Jack Miller Wins an Epic Le Mans Flag to Flag Race as Various Riders Crash Out!
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Jack Miller Wins an Epic Le Mans Flag to Flag Race as Various Riders Crash Out!

By FORMULAMotoGPMag - 17 May 2021

Author: Myanna Wedes

The 2021 French Grand Prix was thrilling from lights out with a dry start and rain that certainly pushed the limits of the grid to the extreme. The Bugatti Circuit of Le Mans is demanding during a normal weekend, so when the rain and wind came, it was chaotic to say the least. The rider who excelled in the mixed conditions with a flag to flag race was Australian rider Jack Miller, winning back to back races and certainly showcasing his maturity whilst racing under immense pressure from the grid.

Ducati Corse Press (Jack Miller)

Miller showcased his courage to swap bikes at the right lap and also to stay out when the track dried long enough to hold off Pramac Ducati rider Johann Zarco and Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo. We have to remember that Miller and teammate Pecco Bagnaia undertook two long lap penalties as a result of speeding in the pit lane.

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Fabio Quartararo and Jack Miller)

During the pressure of changing bikes, both riders were caught speeding whilst Quartararo had to take a long lap penalty as a result of riding into Maverick Vinales box and almost jumping onto his teammates bike! The fact Miller remained calm and confident with the two penalties was exceptional. He had such finesse with completing the long lap set up twice, which was brilliant to watch as he found confidence to charge. As the laps counted on down, Miller stayed focused, Quartararo was relieved the race was close to finishing as his front soft tyre was shredded and Zarco wished there was a few laps to go as he felt like he had a chance of victory although the teams strategy to change bikes was a small costly error. Zarco felt that if he had of come in one lap earlier, things would have been different. With that said, the Ducati strength in Le Mans remains clear!

Ducati Corse Press (Jack Miller)

Jack Miller:

"Winning two races in a row is a dream for me, especially after such a difficult race where I even had to take a double long lap and ended up in the gravel. So to be able to get this result is really extraordinary! The race was really long and tough mentally. I tried to keep my concentration and kept telling myself to stay calm. In this way, I managed the tyres well and saved them until the end, managing the advantage over Johann, who was getting very close towards the end. It was really a fantastic victory!"

Ducati Corse Press (Francesco Bagnaia)

Francesco Bagnaia:

"I got a bad start and made a mistake on the first lap, going wide at Turn 6. Then, there was the flag-to-flag: it was the first time for me! It wasn't easy, but in a way, I enjoyed it. In the beginning, I didn't feel completely comfortable on the bike, but in the wet, I was able to find my rhythm right away. Finishing fourth in these conditions is a really good result, also considering that last year I was very slow in the rain. Now I am second in the Championship, just one point behind Quartararo, so I'm delighted".

In turning to the Yamaha riders of Quartararo and Vinales, it was a strange race. On one side of the garage, Quartararo was pushing regardless of having arm pump surgery recently whilst Vinales did not have the pace or confidence to push like normal. We expected Vinales to be a formidable force and he just never showed up to the challenge. If you recall that mindset point we have mentioned before, well Vinales psyched himself out of winning by being disappointed by the change in conditions. This is just a reminder that if you want to be a world champion, you have to be dynamic in all conditions in order to stay ahead of the pack. Right now, Vinales has a weak spot and he needs to improve otherwise his rivals will take advantage of this by shifting his mental energy with their ability to perform under pressure. Right now, the Yamaha garage is relying on the consistency of Quartararo.

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Fabio Quartararo)

Fabio Quartararo:

“This was the strangest race of my life. I had never done a flag-to-flag race before. We were so fast on slicks before it started to rain. I saw that Maverick and Jack were a little bit careful in the first corners and I said, ‘Okay, I want to go for it’. But then I got to Turn 9 where it was raining a lot, and without braking the bike was going right-left-right-left. I thought, ‘If I manage to arrive at the box like this, that in itself would be great’. I did arrive there at the perfect time, but then I almost wanted to go into Bastianini’s box before pulling into my own box. Then I almost took Maverick’s bike, it was a mess! But to take a podium in these circumstances is amazing. I never expected it in these mixed conditions. I don’t really care about the lead in the championship, because there are 14 more races to go, but it’s still good because it means we are doing a great job. Looking at the conditions we had today, I was scared to lose positions, but we gained one. In the next few races we need to focus and take it step by step.”

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team (Maverick Vinales)

Maverick Vinales:

“Today it was very clear that, if we had dry conditions, I would have had the opportunity to win the race. I started well from second place and took the lead. I felt incredible on the bike. I hadn’t had that feeling since the Qatar GP, and I understood very well in that moment that I could win the race. But then after two laps it started to rain, and I just lost my concentration because I was so disappointed. I made a mistake and went wide, and I lost too much time. I was very slow for two laps and I couldn’t do anything. But looking at the positives, it was very important for me to start well here today. It’s been a while since I did a good start and took the lead on the first lap. We know we have good potential for Mugello.”

