The throaty roar of an inline-four, the swish of a chequered flag, the camaraderie of riding together, and the legends and their greatest hits.

Perfect Tedium Or When Lorenzo Leads From the Front

Just for kicks, I went back to all the posts I have written on Le Mans. There aren’t very many – just three, starting with the rain-drenched 2012 Le Mans starring Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi and zero visibility. I went back because there is always something awesome about the past – to see it then, and see what it’s like now. The comparisons can boggle the mind!

A fantastic start of Jorge Lorenzo. Image 2015 Yamaha Motor Racing Srl (Editorial use only)

A fantastic start of Jorge Lorenzo at Le Mans, France. Image copyright 2015 Yamaha Motor Racing Srl (Editorial use only)

Of course this time, unlike the last, Jorge Lorenzo rode what I am starting to call a picture perfect race. It’s sort of like the perfect family, or the perfect man. When you see it for the first time, it’s amazing. You want to be surrounded by that perfection… but only for a moment. Perfection can get a tad tedious sometimes. So, Lorenzo’s master class in perfection carried over from Jerez to sunny Le Mans (yup, no rain this time). It was perfect right down to the moment when the lights went out and Lorenzo took off from his third place on the grid. He laid claim to the 2nd spot at the 1st turn, and bullied Andrea Dovizioso to take 1st place while going into the 2nd corner. He gradually built up a lead, extending it to 3.820s over 28 laps, oblivious to the battle behind him. It was a formidable, clean, non-controversial, smooth victory. {Yawn!} I mean yay to him and fantastic. But Catalunya 2009 anyone?

There were a few echoes of Catalunya 2009 at Le Mans this Sunday. Not as dramatic or tense, but enough to get yours truly clapping and screaming at the television.

Valentino Rossi took the plunge and got himself a 2nd spot on the podium at Le Mans, France. Image 2015 Yamaha Motor Racing Srl (Editorial use only)

Valentino Rossi took the plunge and got himself a 2nd spot on the podium at Le Mans, France. Image copyright 2015 Yamaha Motor Racing Srl (Editorial use only)

It started with Valentino Rossi. As always, his qualifying was terrible. I mean Vale really needs to crack that format. The lights went out and Rossi took off from his 7th place on the grid, powering through to 5th, right behind Marc Marquez. The Spaniard and defending world champion had somehow found himself at 4th place. It was enough to make everyone blink. And here we were betting Marquez would be on the podium eh? Instead, he was stuck behind, looking rather longingly at Lorenzo in 1st place with Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone taking up the 2nd and 3rd place. Marquez couldn’t hold on to that position either. By the 3rd lap, Rossi had taken the plunge, swinging past Marquez and charging after Iannone.

Cue Jaws soundtrack, please. Rossi chased Iannone, increasing his pace and posting the fastest lap of the race with 1’32.879s. He took 3rd on lap 11 consigning Iannone to the tender mercies of Bradley Smith. Lap 13 and Rossi had started chasing his teammate Lorenzo. Dovizioso had been summarily dismissed to the 3rd place. The crowds were cheering and Le Mans had come alive. But Lorenzo had the pace that Sunday, and the foresight.

He later said in a team press release, “It was important to be second and overtake Marc at the start and Dovizioso in the first corner. This is the way I prefer to ride, because with nobody in front I can brake perfectly, keep the corner speed and try to increase the gap, so that is what happened. It was difficult because Andrea kept a gap of under a second for a long time, but finally I could stay ahead by 1,2 or 1,4s. Then, when I saw Valentino in second place and in some places close in a little, I had to try to push so much, especially on braking, I could brake later and later and rode a 1’33.004s, which gave me the advantage I needed to win this race.” It was fantastic strategy and it worked.

Let's hug it out. Valentino Rossi gives teammate Jorge Lorenzo a big hug after the race at Le Mans. Image 2015 Yamaha Motor Racing Srl (Editorial use only)

Let’s hug it out. Valentino Rossi gives teammate Jorge Lorenzo a big hug after the race. Image copyright 2015 Yamaha Motor Racing Srl (Editorial use only)

Rossi said so as much in the team press release. “…He (Lorenzo) had around two seconds so I wasn’t so far behind him and I tried the maximum, because I felt good, but he was in a perfect situation. He was in front and concentrated and he was in his ‘hammer time’. When he’s like that it’s very difficult to come close to him. This weekend he was stronger than us and was better prepared for the race, so he deserved to win, but I’m happy, also for Yamaha because this year our bike is very strong.”

A battle for 4th was unfolding even as the Yamaha teammates played catch-me-if-you-can. Andrea Iannone had managed to hold on to his 4th place despite a painful dislocated shoulder courtesy a crash during testing in Mugello. Smith finally caught up to him and was just lining up to pass Iannone, when Marquez popped out of nowhere, taking both riders by surprise. He passed Smith and Iannone, determined to at least take 4th place, if not a podium. But Iannone would have none of it. In some fine racing, the two raced, matching pace, passing each other again, again, and then again. One had a dislocated shoulder, the other a disappointing race. Both were motived. Both were determined to take no prisoners. It was a fight to the finish, accompanied by a few heart-in-mouth moments.

Marquez eventually won the battle, crossing the finish line in  4th place, with Iannone in 5th and Smith in 6th place. No matter how they ended up, Iannone demonstrated sheer determination and will power as he battled the talented Marquez, with the Ducati matching the Honda’s pace.

Iannone later said in a team press release, “This was a really difficult race for me, maybe the most difficult of my career. At the start I was feeling fine, I had good pace and I was pleased with the way things were going. Up until lap 10 I was lapping quickly behind Lorenzo and Dovizioso, but then I began to feel pain in my left arm and had to use my right arm more to compensate. As a result I could no longer brake the way I wanted. I also made a couple of mistakes, losing some time, and I was caught by Smith and Marquez, with whom I had a really great scrap.”

Dani Pedrosa's comeback dreams came to a halt in the 2nd lap itself. He valiantly got back on to the bike and rode till the end. Image copyright Repsol Honda team (editorial use only)

Dani Pedrosa’s comeback dreams came to a halt in the 2nd lap itself. He valiantly got back on to the bike and rode till the end. Image copyright Repsol Honda team (editorial use only)

Iannone may have ended up with a good position, under the circumstances. The Hondas however had a nasty Sunday. Dani Pedrosa finally returned after his surgery determined to give it a good show. But a crash on the second lap, put paid to any podium dreams. It didn’t stop him though. Pedrosa grabbed his bike and rejoined the race in last place. He worked his way up the rank and ended the race in 16th place. Marquez however struggled. The front was affecting his performance and he dropped places from pole position at the start to 6th place at one point.

He made a comeback, of course. But it was nothing too spectacular.

And that was that then. Le Mans done and dusted. Next up, sweet Mugello in the beautiful Tuscany valley, seas of yellow and a song called Vale. Wonder what that will bring?

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