MotoGP: Score settled! Miller wins wild flag-to-flag in France
It says Thriller on the back of his helmet and twice on the bounce that’s now been a fitting moniker for Jack Miller. This time round Miller wins at the SHARK Grand Prix de France it was a flag-to-flag spectacular that saw him come out on top, overcoming two Long Lap penalties.
Jack is the first Australian since Casey Stoner in 2012 to win back-to-back races in the premier class. He said on Thursday he had a score to settle with Le Mans, and settled it now very much is. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) hunted down compatriot Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) in the latter stages to take second place, with the French riders completing the podium on home turf and Quartararo now back in the points lead to boot.
Ahead of lights out for the premier class, the race was declared dry. No rain had fallen since Warm Up but there were some looming dark clouds in the surrounding area, and tensions were understandably palpable on the grid. The entire field had selected the soft-soft slick Michelins to begin the race on, with some forecasts suggesting there might be some rain on the way…
It was dry for the time being though and as somewhat expected, Miller propelled his Ducati off the line for the holeshot from third on the grid, with both Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) and Quartararo holding firm ish to stay inside the top three. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) had two bites of the cherry for P4 against Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), first at Turn 7, then Turn 8.
Not long after coming out of Turn 10, Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) then had a huge moment. The Spaniard stayed on but it gave Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and his teammate Franco Morbidelli a look up the inside at Turn 11, but three into one didn’t go and the door was closed on Morbidelli as the Italian ran wide before crashing in the gravel. That caused Rossi and Pol Espargaro to lose places too, with Morbidelli able to re-join but at the back.
Meanwhile at the front, Miller, Viñales and Quartararo were the top three, with fast-starting Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Marc Marquez inside the top five… but the rain had started falling. It was light to begin with and Quartararo made a phenomenal two-in-one move on Viñales and Miller at Turn 3, but then it got heavier. On Lap 5, the heavens properly opened and it was time for the field to come into pitlane for a bike swap. For the first time in four years, we had a flag-to-flag.
Miller ran wide at Turn 11 as the riders struggled to finish the lap on slicks, and reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) sadly found that out. The number 36 crashed on Lap 5 when the rain started bucketing down, and more drama followed elsewhere in pitlane. Both Miller and teammate Francesco Bagnaia were handed two Long Lap penalties each for speeding in pitlane, and Quartararo pulled into Viñales’ box slot by accident to earn himself a Long Lap. After that, Marc Marquez emerged as the race leader in the shuffle…
Rins was second as the riders re-entered the track too, but at Turn 4, the Spaniard was down. That left Marc Marquez and Quartararo clear of Miller at the front, but the eight-time World Champion was then down at the final corner in another bout of drama not long after. The 93 did manage to get back on track but that put Quartararo back in front as the race leader again. Miller was rapidly closing in but the Australian had two long laps to take. He did so quickly on Laps 9 and 10, getting back out and setting his sights back on Quartararo, soon able to home back in.
On Lap 12, Quartararo dived through the Long Lap penalty area but still came out in P2. His advantage over third place, who then was Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), was 12 seconds and Miller was in the groove at the front to pull out a four second lead over Quartararo. Zarco was coming though, and the Pramac rider soon grabbed P3 from Nakagami at Turn 3. The Frenchman then started to close down compatriot Quartararo at a high rate of knots as well, nearly two seconds a lap as dry lines started to appear. There was no rain falling either, so could we actually see the riders come into pitlane for another bike swap?
Marc Marquez then crashed again at Turn 6, his second of the race, and he was out on Lap 18. We then saw Miller kick his right leg out on the front straight – was he signalling to get the dry bike ready? He and Quartararo were on the soft and Zarco on the medium, and the Pramac rider was reeling in his compatriot at least with the gap down to 2.5s with seven to go…
Astonishingly, the sun was shining too. Zarco was 1.8s quicker than Quartararo once again, as Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) and Danilo Petrucci (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) got the better of Nakagami for P4 and P5 respectively, relegating the Japanese rider to sixth. Bagnaia was on his own charge too after a terrible start and two Long Laps, and he overtook the Japanese rider with six to go.
Further up the road, Zarco had arrived on the scene and blasted past Quartararo on the home straight to take P2, seven seconds behind Miller. In turn, Quartararo had 12 seconds in his pocket to Alex Marquez, so it seemed the podium could be decided, barring any more drama.
