The sun had come out in time for the vital third Free Practice session at Le Mans for the MotoGP class; however the track was still damp in parts. The Moto3 class and the Red Bull Rookies had been out previous to them and a slight dry line had only formed in parts.
Mixed conditions meant riders struggled at start of FP3
It meant that the elite class still had to venture out when the 45 minute session got underway on the wet setup using the Michelin Power Slicks. The setup includes the shroud around the carbon disc brakes that helps to retain heat to help them perform optimally.
The mixed conditions including sun, damp track and cool temperatures meant that it was easy to be caught out. Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) touched the white line and ran into the gravel. Fortunately he managed to keep it upright and after running in hot ways able to return to the track. Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha) also ran on but managed to remain on the large tarmac run-off area at the turn.
Miller quickest on day one in Le Mans
The riders were competing against combined times from the day previous where a mischievous Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) dared to push on a drying track on the Michelin Power Slicks and managed to get his time down to 1:37.467 during Free Practice 1; then popped a wheelie to celebrate.
The rain then hit over the lunch break and although it was intense at the end of Free Practice 2, Miller who was once again pushing hard, ended the day on top and was able to take a relaxed start to day two as he chose to remain in the pits until the track dried further.
Zarco ventures out first on slicks
It was local man Johann Zarco, the double Moto2 champion on his rookie year in the MotoGP class, who has just extended his contract with the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team until the end of 2018,who was the first to risk taking to the almost dry track on the Michelin Power Slicks; the Frenchman would have to push hard to retain the heat.
Wildcard Guintoli crashes out
Unfortunately, almost half an hour into the session, Sylvain Guintoli, who is standing in for injured Team Suzuki Ecstar rider Alex Rins, came off at turn three when the front folded on the way into the left hand turn. He was unhurt, but he was unable to recover the GSX-RR and so chose to leave it and receive a lift back to the pits.
Times began to drop as riders changed to dry setup
The changes to slick tyres for the riders who dared meant that they were able to begin to push. They began to complete personal best times which meant that changes started to be made to the top 10 meaning that the competition was on to automatically progress to Qualifying 2.(red) first sector saw him progress up to third. He was running quicker than his teammate, who also had a strong first two sectors on the 2017 evolution of the Desmosedici GP.
The two Movistar Yamaha riders almost looked strong. Both Vinales and nine times world champion, Valentino Rossi, who was sporting the wider fairing with the integrated air vents, also were quick in sector one but their lap times also drifted off to personal best times as Redding again improved and went second. Local rider, Loris Baz whose bike is covered in tributes to his friends and country managed to bring his Reale Avintia Ducati up to fifth. It seemed that although the earlier part of the lap was dry, the later part set some distance away was cooler and damper.
Miller and Zarco crash out
In the final 10 minutes some riders began to get caught out. Miller was the first to go down at turn three of the track; he chose to remain with the bike as it slid into the gravel. He was up and assisting the Marshalls in recovering his bike and they successfully got it restarted. Moments later Zarco went down at turn 11 of the track, he too was OK but he struggled to get his M1 going again on the slip road. Dani Pedrosa also had problems with his Repsol Honda that ended his session earlier than expected.
Battle of the Brits commences as Redding goes top in Le Mans
Just six minutes remained and the riders felt confident to push hard. Redding, who was being chased closely by his teammate Petrucci, shot to the top of the timesheets when he set a lap time of 1:37.435 which improved on Miller’s time from day one by 0.032. On his next lap he was set to improve but he came across traffic in the form of Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) that spoiled it for him.
Along came British rider, Cal Crutchlow on his LCR Honda who with just over three minutes to go stole the top spot from fellow Brit Redding. But Redding was flying, and Crutchlow’s success was short lived as Redding lapped 0.121 seconds quicker moments later making his time of 1:36.340 the time to beat with just a few minutes to go.
Strong performances throughout the field
It was intense as many riders completed personal bests which completely muddled the timesheets in the closing stages. Rossi shot to the top when he lapped quickest in the final minute, but then Miller improved even further. As Sam Lowes (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) shot to eighth, Pull and Bear Aspar Ducati teammates, Alvaro Bautista and Karel Abraham, and the Red Bull KTM Factory Team teammates Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith got fantastic flying laps as the flag went out.
Redding on top after FP3
But, it was British rider Redding who managed to pull it out of the bag with his final lap of the session as he became the only rider to lap under 1:36 minutes so far with his fastest time of 1:35.674 which meant he remained on top of the timesheets winning the battle of the Brits. Crutchlow was second quickest and Miller improved again to end FP3 in third.
Rossi was fourth ahead of 2016 MotoGP champion, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) in fifth. Abraham, Pol Espargaro and Baz’s amazing performances on independent or new machinery saw them finish sixth, seventh and ninth respectively, and Vinales on the factory Yamaha was eighth. British Bradley Smith made it three Brit’s in the top 10, and ensured that Red Bull KTM Factory Racing secured their first double top 10 finish during FP3 when he completed the list of riders who automatically progress through to Qualifying 2.
Bautista and Dovizioso favourites to progress from Qualifying 1
Just missing out, but becoming favourite to join them after Qualifying 1, was Bautista who finished 11th. Behind him, factory Ducati rider, Andrea Dovizioso, who was quickest after a wet Free Practice 2 was 12th, also becoming a favourite to progress. An amazing ride from British MotoGP rookie Lowes meant he was 13th at the end of FP3 finishing ahead of Petrucci.
Rookie, Zarco was 15th ahead of his teammate Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech3), Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar), Tito Rabat (Estrella Galicia 0,0) Marc VDS, wildcard Guintoli and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who completed the top 20. Hector Barbera (Reale Avintia Racing) was 21st ahead of Jerez race winner, Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) who was struggling down in 22nd. Behind him, and completing the timesheet was Jorge Lorenzo on the factory Ducati down in 23rd.
All riders were able to improve on their times from day one. The times were still far off the circuit records helped by Lorenzo when with Movistar Yamaha.