MotoGP 2007- Le Mans, France

MotoGP 2007 Round 5

Grand Prix of France, Le Mans - May 20, 2007

Race Results

Chris Vermeulen raced to his and Rizla Suzuki MotoGP’s first Grand Prix win at a rain-soaked Le Mans today.

Vermeulen rode an almost faultless race in the wet after heavy rain started to fall over the 4.180km French circuit. He entered pit lane at the end of lap nine to change to his wet-weather prepared Suzuki GSV-R. Within two laps he hit the front and never looked under threat all the way to the checkered flag, the impressive Australian finishing the race over 12 seconds in front of the second-placed man Marco Melandri. World Championship leader Casey Stoner finished third to give Bridgestone tires a clean sweep on the podium.

Vermeulen now moves up to fifth place in the MotoGP World Championship with Rizla Suzuki MotoGP going up to third in the team’s championship.

John Hopkins looked like he was going to follow up his podium at China last time out with another one today. He produced a number of stunning laps – including the fastest lap of the race – to move into first place on lap nine. After he entered the pit-lane on the next lap to change to his wet bike, he was unable to sustain his momentum and also suffered with a few issues with the set-up of his GSV-R.

Hopkins brought his bike home in seventh place for his fourth top seven finish of the year, a result that puts him into sixth place in the overall classification.

Rizla Suzuki MotoGP will now stay in France for a day of testing before the MotoGP circus moves across Europe for round six of the championship, to be held at Mugello in Italy on Sunday 3rd June.

Marco Melandri: “It was an amazing race. From the start it was very difficult on slick tires and many riders who are not normally in the top were really pushing. I didn’t push then. When it started raining hard I didn’t know when best to come into the pit and change to wet tires because half the track was wet and half not so bad. When I caught Chris (Vermeulen) I didn’t want to pass him and decided to wait. But I have short legs and could not get my knee down onto the track to control the front and had a couple of big slides, one in sixth gear. So I decided to let Chris go.”

The fallen, but comparatively unhurt, Nicky said, “That’s a shame for sure. We had a pretty solid fourth place there with just a couple of laps to go and the bike was feeling pretty good in the wet. But then as soon as I touched the brake at the end of the back straight it folded on me. I hadn’t even started back-shifting yet and before I knew it I was just picking up speed as I hit the ground – it was a rough ride. It sucks, but it seems like no bones are broken and that’s a good thing, though I’ve damaged some cartilage in my ribcage.”

The World Championship points table shows Stoner with 102 to Rossi’s 81 with Dani scoring well enough to stay in touch on 62 and Marco right back in the mix with 61 as the European rounds take in Mugello in Italy in two weeks time.

Chris Vermeulen: “I’m absolutely over the moon! I am really happy for myself, my crew and everyone involved in the team. We’d had a difficult weekend coming into the race as not everything quite went to plan - but we were getting quicker and quicker and I’m sure if it had been dry today we would have improved more. The conditions were slippery to start with and it was difficult to know how hard to push. Some guys came past me and then a lap or so later they crashed! It started to rain quite heavy and I decided to come in and change my bike."

"I came back out and just stuck my head down and tried to get the tires up to heat up as quick as possible. The bike felt really good in the rain, but as it got heavier it made it hard to hold the bike in top gear down the straight - there was so much water it was just spinning the rear! Tom O’Kane – my Crew Chief - and the rest of the guys gave me a really good wet bike today as we hadn’t done much wet testing with the new 800. The tire choice was spot-on and the bike was certainly good enough to win on!

Honda Team Race Report
With rain threatening, the lights on the grid went out and a crowd of 74,000 watched with some trepidation as the field barreled into turn one with specks of moisture dotting the competitors’ visors and screens. Stoner got the jump into the turn followed by American John Hopkins (Suzuki), but it took only four more corners before Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) took the lead.

This would be a difficult race over 28-laps of this 4.180km track in conditions that worsened as the laps clicked down. The first half of this race was frenzied affair with riders pitting to change machines (and with them tires) and pole-man Colin Edwards (Yamaha) was the earliest visitor to pit lane on lap four.

As Rossi led across the start/finish straight (a scant 450m of it) conditions were plainly difficult. And it was the riders with the least to lose and the most to gain who put the power down early and gambled their way to the front. Alex Barros (Ducati) lay third with Sylvain Guintoli (Yamaha) and Randy de Puniet (Kawasaki) both, as dutiful Frenchmen, giving it everything in the treacherous conditions.