CormacGP & Repsol Honda MotoGP Team (Marc Marquez)

Whilst it was a dominant performance by the Ducati machines, the Honda team were so close! Marc Marquez as we know in mixed conditions is a force of nature and it was his race to lose. That is exactly what happened. It was a situation in which the multi world champion would normally run away with the race victory. However, it was not meant to be with a last minute crash into the last corner that sent Marquez packing to the back of the grid. Whilst he remounted the bike and rejoined the race, Marquez crashed again and the frustration was clear with his body language and anger within his visor. Not only did Marquez make a costly mistake, so did the likes of Alex Rins, Joan Mir, Franco Morbidelli and Miguel Oliveira. All riders knew they had hit the decks at the most crucial part of the race and it shows who has the confidence to push even when the going gets tough. It will be a race that Marquez in particular revisits in analysis to determine how his error cost him the win. The Spanish Ant is a hard critic and blames himself for the mistakes so it will be a learning curve on what to do in these situation though we must remember he has only been back racing for a short period of time after a long time away from the sport he loves. A job well done to see Marquez back on his feet even after a few crashes. Time on a MotoGP bike is a vital ingredient for Marquez at this stage of the world championship.

CormacGP & Repsol Honda MotoGP Team (Marc Marquez)

Marc Marquez:

“I’m disappointed with today, we weren’t able to profit from the special situation where normally we feel really comfortable. The positive is that we showed our speed today, even after the crash I was able to be fast on the bike. It’s true that we didn’t use the opportunity that the weather gave to us. The first crash we had can happen in the wet, maybe the tyre was a little cold, but I am more disappointed with the second crash. It was not the time to crash again but we keep learning. Maybe I wasn’t fully concentrated on the track conditions, I was thinking more about changing back to slicks and I arrived at Turn 6 too fast and fell. This is very disappointing. In a normal dry weekend, I know it would be harder, we’re happy with our performance of the weekend but not happy about Sunday because it was not the best Marc on track.”

In terms of the French riders, Zarco put himself on the map of contention once again. Dynamic riding style and utilising the tyre choices to his advantage were the key elements assisting Zarco to finish second and stand tall on the podium at home in France. In reflecting, Zarco feels like it was his race to win and is still smiling even though he missed out. The Pramac Ducati rider is emotional by nature, so we expect him to be vocal about where he can improve and no doubt in Mugello, he will be pushing as it is a home circuit for the Italian manufacturer. Whilst Zarco and the team celebrate, Team Suzuki Ecstar are going back to the drawing board to figure out why their riders struggled in comparison to others on the grid. As a rider you can blame the weather all you like, however, the riding must do the talking. You can think about what could be if it was dry, though it was not dry, so putting the maximum effort in is what counts regardless of whether you like the conditions or not.

Pramac MotoGP Team (Johann Zarco)

Johann Zarco:

“I am ecstatic. It was a very complicated race as the weather has been unpredictable since Friday. Nonetheless, we worked well and today we had an amazing race. I had a bad start, but I managed to recover and we had an incredible race. A podium at home is a very special thing.”

Team Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP Team (Joan Mir)

Joan Mir:

"I’m really disappointed, I didn’t expect that crash. Even though there was a lot of rain on the track, it was so unpredictable - I was with the slicks but I wasn’t pushing, I was just going to the box and it was a surprise when I lost the bike. With all the adrenaline running through me I made a mistake; I saw that the bike had shut down and the engine wasn’t running, so I started to run to the pit box without thinking. Today was my first flag to flag experience, so I will learn from everything that happened. Despite everything I felt good and I had good potential, and even in the wet warm-up I felt strong. But this is racing and sometimes it doesn’t work out. I’ll keep my head up and prepare for Mugello.”

Team Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP Team (Alex Rins)

Alex Rins:

“It was a big shame that the heavy rain came, because I was saying to my team and my staff yesterday that in the dry I could finish on the podium. I made a perfect start and put in good laps at the beginning, but then when it started to rain it was a big risk because the track was really wet. Coming out of pit lane and into Turn 4 I tried to use a little bit of front brake to help me turn but it turned out to be a mistake as I lost the front. Then I changed the bike again so that I could rejoin. This bike had wet tyres but the set-up was still for dry conditions and so it was very unsettled and reactive, very difficult to ride, then I lost the front and crashed again. Obviously I’m disappointed but there’s nothing more I can do, I was glad to have strong pace in the dry and I got into podium contention really quickly. I’ll keep working and look forward to the next races, I’m strong and the bike is strong, I’m sorry for the team that today has been another DNF but we will pick ourselves up.”

To persevere in this sport, the mind and body must be strong, the bike feeling good and your team working in sync. It was a mixed bag of results for PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team with Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi. One rider crashed injuring his knee further whilst the other felt better on the bike after testing new parts and finding a stronger set up though mixed conditions were not ideal for either rider. It was heart break for Aprilia Gresini rider Aleix Espargaro who is working hard to bring the Italian bike up to scratch and be competitive. During practice and qualifying Espargaro is strong, though to have a bike fail during the race from a mechanical issue is a hard loss to stomach. The Spanish rider is resilient though constantly losing out because of a lack of reliability is driving him mad. Moments like this make a rider like him stronger and as their leading rider, he wants to reach the podium as the Aprilia project has been a hard one to master. It is only a matter of time before Espargaro makes it happen.

Aprilia Gresini MotoGP Team (Aleix Espargaro)

Aleix Espargaro:

“We missed a great opportunity today where we could have racked up important points against our rivals. The first 5-6 spots were well within my reach, partly because after the bike change, I really felt fast and capable of managing the race. I hope this is just a fluke problem, because the competitive level we have demonstrated even on a complicated weekend like this one is definitely promising.”

Ducati Corse Press

Next up is Mugello! The race where fans run wild, though this year, no fans again so the emotions will feel different although we know, every rider wants to stand tall on the podium in Italy. With such a historic event, Ducati will be going for triply glory. Be sure to tune in and see how our Australian rider Jack Miller does with a confidence level that is boosted race by race, happy team working hard and a quality machine at his feet. Let’s go Thriller Miller!

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