Pol Espargaro showcased why Repsol Honda should rethink the replacement rumours as he topped MotoGP FP1 at Le Mans on Friday morning.
Less than two-tenths covered the fastest seven riders after the opening 45 minutes of premier class action in France, with Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins and Ducati Lenovo’s Pecco Bagnaia holding off home hero Fabio Quartararo in the top four.
Friday’s free practice fired up with Rins at the top of the times following the bombshell news that Suzuki are looking to pull out of the championship at the close of the season, Enea Bastianini crashing the Gresini Ducati out at turn eight in the opening minutes.
Honda’s Espargaro and Ducati Lenovo’s Jack Miller trailed the Ecstar machine in the top three after ten minutes on track, before Maverick Viñales brought the Aprilia into contention as the second rider under the 1’33 barrier. Monster Energy Yamaha’s Quartararo emulated his former teammate’s time next time around with Brad Binder doing likewise to split the pair seconds later before crashing out at turn three as Marc Marquez and Jorge Martin also joined the fray.
Viñales took charge with a 1’32.418 on his sixth lap, three-tenths covering the top seven down to the reigning MotoGP Champion as Joan Mir arrived to sixth and Quartararo improved to fourth. Bagnaia began his weekend in France from 14th in the times, behind Binder, Takaaki Nakagami and Marco Bezzecchi, while Aleix Espargaro advanced his position from tenth to fifth with half an hour left to run.
Last year’s victor Miller hit the top on his tenth lap, just 0.073s clear of the RS-GP with the M1 a further 0.009s back in the intense leading trio. Quartararo displacing the Ducati by a mere 0.005s next time around before the Australian immediately responded with a dominant 1’32.101.
Espargaro slotted the RC213V into second with 18 minutes left on the clock before Rins quickly stole the position. Viñales continuing his strong opening form from fourth as Miguel Oliveira crashed the KTM out at turn ten and Marquez saved a moment at turn eight. Raul Fernandez the next to succumb to turn ten on the Tech3 machine in the closing third.
Turn 11 claimed Franky Morbidelli with 12 minutes remaining as the Yamaha rider struggled down in 20th. Andrea Dovizioso running 14th on the satellite WithU M1 with teammate Darryn Binder at the back of the pack in 24th.
Johann Zarco sent the Pramac Ducati to seventh in front of his home support, with fellow Frenchman Quartararo ahead and Ducati rider Bagnaia behind. Luca Marini completing the top ten on the Mooney VR46 Desmosedici ahead of Martin, Marquez and teammate Bezzecchi.
Oliveira suffered his second crash of the morning at the fast turn six, Bagnaia quick to avoid the carnage on his own personal best before regrouping as the timing screens lit up next time around.
Rins refined the pace on the bubble of 1’32 before Miller broke through thanks to a 1’31.961 and Quartararo challenged 0.049s faster in quick succession.
An impressive lap found Marini fourth with less than three minutes remaining, just over two-tenths shy of the championship leader. Viñales claiming third in the penultimate minute before first Rins, then Pol Espargaro upped the pace overall. Bagnaia’s late pace promoted the Ducati to third ahead of Quartararo with Mir moving to fifth with Miller and Viñales demoted to sixth and seventh respectively as the chequered flag prepared. Espargaro advancing the Aprilia to fifth in the final seconds, three places higher than his teammate, with Marquez completing the morning down in 13th.