With Edwards swapping bikes Rossi held a 1.8 second advantage over Barros, who was giving it everything in second. The Brazilian was followed by Stoner, de Puniet and Guintoli. But the native riders were restless and by lap six Guintoli led from de Puniet with Rossi losing momentum and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) moving up the order to fifth.

On lap seven Carlos Checa (LCR Honda RC212V), who was holding seventh from a front row start, crashed and this unleashed a torrent of activity at the front with Guintoli going down on the next lap, Toni Elias (Gresini Honda RC212V) on the eighth, and de Puniet shortly after the Spaniard.

By this time the red and yellow striped flags were out to signal a significant deterioration in adhesion as John Hopkins led the pack. Those who had not pitted earlier now did so, including Hopkins and Pedrosa and this second tier of tire swappers tended to do better (in the final analysis) than the first wave.

By lap 12 it was Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki) who held second place before overhauling Hopkins for the lead. Melandri then blasted past the American to take second with Rossi now third. Guintoli had nursed his machine back to pit lane to exchange his battered bike for a straighter version and he rejoined the fray in 13th spot, while Vermeulen led Marco by 1.6 seconds.

Things were very wet now. Melandri was giving his all to reduce Vermeulen’s advantage and by lap 14 he had shaved the Aussie’s lead to 1.1 seconds. It was Vermeulen and the Italian first and second with Rossi and Stoner some ways behind in third and fourth, with Nicky Hayden (Repsol Honda RC212V) fifth, Alex Hofmann (Ducati) sixth and Dani seventh.

If the early laps were a maelstrom of activity, the second half of this contest was enlivened only by Melandri’s enthusiasm to catch Vermeulen. By lap 18 the tenacious Italian had carved the gap down to 0.5 seconds. Stoner in third was a considerable 15 seconds adrift of the protagonists, having taken advantage of Rossi’s difficulties in maintaining an economical line out of the turns in the deluge.

Shinya Nakano (Konica Minolta Honda RC212V) crashed and splashed down at the Flip-Flop on lap 21 as his predecessor in the Konica Minolta seat, Makoto Tamada, now riding for Yamaha, was lapped. There was standing water on track now and Hayden was a man who made the most of the slippery tarmac taking Rossi, who ran wide again, for fourth on lap 22.

Vermeulen though was clearly in charge. It took him a mere five laps to re-establish his authority on the event by giving Marco a 2.3 second hole to fill. Barring disasters he was going to take the flag. The disaster fell to Nicky. On lap 26 he crashed heavily while holding fourth.

The Aussie Suzuki man took his first MotoGP win in style, wheelieing over the line with Marco having settled for second. Championship points leader Stoner rode to a neat third place here at Le Mans, only the fifth round of an eighteen race series. Dani (who many believe finds racing in the rain a bother) took an eager fourth.

John Hopkins: “Firstly I want to say well done to Chris and well done to Suzuki for standing on top of the podium. It is certainly an achievement to stand on the podium two races in a row; hopefully we can carry that streak on together. As for the race we chose one of the hardest slick rear tires that we had, so I had to take it easy to get it up to temperature. Once it was there and I had confidence in it I was able to go from 12th to first in a short space of time. Everything was going fine until it started raining harder."

"I think we made the right decision when to come in to change the bike. I tried to get used to riding in the wet and it all seemed to be going alright, but we had some minor adjustment problems that hindered us a bit. At the end of the day I kept it on two wheels and finished the race with some good points. We will take the positives from this weekend and although I am disappointed to finish where I did after all the hard work we put in in the dry, it’s now time to move onto a lot of tracks that I enjoy and continue this podium streak for Rizla Suzuki!”

Le Mans hosted a rain-sodden MotoGP showdown that put nerve and skill at a premium, with Marco Melandri finishing a close second.

MotoGP - Le Mans, France Round 5

1 Chris VERMEULEN (Rizla Suzuki MotoGP)

2 Marco MELANDRI (Honda Gresini )

3 Casey STONER (Ducati Marlboro Team)

4 Dani PEDROSA (Repsol Honda Team)

5 Alex HOFMANN (Pramac d'Antin)

6 Valentino ROSSI (Fiat Yamaha Team)

7 John HOPKINS (Rizla Suzuki MotoGP)

8 Loris CAPIROSSI (Ducati Marlboro Team)

9 Makoto TAMADA (Dunlop Yamaha Tech 3)

10 Sylvain GUINTOLI (Dunlop Yamaha Tech 3)

11 Fonsi NIETO (Kawasaki Racing Team)

12 Colin EDWARDS (Fiat Yamaha Team)

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