Grand Prix heads to Le Mans this weekend for Round 4 of the 2012 MotoGP Championship. The 55th Grand Prix weekend for the famed French circuit features a three-man fight for the 2012 crown. Reigning champion Casey Stoner arrives at Le Mans with a slim one-point lead over the 2010 MotoGP champion, Factory Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo. Stoner’s Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, is the third man in the points chase – the Spaniard looking for his first win of 2012.
Casey Stoner of Repsol Honda is hoping to extend his championship lead in Round 4 at LeMans.
Stoner looks to extend a two-race winning streak at Le Mans, and the Australian has an impressive 19-race podium streak also on the line. The Repsol ace’s victories at Estoril and Jerez are the more impressive considering they are two circuits where Stoner had not won in the past. Not so at LeMans, where Stoner took the checkers in 2011. Barring a return of the arm pump which spoiled his Qatar opener, the dominating Aussie could make Sunday a boring race should he get a good start.
Lorenzo’s 2012 campaign has been eclipsed only by Stoner, with the Spanish rider content to gather his 20 points when the Repsol rider is uncatchable. With 15 rounds remaining, Yamaha’s title hope has plenty of time to retake the advantage. But Le Mans has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Lorenzo, with wins there in 2010 and 2009. Pushed off the Le Mans podium in 2011, Jorge will battle for critical win number 2 on Sunday.
The third man in the title fight, Pedrosa has a three-race podium streak, but is yet to close out a 2012 victory. Dani P’s last GP win came last season at Motegi, and he is winless at Le Mans in MotoGP – though he has found glory in the past with a pair of 250 and lone 125 wins back in the day. But Pedrosa probably won’t want to dwell on the Le Mans past, as his 2011 visit to the circuit was foiled by the late Marco Simoncelli during a controversial overtaking maneuver from the Italian. The subsequent DNF and broken collarbone ruined Pedrosa’s title hopes – the long-time Repsol rider running second in the points at the time of his injury.
Cal Crutchlow has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 MotoGP season, keeping close to the head of the pack in qualifying and practice. The Tech 3 Yamaha rider is well positioned to take a podium this year.
One rider on the hot seat for a good result in France is Factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies. The Texan’s 2012 campaign has been a forgettable collection of crashes and poor results. Spies has yet to finish in the top five, much less in podium position, and sits an embarrassing 11th in the points. The success of Tech 3 Yamaha’s Cal Cruchlow and Andrea Dovizioso pours more salt onto Spies’ wounds. The British rider has been maybe the biggest surprise of 2012, a regular front-runner during qualifying and practice, and is the best positioned rider to poach a podium from the Stoner/Lorenzo/Pedrosa triumvirate. The only round where Crutchlow hasn’t been Number 4 in the MotoGP paddock was at Estoril, where he was nipped at the finish by new teammate, Andrea Dovizioso. The Italian will be keen to knock a factory man off the podium, the former Repsol rider finishing runner up at Le Mans to then teammate Stoner in 2011.
The brouhaha surrounding Valentino Rossi’s criticism of Ducati following a disappointing Qatar opening round has subsided, somewhat. But Sunday could be another discouraging day for the MotoGP GOAT. Le Mans was the scene of his best 2011 result, a third-place finish gifted by Simoncelli and Pedrosa crashing out ahead of him. A Le Mans podium in 2012 would seem to require similar carnage to the riders ahead of him. Nowadays Rossi’s having trouble finishing ahead of American teammate Nicky Hayden, much less his former ‘alien’ comrades. In fact, The Kentucky Kid is one point ahead of The Doctor in the points standings.
In the satellites ranks, Stefan Bradl is earning his likely Rookie of the Year honors. The LCR Honda rider has humbled the factory Ducati’s with only the Tech 3s and fellow Honda rider, Alvaro Bautista, beating him in the satellite ranks.
The CRT field sees Power Electronics Aspar rider Randy de Puniet looking to shame the factory-built bikes on his home circuit. The French rider has suffered some rough get-offs during the 2012 campaign and teammate Aleix Espargaro is the top-placed CRT man in the points. As for Colin Edwards, the GP veteran will have to sit out the French round as he nurses a collarbone fracture. Former MotoGP rider Chris Vermeulen will ride in Edwards’ stead. The Australian is no stranger to Le Mans success, which was the site of his surprising 2007 MotoGP win with Rizla Suzuki.
One final piece of CRT news, James Ellison will continue aboard the Paul Bird Motorsport CRT entry. Rumors had the English rider potentially replaced after failing to score a championship point this year, and not finishing the past two races. The PBM team has since issued a statement confirming Ellison’s participation at Le Mans, while also acknowledging its British Superbike riders, Shakey Byrne and Stuart Easton, have been nominated as test riders for the Aprilia CRT project. Byrne is a former MotoGP competitor.