MotoGP Le Mans: Lowes on top in France for Moto2

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Picture: GeeBee Images

Britain’s Sam Lowes was firmly in control as Moto2 practice for the FrenchGP kicked off at Le Mans on Friday.

The Marc VDS man remained at the top of the standings throughout the opening day’s two 40-minute sessions as he fended off multiple challenges from team-mate Augusto Fernandez, Marco Bezzecchi and the KTM duo of Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez. Jake Dixon suffered a late-session crash at turn nine to end the day in 26th.

Lowes led the way from the off as Moto2 FP1 fired up at the Bugatti circuit, over a second ahead of next-best rider Hafizh Syahrin before Stefano Manzi split the pair with 10-minutes gone.

Lorenzo Baldassarri was the first to challenge the Marc VDS rider as the pace intensified, followed by Manzi, Syahrin and Marco Ramirez but the Brit was firmly back in charge on his next lap, 1’41.012 the time to beat.

15 minutes gone and only 15 riders had set times worthy of classification. Manzi and Syahrin continued to hassle Lowes with Bezzecchi joining the fight before the Brit hit back once again - first with a ’39.5 and then a 1’39.458 at the halfway stage.

Aron Canet was the next to rise, 0.021s ahead of the Elf-sponsored rider as Bezzecchi, Augusto Fernandez and Ramirez locked out the top-five. Syahrin, Tom Luthi, Manzi, Joe Roberts and Simone Corsi held top-10 positions before the times were thoroughly shuffled and the KTM’s finally joined the action.

Lowes continued to lead as the closing 15-minutes gave way to a vastly drying track, Bezzecchi crashing out of second on a personal best lap at turn nine as Fernandez and Luthi repeatedly squabbled for third before the Spaniard bested his Marc VDS teammate to take the standings with 11 to go, followed closely by Manzi as Lowes dropped to third.

Red sectors lit up the timing screens as the final 10 minutes began. Manzi took charge from Fernandez as Jorge Navarro and Fabio Di Giannantonio now made their presence known in third and fourth. Lowes heading out on a fresh set of tyres to defend his form. Gardner sat eighth from Somkiat Chantra and Marcel Schrotter, before the championship leader saw his time deleted due to track limits.

Five to go and Di Giannantonio led the way from Manzi, Navarro and Xavi Vierge - with his Petronas teammate circulating in 15th. Lowes advanced back to fourth, from seventh, as Canet claimed second with Fernandez the next to steal the runner’s up spot moments later.

The following lap saw Manzi best Lowes for the top, Di Giannantonio, Canet and Fernandez batting behind as the top-five continued to swap positions in the dying seconds.

The chequered flag saw Canet take the session from Manzi and Lowes - despite a worrying moment in the closing moments and an on-track bicker with the Englishman. Di Giannantonio and Fernandez completed the top-five while a last-lap surge saw Vierge best Dixon for sixth and seventh. Schrotter headed Gardner and Syahrin at the edge of the top-10 with Hector Garzo, Yari Montella, Navarro and Baldassarri claimed the top-14.

Friday’s final afternoon practice saw early drama for Bezzecchi as the Sky rider navigated the gravel while Montella was declared unfit for the remainder of the weekend thanks to a broken right wrist due to an FP1 crash.

Raul Fernandez headed the times in the opening laps with a 1’37.231, from his namesake and the second Marc VDS of Lowes, with Bezzecchi and Di Giannantonio less than two-tenths behind, before Augusto Fernandez advanced the pace into the 1’36’s. Gardner joined his teammate in the top-three on his seventh lap of FP2 with Lowes splitting the KTM pair moments later.

The top-five continued to swap positions amongst themselves as the practice played out with Schrotter, Di Giannantonio, Vierge, Corsi and Navarro rounding out the top-10 after the opening 15-minutes of action.

Baldassarri suffered a turn seven crash at the halfway stage, having circulated in 12th so far, with Dixon and Roberts sitting 21st and 26th respectively before the American advanced to 19th, and neatly ahead of his countryman Cameron Beaubier, with 17 to go.

Lowes took charge from his teammate as the final 10-minutes beckoned, pushing the pace to 1’36.439 with the KTM pairing sitting third and fourth. Nicolò Bulega stole fifth from Bezzecchi as the Italian sat in the pits, with Canet besting them both for the position moments later.

The Brit continued to fine-tune his time as the session counted down, circulating just two-tenths shy of Pecco Bagnaia’s 2018 record with his 16th effort. Raul Fernandez advanced to second, just 0.075 off, with Ai Ogura and Vierge also improving, this time to sixth and seventh as Albert Arenas, Tommaso Marcon and Syahrin crashed out in the closing stages.

Dixon was the next to succumb to the conditions as both the pace and the wind increased in the final two minutes, Chantra and Roberts doing likewise seconds later with Celestino Vietti and Ramirez losing it as the chequered flag came out.

A last-lap strike pushed Bezzecchi to third as Lowes took the session from the KTM rookie, Augusto Fernandez securing fourth from Gardner, Bulega, Ogura and Vierge. Manzi and Navarro completed the top-10 with Canet, Schrotter, Di Giannantonio and Ramirez taking the final Q2 places ahead of Saturday’s FP3.