Five to go and Zarco was hunting Miller, and there wasn’t time left to come into pitlane, head back out and use the slick tyre advantage – not for the leaders anyway. Miller was holding on with a cracking effort though, his lead was staying just above the five second mark as Bagnaia climbed his way to P4 just down the road.
Three to go. Miller’s lead was 4.9s, Zarco was holding Quartararo at bay by nearly seven seconds, and Bagnaia was eight seconds off the final podium place in fourth. Heading onto Lap 26 of 27, the gap was down to 4.3s between the leading duo and Bagnaia was cutting the gap to Quartararo by nearly two seconds a lap. By the final lap though, it remained Miller’s to lose, his advantage still above the four second mark. Quartararo’s gap to Pecco was 3.4s, and so that was all she wrote after a tense, taught and fairly dramatic French GP.
After banishing the early season demons in Jerez, Miller now sits just 16 points away from the title lead as Zarco returns to the podium following a trickier couple of races in Portugal and Spain. He and Quartararo make it two Frenchman on the podium at the French GP – not bad from the latter who underwent arm pump surgery after the Spanish GP and faced heartbreak at the venue in the wet last year. Bagnaia’s fourth was a uper ride and result after his two Long Lap penalties and a P16 start that saw him lose a few places off the line to boot. He may have lost his World Championship lead, but only by a point…
Petrucci has had a tough start to life as a KTM rider, but the 2020 Le Mans race winner delivered by far his best ride of the season to finish in an impressive P5. LCR Honda’s Alex Marquez also grabs his best result of the season at a circuit he scored a podium at last year, the double World Champion leading teammate Nakagami over the line in sixth and seventh for LCR. Pol Espargaro equals his best finish of the campaign in P8, with Iker Lecuona (Tech3 KTM Factory Racing) snatching P9 off Viñales on the last lap to land a morale-boosting P9. Viñales had to settle for P10 at the chequered flag, a muted result after leading the race in the early stages.
Rossi lost some valuable time in the early stages and The Doctor wasn’t able to make up ground when the rain fell, taking P11 at Le Mans. Luca Marini (Sky VR46 Avintia) was 10 seconds behind his half brother in P12, and the Italian comfortably beat 13th place Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) after a tough weekend for the South African. Reigning Moto2™ World Champion Enea Bastianini (Avintia Esponsorama) and Tito Rabat (Pramac Racing) were the final point scorers, with Morbidelli managing to finish the race but in a lonely P16.
Both Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini teammate Lorenzo Savadori suffered mechanical issues on Sunday afternoon, and Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) joined the Suzukis and Marc Marquez in crashing out.
Jack Miller: “Hectic, very hectic, I mean, it was perfectly still just before but halfway through the race when the rain came, the wind came with it and it was…. honestly, as I came down pitlane, the barrier blew into pitlane and I said they are going to red flag this for sure, but then it dropped off relatively quickly. The first couple laps were dodgy on the wet tyres, but I got going and then I had the long laps, I wasn’t sure why, apparently for speeding. I generally do get speeding tickets in France, not the ones I want! I was able to bosh them out pretty quickly and get to work on Fabio and I got in front of him and I just felt comfortable to be honest, I was just riding into the conditions, I saw Johann was coming so I had to up her a bit for the last five laps but the track was pretty much dry again. I was thinking do I pit or not, because it such a long pit road here and you lose a lot of time so I was just counting down the laps but, yeah, absolutely amazing I can’t believe it. Back to back wins is just fantastic and I can’t thank the team enough, they’re awesome and yeah!”
MotoGP™ podium – (Full Results Here)
1 Jack Miller – Ducati Lenovo Team – Ducati – 47:25.473
2 Johann Zarco* – Pramac Racing – Ducati – +3.970
3 Fabio Quartararo – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – +14.468
Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) just continues to impress in the intermediate class, with the Spanish rookie taking a second Moto2™ win in by-now signature style at the front. Teammate Remy Gardner (Red Bull KTM Ajo) kept him honest in the latter stages for another consistent top finish, with Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) completing the podium to continue his rostrum run. Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) crashed out in an early DNF.
With no rain falling since Moto2™ Warm Up, the circuit had a clear dry line after the Moto3™ race. That meant everyone was starting on slicks, and it was Bezzecchi who pounced into the lead from the start as Raul Fernandez managed to cement P2, the field safely negotiating Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 1. There was contact between Gardner and Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing), but disaster was avoided. Not for Aron Canet (Inde Aspar Team) though, who was making early progress before the Spaniard went down hard at Turn 9 on the opening lap, rider ok.
