Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) rode to a rousing victory at a packed Le Mans today, taking Honda to its landmark 300th premier-class Grand Prix win.
After leading the Argentine and Spanish Grands Prix from start to finish the reigning MotoGP king had to fight for his 47th MotoGP win, battling with Australian Jack Miller and then riding harder than ever to maintain his advantage over Italians Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, who joined him on the podium.
The 2019 French Grand Prix was a tough and complex race all the way, with cold track temperatures convincing Marquez to run a soft-compound front tyre for the first time. He pushed very hard for most of the 27 laps, stretching his advantage to four seconds with seven laps remaining, then was able to ease into his own safety zone and win by 1.9 seconds.
Honda’s 300th victory in the class of kings (the category included 500cc machines until 2001 and larger-capacity MotoGP bikes since 2002) comes 63 years after the company won first time out in the category, when Jim Redman won the 1966 West German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, riding an RC181. Thirty years later Spaniard Carlo Checa scored Honda’s 100th premier-class success at Barcelona-Catalunya, riding a Honda NSR500. And ten years after that American Nicky Hayden took Honda’s 200th victory in the class at Assen, riding a Repsol Honda Team RC211V.
Marquez now stands second in Honda’s league of all-time 500cc/MotoGP winners, with 47 victories since he graduated to MotoGP in 2013. Top of the league is Mick Doohan, who won 54 500cc victories between 1990 and 1998; third is Valentino Rossi (33 wins, 2000 to 2003), then Dani Pedrosa (31 wins, 2006 to 2017), Freddie Spencer (20 wins, 1982 to 1985), Wayne Gardner (18 wins, 1986 to 1992), Alex Crivillé (15 wins 1992 to 2000) and Casey Stoner (15 wins, 2011 to 2012).
These next few weeks marks another significant anniversary for Honda: it is 60 years since the company commenced its first world championship campaign at the Isle of Man TT on June 3, 1959. Five Honda riders contested the Ultra-Lightweight race on that famous day, with Naomi Taniguchi scoring world championship points at the company’s first attempt. He took sixth place, riding a 125cc RC142.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V) had a strong ride that was constrained by a fifth-row start, the consequence of yesterday’s changeable weather conditions. The three-times MotoGP winner ran the same soft/soft tyre combination as Marquez but never felt confident to push to the limit. Nevertheless, he did make forward progress, advancing four places on the first lap and then another two on the second lap. After that he spent much of the race chasing Franco Morbidelli, eventually finishing ninth, just behind local hero Fabio Quartararo, who set the fastest lap of the race.
Marc’s team-mate Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) made another step forward in his challenging start to the 2019 season. The 32-year-old three-times MotoGP World Champion qualified on the third row of the grid and ran inside the top ten for most of the race, finally taking the flag in 11th place. Nonetheless, Lorenzo made progress this weekend, further refining the ergonomics of his RC212V to suit his precise riding technique.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V) looked set to continue his very impressive start to his second season in MotoGP, fighting for a fifth consecutive top-ten result. But the 27-year-old from Chiba slid off at two-thirds distance, without injury.
The MotoGP circus travels south west from Le Mans to Italy, for the Italian GP at Mugello on June 2.
“Of course here in Le Mans it’s always difficult with the temperature and the weather, especially today. I think this is the first time I have had a race where I had the soft tyre in the front but it was the safest option. I was focused on being consistent until I saw the gap increasing, I pushed a little bit more and into the low 32s until I saw I had two seconds. I’m happy with today’s result and it is fantastic to be able to take Honda’s 300th premier class win!”
“Eleventh place is not where we want to be but I saw progress. This makes me happy and gives me even more enthusiasm for the next races. It was the first weekend I finished a day in the top five, qualified in the top eight and you know, apart from Qatar where it was a slow race, this is the race where I finished closest to the winner. We’re learning more each weekend and race; it is just a matter of time. Thanks to the Repsol Honda Team for continuing to work hard and congratulations to Honda for 300 wins.”
“A disappointing day in terms of the result, I didn’t come here to finish ninth this weekend. So I’m disappointed in terms of where I finished, but the positive we have to take is that we got some more valuable data on the bike. Overall, I didn’t feel comfortable with the setting of the bike and the feeling I had with the bike and the tyres this afternoon, so we need to improve and work on that. We qualified in 15th and that always makes it difficult, but I got a good start and was ninth on the first lap and then finished ninth in the race. I wanted to reduce the gap to the leaders a little bit, but that was not possible today, so we’ll try again in Mugello. Congratulations to HRC for the incredible success of the 300 victories: I am proud to be part of it!”
“Of course, I’m really disappointed and first of all I want to say sorry to the team because they did a really great job all weekend. I’m upset that the weekend ended like this, but fortunately I’m okay, it was quite a nasty crash. The race was a bit of a struggle from the beginning, we knew that we didn’t have really good pace, but I tried to do my best and was pushing very hard, although the data didn’t show too many mistakes. Sometimes it just happens, but of course I’m disappointed (to crash) and I’ll just try to stay positive. The next race is in Mugello and it’s the home race for the team so hopefully we’ll have a good weekend there. I really like the layout at Mugello, it’s high-speed and a good circuit for my riding style and I can’t wait to ride there with the new bikes.”