully unleash his spectacular riding style, which has brought him so much success and made him so popular around the world.
At Jerez he battled for a top-three finish but had to settle for fourth, less than a second away from the podium, after nearly sliding off and making a typically heroic save. The data and information gained during the Jerez test should allow him to race even closer to the front in Sunday’s French GP, which is round seven of this year’s longest-ever 21-round MotoGP World Championship.
Team-mate Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) worked super-hard at the Jerez tests, riding more laps than any other rider as he looked for improvements in all-round machine performance. The 30-year-old Spaniard had had a complicated race day at Jerez, where the hottest conditions of the weekend left him with little rear grip, which he needs to exploit his riding technique to the maximum.
Espargaro has already finished on the podium once this year, when he took third place in the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix after leading much of the race, and he aims to be back in the podium fight this weekend. So far he’s scored one MotoGP podium at Le Mans, when he finished third in the rain in 2020. He has achieved one victory at the track – the 2010 French 125cc GP – when he shared the podium with his current Repsol Honda team-mate! At that time the pair were aged 18 and 17.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) also has great memories of Le Mans, where won the 2019 Moto2 race and took his first premier-class podium the following year, when he stormed through the pack in rain-lashed conditions to finish second. The former Moto2 and Moto3 World Champion has had an up-and-down start to his third season in the class of kings, with four points finishes so far, including an excellent seventh in last month’s Portuguese GP, and a couple of non-finishes.
Team-mate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) had his best ride of the year at Jerez, finishing seventh in the record-breaking race, only two seconds behind the older Marquez brother. That result gave him a boost of confidence but unfortunately he was unable to continue building momentum during the tests because he took a heavy fall, hurting his left knee.
The 30-year-old has been undergoing extensive treatment and physio since then, so he hopes to be strong enough this weekend to take another step forward towards his first MotoGP podium.
In 2009 Nakagami scored the first top-five result of his Grand Prix career at Le Mans, during his second season in the 125cc World Championship. He backed that up with a Moto2 top-five in 2016 but has yet to achieve a Le Mans top-five in MotoGP.
Le Mans is a globally renowned motorsport venue, most famous for hosting the Le Mans 24-Hour car race since the 1920s. The four-wheel endurance race uses a 13.6km/8.5-mile mostly street layout, while the motorcycle Grand Prix (and the motorcycle 24-Hour race) use the purpose-built 4.2km/2.6-mile Bugatti circuit.
The lap commences with Turns One and Two, a super-fast double right, which is one of MotoGP’s fastest corners, but the rest of the circuit is dominated by slower-speed corners, which make this a challenging layout on a hugely powerful MotoGP bike. Braking and low-gear acceleration performance are vital and it’s easy for riders to make mistakes braking into the various hairpins and chicanes.
Le Mans hosted its first motorcycle Grand Prix in 1969, after Honda had completed its first assault on motorcycling’s World Championships, which in 1966 produced a remarkable and unique full-house of Constructors World Championships: 50cc, 125cc, 250cc, 350cc and 500cc.
Honda therefore contested its first GP at Le Mans after the company’s return to GP racing in the early 1980s, when American Freddie Spencer won the 1983 500cc race aboard a Honda NS500.
Since then Honda has enjoyed more premier-class success at Le Mans than any other manufacturer, with a total of 15 victories, with Spencer winning again in 1985 aboard a Honda NSR500, followed by Eddie Lawson (Honda NSR500), Mick Doohan (Repsol Honda NSR500), Alex Criville (Repsol Honda NSR500), Valentino Rossi (Repsol Honda RC211V), Sete Gibernau (Honda RC211V), Marco Melandri (Honda RC211V), Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC213V) and Marquez.
After Le Mans the MotoGP paddock heads to southern Europe, for the Italian Grand Prix on May 29 and the Catalan Grand Prix on June 5.