Lap 2 saw Augusto Fernandez (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) crash out of the top three as Raul Fernandez bridged the early gap that Bezzecchi had pulled on the field. World Championship leader Gardner and then-nearest challenger Lowes were P9 and P8 respectively, with the top three – Bezzecchi, Raul Fernandez and Joe Roberts (Italtrans Racing Team) – enjoying a second lead over the gaggle of riders from P4 to P11.
Lap 4 then witnessed three riders all go off the road at Turn 8 – including Lowes. Up the inside of Vierge, Lowes tucked the front as both went down, with Lorenzo Baldassarri (MV Agusta Forward Racing) running wide just ahead of the duo. Unable to get going again, Lowes’ French GP was over. Then, running P2, Roberts was down at Turn 9 after running in too hot on the brakes and clipping Bezzecchi. meanwhile, Raul Fernandez picked up the baton and took over at the front after a dramatic opening handful of laps in the Moto2™ race.
Bo Bendsneyder (Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team) was occupying P3 with Gardner now up to 4th, but he had hard-charging rookie Tony Arbolino (Liqui Moly Intact GP) on his tail. More drama hit just behind too, as Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP40) crashed out from P6 at Turn 11 with a little helping hand from Fabio Di Giannantonio (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), the Italian handed a Long Lap penalty. Which he took quickly but overcooked so had to do a second.
At the front though, Raul Fernandez was edging his lead up to a second over Bezzecchi, the latter slowly falling into the grasps of the Bendsneyder, Gardner and Arbolino squabble. The leading quintet were six seconds ahead of sixth place Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP), the German entangled in a fight with rookies Cameron Beaubier (American Racing), Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) and his teammate Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), up from well down on the grid.
Raul Fernandez was keeping his advantage around the one second mark, with Bezzecchi pulling nearly a second clear of the trio behind him. On Lap 14, the race leader set a 1:36.993 to stretch his lead to 1.2s over Bezzecchi. However, a lap later it was back down to below a second as Fernandez’s teammate Gardner poached third off Bendsneyder at Turn 11 – the Aussie then 2.2s behind the race leader. A lap later, Arbolino then slipped past Bendsneyder too.
Now in clean air, the Gardner charge was on. A fastest lap of the race came in from the Red Bull KTM Ajo rider but it was only narrowly quicker than Bezzecchi ahead of him, the gap separating the top three set at 1.7s with seven to go. Bezzecchi then made a mistake at Turn 8, running wide onto the green, allowing Gardner to stroll through into P2. With the bit between his teeth, Gardner started to reel in teammate Fernandez by four tenths on Lap 20 of 25, setting up a very intriguing final five laps between two title contenders.
Undeterred though, Raul Fernandez was holding his nerve. As he clocked another lap and headed onto Lap 23, the Spaniard set his fastest lap of the race and his lead was now 1.8s. And with one lap remaining in France, it went up another tenth. No mistakes were made from the rookie sensation on the final lap, and Fernandez crossed the line to win his second race of 2021. Gardner made it a Red Bull KTM Ajo 1-2 as a single point splits Gardner and Raul Fernandez in the overall standings, and Bezzecchi pockets his second podium in a row with a solid P3 ride.
Arbolino landed his best Moto2™ result with a fantastic P4 at Le Mans, just ahead of an impressive ride from Bendsneyder as the Dutch rider earns his best result of the season, the same can be said for sixth place Schrötter. Ogura cements another top 10 in P7 as three rookies finish inside the top 10, Di Giannantonio took P8 after his two Long Laps, a solid salvage job.
Veteran Simone Corsi (MV Agusta Forward Racing) produced his best ride of the season to finish P9, with Jorge Navarro (MB Conveyors Speed Up) completing the top 10. Somkiat Chantra, Nicolo Bulega (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), Marcos Ramirez (American Racing), reigning Moto3™ World Champion Albert Arenas (Inde Aspar Team) and Hafizh Syahrin (NTW RW Racing GP) are the remaining point scorers.
Raul Fernandez: “It was a really difficult race, especially the second sector was wet, the front tyre was too cool at the start and I waited four or five laps behind Marco. When I thought the tyre was warmer I pushed a bit more, overtook Marco and pushed like in FP2, and it was really good. In the end I could do a good race and I’m really happy. It’s amazing to win again and in difficult conditions. I like this track a lot I remember I got second in the Junior World Championship here in 2018. Incredible, I want to thank my team as they keep me calm in difficult moments and that’s the most important.”
