Marco Bezzecchi has moved back to within a point of Pecco Bagnaia at the head of the 2023 MotoGP World Championship standings after carving his way through to win a chaotic French MotoGP at Le Mans.
A crash-strewn, occasionally bad-tempered race that had just 13 riders reach the flag, while Bezzecchi could count himself among those having to get his elbows out in the thick of the fight, he was the only rider to maintain forward momentum to grab the lead on lap 11 and charge to a clear win
A second win off the season to reverse an indifferent run of results, Bezzecchi's bounce back came as title rival Bagnaia ended his weekend bouncing through the gravel again following a gnarly coming together with Maverick Vinales that led to a brief physical altercation between the pair.
They weren't the only riders to hit trouble with Luca Marini and Alex Marquez suffering a freak coming together on the exit of Turn 3, while Marc Marquez threw away a podium finish with a crash on the penultimate lap.
Pramac Ducati duo Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco survived to complete an all-Ducati podium, while rookie Augusto Fernandez produced a mighty performance in Tech3 Racing's home race to give GasGas its best finish in fourth.
With the riders getting physical from the word go, Marquez won the hole-shot to lead through the first turns, with Jack Miller and Marini slotting in behind him, while further back Brad Binder - who came through from tenth on the grid to finish second in the Sprint Race - had his afternoon compromised by a wayward Alex Marquez easing him out wide at Turn 4 during a botched overtake attempt.
Marquez led round to the end of the first lap, but quickly came under pressure for the lead from Miller, the KTM rider swarming over the Repsol Honda. Trading the lead more than once over the course of lap two, while Marquez got the nod at the line, Miller got the move done neatly on the brakes into Turn 2.
Bagnaia, Vinales get physical after collision
With Miller now in front, a front group of seven riders formed by the start of lap five, though it would be down to just three come the conclusion of lap six following two dramatic - and controversial - collisions in the pack, one of which involved championship leader Bagnaia.
Having worked his way back into third place, Bagnaia came under pressure from a charging Vinales on the run to Turn 9, the Aprilia rider scything beneath the Italian through the first right-hander, giving him the inside line for the following left-hand flick.
However, Bagnaia's attempt to hang it back around the outside of Turn 10 caught Vinales unawares, the two bikes glancing off each other initially before a second more impactful thump sent both into the gravel trap. The third time this season that Bagnaia has ended a MotoGP feature race in the gravel trap, an ensuing scuffle of pushing and shoving with Vinales afterwards added insult to injury.
Seconds later it was all change at the front once more as third place Marini lost the front of his VR46 Ducati to send him into a leery low-side. However, just as it looked like Marini could save it as the tyres gripped again, Alex Marquez couldn't avoid slamming into the side of his fellow Ducati rider, sending them both down on the racing line, fortunately without harm.
The drama duly left Miller now leading Marquez and Bezzecchi, the Italian having been lucky to avoid also clattering into his tumbling team-mate.
With Bagnaia out and the lead in sight, the Italian set his sights on Marquez and getting ahead on lap eight via an aggressive overtake that earned him a one-place position drop penalty.
Back in third, Bezzecchi wasted no time in resuming his advance, picking off Martin on lap ten at Turn 7 before slipping past Miller at Turn 1 on lap eleven to move into the lead for the first time.
It would prove to be the pivotal moment of the race, Bezzecchi surging clear of the chasing pack at a pace no-one could match. Keeping his head as others lost theirs in a race of high attrition, Bezzecchi took the flag with more than four seconds in hand.
A second victory to add to his maiden MotoGP triumph in Argentina, it moves him right back into the title fight, just one points behind Bagnaia - CLICK HERE for full MotoGP standings.
Marquez comeback ends in DNF, full GasGas for Fernandez
While Bezzecchi carried his forward momentum to victory, early leader Miller found himself going in the other direction as he wilted on the KTM, losing second and then third to Marquez and Martin on laps 11 and 13 before crashing out altogether on lap 24.
Up the road, Marquez gamely held onto second from a Sprint Race winner Martin, the eight-time World Champion seemingly more willing to throw shapes on the Repsol Honda than the more cautious Pramac Ducati man.
