Petrucci bags the title at Le Mans
The Ducati rider emerged as the 7th winner in 9 races in the dramatic (and wet) French GP
Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) emerged victorious in the hugely exciting wet race at Le Mans, beating reigning Moto2 champ Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda) by 1.2 seconds, the rookie riding wonderfully to a P2 finish from P18 on the grid with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) rounding off the podium. Petrucci’s Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso picked up P4 while in another crazy twist, last race’s winner Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) along with Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) finished P9 and lower!
Dark grey clouds rolled in and the winds picked up just as before the lights went green, as aberration as no rain was forecast. Five minutes before the race was scheduled to start, the rain started falling – heavily – causing delays as the riders headed back to the garage. Race Direction confirmed the Rain On Grid Procedure was in play: Quick Start procedure to follow at 13:04 local time, pit-lane exit open for 60 seconds ahead of a sighting lap, with a new race distance of 26 laps confirmed.
A wet race was totally unfamiliar territory for the top two riders – Quartararo and Mir. Pitlane opened, the riders rumbled out on wet tyres and were about to get going. The riders could come in and swap to their dry-weather bike at any moment, and it was time for lights out as the rain stopped falling.
Miller got a lightning launch and so did Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) from the second row, though the Australian grabbed the holeshot as Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) crashed at Corner 3. Soon it was a Ducati 1-2-3, as Petrucci and Dovizioso got the better of Quartararo on Lap 1 with Crutchlow slipping back to P6 on the opening lap. The three Ducatis immediately started to get into a great rhythm and it was Petrucci who led the way, with Dovizioso then getting the better of Miller as the Pramac rider ran wide at Corner 6.
Espargaro was battling with Quartararo, eventually finding a way past, with the Frenchman dropping down the order. Crutchlow and Bradley Smith (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) manoeuvred their way past Quartararo before Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) was through at Corner 13. Oliveira and Quartararo were wide though and shooting through was Alex Marquez, the Repsol Honda Team rider producing a stunning first opening few laps in his first wet MotoGP race to ultimately get into P8.
At the front, the Ducati trio were three seconds clear. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) on the medium-compound rain tyres was half a second a lap quicker than the riders ahead, all of whom were on the soft rear rain tyres. The gap was soon down to 1.5 seconds on Lap 8 and after three successive fastest laps of the race were slammed in by Rins and with 18 laps to go, the Spaniard seemed to be the only rider able to take the fight to the three GP20s.
With 18 laps to go, Quartararo and Mir had dropped to P11 and P19 respectively, with Vinales and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) also outside the points – a golden opportunity for Dovizioso and Miller, as well as the rest to get themselves right back in the 2020 title hunt. The rain was starting to fall again and now, fifth-placed Espargaro was the fastest man on track, just 2.4 seconds behind Rins who in turn was 1.5 seconds off the Ducatis, with Espargaro then setting another fastest lap of the race, but it was only a couple of tenths quicker than race leader Petrucci.
On Lap 11, Rins was then into the 1:44s for the first time. A 1:44.959 minutes was eight-tenths quicker than Petrucci and the GSX-RR rider was within touching distance of Miller’s rear wheel. Lap 13 – half race distance – and Rins made his move, Turn 7 was the place but he was slightly wide to allow Miller through. The latter had a look over his shoulder, saw a face full of Suzuki blue and it was now a four-rider fight for victory with 13 laps to go. Further back, Mir was finding pace and was in a battle with Morbidelli, Vinales and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), with Quartararo not far up to the road from Mir in P11.
With 12 to go, Rins was briefly ahead of Miller, but fell back down to P4 at Turn 8, with Pol Espargaro and Alex Marquez closing in. The reigning Moto2 champ was 1.2 seconds faster than race leader Petrucci, and with 11 laps to go, the top eight were split by 4.3 seconds. One more lap down, and Oliveira was then the fastest man in the top eight – four seconds exactly covering the fastest riders on track.
A change of the lead. Dovizioso picked up the baton to lead in France heading into Corner 3. Petrucci was back at Corner 8 but Dovizioso dived underneath. At Corner 9, it was chaos, with Rins late on the brakes and coming up the inside the Ducatis, Dovi losing out and dropped to P4, Miller going wide, Rins now at P2 and Petrucci back into P1.
On the next lap at Corner 10 again, Miller’s luck ran out as his Ducati started blowing smoke – the Aussie was out with eight laps to go. Moments later at Corner 3, Rins was then down at the notorious Turn 3 as Suzuki’s dreams of a win at Le Mans ended. Meanwhile Crutchlow, too, went down in the same lap.
All this left Petrucci with a healthy advantage and with six laps left, the Italian’s lead had risen to 2.5 seconds with Dovizioso second, but he was getting hounded by Marquez – the rookie was now P3! Pol Espargaro and Oliveira were also right with Dovizioso and Marquez, as seventh place Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) set the fastest lap of the race.
With five laps to go, Dovizioso started to reel in teammate Petrucci, and in the next lap, the gap reduced, first to 1.7 seconds, and then to 1.3. Meanwhile, Dovizioso, Marquez, Espargaro and Oliveira were all catching the number 9 Bologna bullet.
Three laps left, and Marquez was up to P2 as Dovizioso left a small gap down into Turn 6, Petrucci’s gap up to 1.7 seconds and it looked like Dovizioso was seemingly out of grip – Espargaro was through at Corner 3 with two laps to go and Oliveira briefly got past Dovi, who was back through though as the riders headed onto the final lap. Marquez was hunting Petrucci, the gap 1.2 seconds. Pol Espargaro was eying P2 and Dovi was somehow holding off Oliveira. Halfway round, Petrucci was holding strong and it was his to lose.
Ultimately, ‘Petrux’ took his second MotoGP victory, the first Ducati rider to win at Le Mans, silencing his critics after a tough year. It was his third successive podium at the layout, made it seven winners in nine races. Marquez held off Espargaro as the Spaniards completed the podium, Marquez’ ride was simply stunning in his first wet MotoGP race. It was his 39th career podium and first in the premier class, with Espargaro more than chuffed to claim his fourth premier class podium place, which is also his number three of the season.
Below are the final results of race nine of the 2020 MotoGP season:
Championship leader Quartararo’s P9 finish, two spots ahead of Mir (who is placed second in the overall standings), has marginally increased the gap between them from 8 points to 10. Additionally, he’s now 18 points ahead of Dovizioso (who has now climbed to third, overall) and 19 points ahead of Vinales, who has dropped to fourth.