Two days of constantly changing weather and track conditions have made life incredibly complicated for riders and teams at Le Mans this weekend.
MotoGP riders haven’t had one fully dry session so far, including this afternoon’s crucial Q2 qualifying session.
The erratic conditions have forced mechanics to work harder than ever, frequently changing wheels and machine settings for their riders. And further rain is forecast for race day tomorrow.
Most riders started Q2 on rain tyres, then switched to slicks as the track dried. Honda’s six-times MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) is famed for his ability to judge tricky track conditions to perfection and today was no exception.
With three minutes of the session remaining Marquez went fastest, with fellow RC213V riders Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) right behind him. When another rain shower dampened part of the track it seemed like tomorrow’s front row would be all-Honda, but the asphalt dried quickly and in the final moments several riders were able to better Marquez, Nakagami and Espargaro, who will start from sixth, seventh and eighth on the grid.
Marquez believes he might have been able to reclaim pole if he had got one more lap at the end of the session.
Nevertheless this was another mightily impressive performance from Marquez, who is contesting only his third Grand Prix following a nine-month layoff through injury. Earlier in the day the 28-year-old Spaniard was fastest in the rain-soaked FP3 session. This was the first time he had topped a session since FP4 at last year’s Spanish GP on 18th July.
He was also fast in today’s FP4 session, despite sliding off at the Turn Nine left-hander. Track temperatures are very low this weekend, so it’s particular difficult for riders to maintain enough temperature in the left side of their tyres for the left-handers around this clockwise circuit.
Marquez is still in recovery mode from his right-arm injury and subsequent surgery, so he’s building strength race by race, both physically and mentally. Today’s performance will give him a big confidence boost for tomorrow’s race, the fifth round of the 2021 MotoGP World Championship.
Nakagami, who two weeks ago started the Spanish Grand Prix from the middle of the second row, was disappointed to miss the Le Mans second row by less than nine hundredths of a second. The 29-year-old from Chiba, who has been inside the top ten for three out of five sessions this weekend, will start the race from the top of row three. At Jerez Nakagami finished a superb fourth, so he knows he has a chance of a first MotoGP podium if the weather works in his favour tomorrow.
Espargaro, contesting his fifth GP aboard an RC213V, has shown his improving capabilities with the machine during qualifying and the four free practice sessions. The 29-year-old Spaniard was an excellent fourth fastest in the combined FP1, FP2 and FP3 standings, then fourth again in FP4, despite falling moments before Marquez went down. Like his team-mate Espargaro crashed at a left-hander, due to a too-cold front tyre. He fell at Turn Three, Le Mans’ number-one accident black spot. He was also unhurt.
Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) hasn’t been able to match the impressive speed of the other RC213V riders. The 24-year-old Spaniard qualified in the wetter Q1 outing and will start from 19th, after falling during the final minutes of the session.
Last year the younger Marquez started from 18th on the grid and finished the rain-soaked race in second place – his first MotoGP podium – so the former Moto2 World Champion will be hoping he can charge through the pack once again.
Following tomorrow’s racing the MotoGP paddock heads south for some hopefully better weather at the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello on 30th May and the Catalan GP on 6th June.