Moto2™ podium – (Full Results Here)
1 Raul Fernandez – Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – 40:46.101
2 Remy Gardner- Red Bull KTM Ajo – Kalex – +1.490
3 Marco Bezzecchi – Sky Racing Team VR46 – Kalex – +4.599
Sergio Garcia (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) put in an absolute stunner on race day at the SHARK Grand Prix de France, the Spaniard making his way through to lead early on in difficult conditions and nothing able to stop him from there. It’s his second Grand Prix win, his first for GASGAS and the marque’s first victory since joining Moto3™ this season. P2 went to Filip Salač (Rivacold Snipers Team) as the Czech rider proved the only man able to push Garcia to the flag, ultimately forced to settle for second, with front row starter Riccardo Rossi (BOE Owlride) completing the podium for his first career rostrum finish to top off an impressive weekend at Le Mans.
Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) took the holeshot from pole, but after a few corners of shuffle it was Niccolo Antonelli (Avintia Esponsorama Moto3) in the lead. Not long after though, the dream was over early as the Italian crashed out, soon followed by Tatsuki Suzuki (SIC58 Squadra Corse) and Jeremy Alcoba (Indonsesian Racing Gresini Moto3). Then it was drama time for Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo), and the biggest earthquake then came for his teammate Pedro Acosta. Up from outside the top 20 on the grid, the Spaniard then overcooked it and went down, but he was up quickly as he slotted back in pretty much where he started in P21.
Ahead of the drama, two riders had emerged in the early lead: Garcia and Salač. With three seconds in hand back to Rossi in his own little bit of clear air, it wasn’t plain sailing but the two pounded on. After a couple of wobbles, Garcia started to make his own gap too…
Rossi was being chased by Ayumu Sasaki (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing), with a big group then fighting for sixth – and Acosta back in that. More drama hit not long after for one of the Spaniard’s key points rivals too, as Darryn Binder (Petronas Sprinta Racing) tumbled out from the front of the freight train fighting for sixth. The South African rejoined but right at the back, and with quite a gap. That left rookies Adrian Fernandez (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) and Xavier Artigas (Leopard Racing) heading that group… the two up from the very back of the grid after an incredible charge through the chaos.
Meanwhile at the front, with 10 to go Garcia overcooked it at Turn 8 and headed wide, the Spaniard carefully getting straight back onto the racing line but Salač able to slice through to lead. It didn’t last long though, Garcia gathering it back up and soon taking over again – once again, pulling out a gap.
It would stretch and then Salač would pull it back, but by the last lap the Spaniard had 1.9 in hand and just one more tour of Le Mans to the top step. And he kept it calm in style to take his second ever Grand Prix win and the first Moto3™ win for GASGAS, a true masterclass from early doors to the flag. Salač impressed for second and his first podium, with Rossi setting the fastest lap on his last lap to stay out of the clutches of McPhee.
The Scot put in a late charge as he got past Sasaki and started to reel in the podium, but had to settle for fourth in the end. After a run of bad luck though, that’s the Scotsman’s first points of the season. Sasaki continued his run of fast consistency in 2021 to come home fifth.
Fernandez took his best ever result with a stunning charge to sixth, coming home top rookie just ahead of fellow debutant Artigas. The two came from the very back to cross the line almost neck and neck. Next up was another rookie: Acosta. The Championship leader sliced back into the fight for the top ten after his early crash, and took eighth and eight points – a good recovery, and enough to extend his points lead given the drama around him.
Romano Fenati (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) lost out late on to Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech3) as the Turk pipped him to ninth, with polesitter Migno fading back to 11th, but still some solid points. CarXpert PrüstelGP’s Ryusei Yamanaka and Jason Dupasquier took P12 and P13, respectively, with rookies Izan Guevara (Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team) and Andi Izdihar (Honda Team Asia) completing the points, the Indonesian despite a six-place grid penalty.
Sergio Garcia: “I feel very good! Because this victory was a very difficult victory, the track conditions were changing during the whole race but I kept focused and concentrating to win the race and I think this is the target! The track was really drying. I’m very happy with my ride, I pushed very hard to the limit. And this victory is for my team and my family.”
Moto3™ podium (Full Results Here)
1 Sergio Garcia – Gaviota GASGAS Aspar Team – GASGAS – 42:21.172
2 Filip Salač – Rivacold Snipers Team – Honda – +2.349
3 Riccardo Rossi – BOE Owlride – KTM – +5.589