The SHARK Grand Prix de France got underway with dry running in Practice 1. Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) started his weekend putting his best foot forward as the Aussie put down a 1:31.449 to lead the way after MotoGP™’s first taste of the action in Le Mans. Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) returned to his COTA form as the Italian put his Ducati in P2. Meanwhile, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) continued KTM’s glory streak making it two factory riders in the top 3 for the Austrian manufacturer.
The Respol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez made his comeback to track action during P1, however, it didn’t take long for the Spaniard to encounter the gravel trap once again. Despite this setback, Marquez’s indomitable spirit prevailed, and he swiftly returned to business, consistently making progress at a steady pace.
With 20 minutes remaining, Francesco Bagnaia of the Ducati Lenovo Team claimed the lead in the timesheets, closely followed by Takaaki Nakagami of IDEMISTU Honda Team Asia who unfortunately had to retire after his Honda experienced technical issues and was forced to stop by the side of the circuit. Shortly after, Jorge Martin of Prima Pramac Racing took over the top spot, but Bagnaia quickly regained the lead with his number 1 plated Ducati, defending his position with determination.
Ten minutes left in the session : the riders returned to the pits, preparing for the final push to improve their times. As soon as track action resumed, the pace quickened, and the times began to drop significantly. Fabio Quartararo of Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™ made the French fans proud by taking the top spot with only two minutes remaining. However, the Repsol Honda duo also showed a strong performance, briefly taking the top spots before being surpassed by their competitors towards the end of the session.
One minute remaining and the KTM – Jack Miller combo proved itself worthy once again as the Aussie topped the pile closely followed by his teammate Brad Binder. It wasn’t long before Marini split the KTM’s however, as a good session for the Italian saw him comfortably sit inside the top 3.
Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) put in a late run as well, as the Frenchman consolidated 4th place in the opening session. Joan Mir (Repsol Honda Team) showed promise in P1 threatening the top spots in the closing stages to finish the session in P6. The Spaniard hopes to continue his form throughout the weekend and ensure his weekend joys see life past P1.
Fabio Quartararo’s time in the limelight didn’t last long as the 2021 World Champion was bumped all the way down to P11 and out of a provisional Q2 spot after going top earlier on. Equally, Francesco Bagnaia was another rider who was pushed down the order after a flurry of fast laps came flying in at the end of the session. The Italian finished P1 in P10.
Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) was on a flyer at the end of the session but a big mistake at the final corner scrapped his lap, and with no time for improvement the Spaniard only managed P12.
There is just no way of predicting which way the tables will turn in the MotoGP™ 2023 season. Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) dominated the proceedings on Day 1 of the SHARK Grand Prix de France, topping both Practice sessions to continue his strong run of form with his new KTM team. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) showed a return to the top onboard his Aprilia, whilst the Italian prodigy Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) displayed why he can never be discounted taking 3rd place on Day 1.
As ever in P2 the fight for Q2 positions didn’t come until the session drew nearer to the chequered flag. It had to be all or nothing for Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) who was well aware of the importance of bagging a Q2 spot at his home Grand Prix. The Frenchman began put on the afterburners in the final twenty minutes. Riding on the ragged edge, Quartararo’s first flyer ended early with a near-miss onboard his Yamaha, seeing him make a dramatic save to regroup and put the hammer down once again.
Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the first to reshuffle the order as the South African hit the top of the timesheets to beat his teammates P1 time to make it a KTM one-two.
The final 10 minutes came and Miller retook the top spot from his teammate to lose it again straight after to Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team). The Aussie was looking like he was going to bite right back at the VR46 man but a strong final sector from Bezzecchi kept Miller at bay.
Meanwhile, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) was on a flyer as the Spaniard set red sectors to slot himself into P2, and with two and half minutes remaining the timing screens began to light up.
Espargaro, Bezzecchi, Martin was the order with just one minute left. The fans were off their feet as their home hero Johann Zarco began to put down red sectors as he chased down the flying Jack Miller. Miller went top to set the first and only 1:30 with Zarco putting himself into P5 to push Espargaro and Bezzecchi down a spot each and push Bagnaia out of Q2.
With Espargaro and Bezzecchi holding strong in 2nd and 3rd, Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) consolidated P4 just ahead of his teammate, as Aprilia Racing’s Maverick Viñales bagged P6 ahead of Binder in P7.
It was a familiar sight for Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) as he looked behind with eleven minutes to go to see Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) right on his rear-wheel as the Repsol Honda man was looking to use the World Champion to tow him into a Q2 position. Bagnaia wasn’t giving into the mind games as the Italian rode back into pitlane to shake off the Spaniard.
Bagnaia headed back out onto the circuit, and it was a last-chance saloon scenario for the Ducati man as he was sat outside of Q2 contention in P12. A swarm of riders followed the World Champion with just six minutes left on the clock. The ominous Marc Marquez slotted himself behind Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) who was shadowing Bagnaia which dragged the Repsol Honda man up to P5.
There was one final bite at the cherry for World Champion as Bagnaia just bagged a Q2 spot to put himself into P9, whilst Marc Marquez took another trip to the gravel trap and finished the session just ahead of the Italian in P8.
It was a disaster for Quartararo on home soil as the Frenchman failed to secure himself a place in Q2. The Yamaha man will have to battle his way through Q1 after finishing in P12 and missing out on the final Q2 spot by 0.139s.
The 2020 World Champion will be joined by Luca Marini (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) who enjoyed a solid top 3 in P1. The Italian finished the day 11th fastest and will face Q1 after missing out by just 0.003s to Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™). Quartararo and Marini will also be joined by Alex Rins (LCR Honda Castrol) as well as the fast-charging Augusto Fernandez (GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3), Takaai Nakagami (IDEMISTU Honda Team Asia) and Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™).
The Free Practice
Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) put in a solid run on soft tyres to put down a 1:31.898 as the Le Mans circuit dried. The Spaniard was closely followed by World Champion Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team), with Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) rounding out the top 3 after topping P1 and P2. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) finished FP in P4 as Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) rounded out the top 5.