However, just as it looked like Marquez would survive Martin's assault, not only did the Spaniard make a move stick into Turn 7 on the penultimate lap, Marquez joined the long list of riders to fall foul of the tricky left-hander as he barrelled into the gravel trap and into retirement.
His misery therefore became joy for the vast crowd as local hero Zarco - on the day the 2023 French MotoGP was announced as the most-attended MotoGP event of all time with 280,000 spectators packing into Le Mans over the weekend - was promoted onto the podium with his Pramac Ducati team-mate.
There was also French delight for Tech 3 Racing after Augusto Fernandez gave his rookie MotoGP campaign a huge boost with a breakthrough run to fourth place on the GasGas-branded KTM RC16. Competitive throughout the weekend, Fernandez belied his experience to keep it neat to the flag, even resisting the late attentions of Aleix Espargaro, who spared some Aprilia blushes in fifth.
Despite copping a long lap penalty to go with being pushed wide and down to 18th on the opening lap, Binder clawed his way back to sixth to join Bezzecchi in closing the gap down to Bagnaia. The South African - twice a Sprint Race winner this year - is now 13 points off the overall lead.
While the high attrition meant his result flattered to deceive, Fabio Quartararo made it to the finish of his home race in seventh, with Fabio di Giannantonio and Takaaki Nakagami notching up season-best results in eighth and ninth.
With only 13 riders reaching the flag, Franco Morbidelli completed the top ten with Ducati, RNF Aprilia and GasGas substitutes Danilo Petrucci, Lorenzo Savadori and Jonas Folger collecting points for 11th, 12th and 13th respectively.
CLICK HERE to view the latest 2023 MotoGP World Championship standings after Round 5 of 20 [Le Mans]
French MotoGP | RACE RESULTS
Le Mans | Conditions - Dry, Sunny
|2023 French MotoGP | Le Mans, France | Race Results | Round 5 of 20|
|1||Marco Bezzecchi||ITA||Mooney VR46 Racing||Ducati GP22||27 Laps|
|2||Jorge Martin||ESP||Prima Pramac Racing||Ducati GP23||+4.256|
|3||Johann Zarco||FRA||Prima Pramac Racing||Ducati GP23||+4.795|
|4||Augusto Fernandez||ESP||GasGas Factory Tech 3||KTM RC16||+6.281|
|5||Aleix Espargaro||ESP||Aprilia Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||+6.726|
|6||Brad Binder||RSA||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16||+13.638|
|7||Fabio Quartararo||FRA||Monster Energy Yamaha||Yamaha M1||+15.023|
|8||Fabio di Giannantonio||ITA||Gresini Racing MotoGP||Ducati GP22||+15.826|
|9||Takaaki Nakagami||JPN||LCR Honda IDEMITSU||Honda RC213V||+16.370|
|10||Franco Morbidelli||ITA||Monster Energy Yamaha||Yamaha M1||+17.828|
|11||Danilo Petrucci||ITA||Ducati Leonovo Team||Ducati GP23||+29.735|
|12||Lorenzo Savadori||ITA||CryptoData RNF Racing||Aprilia RS-GP||+36.135|
|13||Jonas Folger||GER||GasGas Factory Tech 3||KTM RC16||+49.008|
|DNF||Marc Marquez||ESP||Repsol Honda Team||Honda RC213V|
|DNF||Jack Miller||AUS||Red Bull KTM Factory Racing||KTM RC16|
|DNF||Alex Rins||ESP||LCR Honda Castrol||Honda RC213V|
|DNF||Joan Mir||ESP||Repsol Honda Team||Honda RC213V|
|DNF||Luca Marini||ITA||Mooney VR46 Racing||Ducati GP22|
|DNF||Alex Marquez||ESP||Gresini Racing MotoGP||Ducati GP22|
|DNF||Maverick Vinales||ESP||Aprilia Racing||Aprilia RS-GP|
|DNF||Pecco Bagnaia||ITA||Ducati Leonovo Team||Ducati GP23|
|W||Raul Fernandez||ESP||CryptoData RNF Racing||Aprilia RS-GP|