Tech 3’s Johann Zarco stormed to a history-making pole position at the Grand Prix de France, smashing the pole record to become the first Frenchman to secure pole on home soil since Christian Sarron at Paul Ricard in 1988.
Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez threatened to spoil the party on his final lap as the reigning champion honed in, but it wasn’t enough and the championship leader starts P2.
Q1 graduate Danilo Petrucci, meanwhile, made his presence felt in Q2 on the Pramac Ducati and will start tomorrow’s race third on the grid.
It was an incredibly tense Q2 session in Le Mans, with all eyes on the number five. The Frenchman, straight out the blocks, didn’t disappoint and topped the timesheets after his first flying lap. But Marquez – as ever – was quick to reply. The reigning champion wasn’t at the summit for long though, as Petrucci put in his fastest lap of the weekend go provisional P1.
Zarco though had other ideas, and on the final lap of his first run, the Frenchman sent a warning sign, going 0.330 seconds quicker than anyone else.
When the riders came back out for their second runs, Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo briefly led the session but Marquez then reset the benchmark, with Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone also leaping up the timesheets and taking second. However, the home hero wasn’t done, again going quickest, this time by 0.130. As all looked set and done, Marquez’ efforts on his final lap sent French nerves into overdrive but Zarco held on.
Behind the explosive front row, Iannone starts from P4 on his Suzuki and was less than a tenth off the front row – another name sure to add fireworks to the fight at the front. The Italian heads the two factory Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso, who’ll start fifth, and Lorenzo in sixth – both of whom look to have very strong race pace.
Pramac Ducati’s Jack Miller was impressive once again in P7 and in the mix throughout the session, making it four Ducatis in the top seven on a track the manufacturer has never won at.
A team who has enjoyed winning at Le Mans recently are the factory Yamaha squad, but Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi will have work to do from P8 and P9 on the grid respectively – over half a second behind fellow Yamaha rider Zarco.
Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team), who came through Q1, will start from tenth on Sunday – but the ‘Little Samurai’ is a previous winner at the track, and came through from outside the top ten to take the podium last season. He was just ahead of Avinita’s Tito Rabat, who was a slender 0.025 behind his compatriot, and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro. The number 41 crashed at Turn 1 on his opening run but was ok and ran back to the pits.