The 2013 MotoGP championship heads to Le Mans for Round 4 and the battle among riders for the top spot in overall points is already contentious. With just three rounds in the books, three different riders have claimed race wins; Yamaha Racing’s Jorge Lorenzo at Qatar, Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez at the Circuit of the Americas and Marquez’s teammate, Dani Pedrosa, at Jerez. Marquez currently sits at the top of the season tally and is the youngest rider in history to hold the series lead alone, but he is by no means safe in his position. Pedrosa sits three points adrift in second while Lorenzo is only four off the lead in third. Le Mans is notorious for mixed weather conditions, a factor that will likely play a big role in the outcome of Sunday’s race.
Lorenzo’s teammate, Valentino Rossi, is the only other rider to have a podium finish to his credit this year and has been notably successful at the French circuit in the past. Of the three podiums he earned during his two years with Ducati, two came at Le Mans, one in wet conditions and the other in dry. Prior to that, Rossi earned three premier-class wins and one 125cc class win at the circuit. He’s currently fourth overall, 18 points off the top-spot, and is still fighting for his first race win after returning to Yamaha. Should he take the checkers at Le Mans, it would be the first time in five years that four different riders have won races in as many rounds at the start of the GP season.
Lorenzo will be fighting hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. The Mallorcan is typically one of the most consistent riders on track, but a few mistakes in the previous round at Jerez earned him his second consecutive third-place finish of the year. Though he didn’t jump to the lead right away, he did battle for position briefly with Pedrosa out front early in the race. Pedrosa eventually got the best of Lorenzo and led the majority of the race, leaving the Yamaha rider to defend against a tenacious Marquez. On the final turn Lorenzo opened the door enough for Marquez to slip inside, and when Lorenzo tried to cut back he found Marquez in his line, unwilling to budge. Lorenzo bumped off Marquez and dropped back to third just before the finish.
Marquez continues to learn his machine and to learn its limits, which he tested at Jerez many times in his attempts to pass Lorenzo. The rookie rider has already set MotoGP records as the youngest race winner and the youngest to lead the series outright, but he remains well aware of his limitations in the series, thanks primarily to his current shortage of experience.
“We go to Le Mans and again we arrive there starting from zero, as I haven’t done any tests there,” said Marquez in a Repsol team PR. “I’ll do my best and I’ll try to make the most of the situation. I hope it doesn’t rain so we can prepare the bike on a dry track, this is very important to find the right set up. I’m very happy at the moment but we have to keep our feet on the ground as the coming circuits are new for me in MotoGP.”
Pedrosa has never won in the premier class at Le Mans, but has been on the podium a handful of times and will look to maintain his momentum following the win at Jerez.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Cal Crutchlow is the highest ranking satellite rider in fifth overall, and he continues to chase the elusive first MotoGP win of his career. Crutchlow was in a battle for podium position in the wet round at Le Mans in 2012 but fell victim to the slick conditions mid-race. Though he was able to recover, he couldn’t push past eighth before the finish. His teammate, Bradley Smith, is still looking for a firm footing in the premier class but has improved his finishing position through each of the three rounds in 2013.
Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso took podiums at Le Mans in 2010 and 2011. He went down in the contest in 2012 and recovered to finish in seventh, but has never been to the track on the Ducati, which remains a work-in-progress. His teammate, Nicky Hayden, continues to recover from an injured right wrist and says in team PR that though it’s not completely healed it, is in much better shape than at Jerez where he managed a seventh-place finish.
Ignite Pramac Racing’s Ben Spies remains sidelined following doctor’s orders to remain in rehabilitation until the end of May so Ducati Test rider, Michele Pirro, will take Spies’ spot on the Desmosedici GP13 at LeMans. Energy T.I. Pramac Racing’s Andrea Iannone is expected to ride at the French circuit, though he underwent surgery on May 7, 2013 in Barcelona to address an issue with his right arm. While in the care of Dr. Mir at the Dexeus Clinic, Iannone also had a previous knee injury surgically cleaned to help speed recovery.
Among the CRT crowd, Power Electronics Aspar’s Aleix Espargaro leads the field in ninth overall, and he currently sits ahead of prototype riders Iannone, Spies, Smith and LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl. While Espargaro’s ART machine is still seconds away from competing with the front-runners, he was able to finish inside the top-10 at Jerez where he took ninth. He’s also qualified among the top-12 fastest riders through free practice in two rounds, earning bids to Q2 to battle for pole position. His teammate, Randy de Puniet is currently 15th in points thanks to a crash at Jerez that left him unable to complete the race.
Avintia Blusens’ Hector Barbera is 14th overall but showed signs of improvement on his FTR mount, placing 10th on the starting grid and taking 12th in the race at Jerez. He’s recently been the center of controversy off track following a domestic dispute with his girlfriend in Spain. He issued a statement soon after saying that all protocol has been followed in respect to court proceedings and that “both parties accept the decision of the Court of Jerez,” which gave Barbera instructions to complete community service.
NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards and Claudio Corti have had a frustrating start to the 2013 season, with only Edwards in the points after his 15th-place finish at Jerez.