Rain-man Petrucci wins French MotoGP, Quartararo retains championship lead

Issued on: 11/10/2020 – 16:38Modified: 11/10/2020 – 16:36

Danilo Petrucci jumped an “unbelievable” surprise to hold off rookie Alex Marquez and win the rain-hit French MotoGP at Le Mans on Sunday.

Home favorite Fabio Quartararo, supported by 5,000 fans allowed in to the Bugatti circuit under strict Covid-19 protocols, held onto the championship lead despite struggling from pole to take ninth.

Petrucci, riding for Ducati, won for only the second time from 146 MotoGPs. The 29-year-old was the seventh different winner of the nine races staged so far in this coronavirus-disrupted campaign.

“Unbelievable! I can’t understand what I’ve just done” beamed the Italian who joins KTM’s Tech 3 team next season.

“I’ve waited so long for this win. When the rain came I thought ‘it’s not possible’ but I’ve always been good in the wet.”

Quartararo may have failed in his bid to become the first Frenchman to win in the premier category on home soil since the championship was launched in 1949.

But the 21-year-old Yamaha-SRT rider can take comfort from extending his lead by two points to 10 in the world title battle over Joan Mir, who came in 11th.

The MotoGP crown is there for taking in the absence of Marc Marquez, the six-time champion who has been hors combat since suffering a fractured arm in an opening-race fall.

As rumors swirled around the track that Marquez may return at Aragon next weekend his younger brother Alex was performing heroics to chase home Petrucci for his career first podium and his factory Honda team’s first of the season.

The rain which hit the circuit just before the start made life difficult for the riders especially veteran Valentino Rossi, who slithered out of contention on turn three on the opening lap.

– Wins for Vietti, Lowes –

Others to crash out were Alex Rins, when fighting for the lead, British duo Bradley Smith and Cal Cathlow, and Quartararo’s teammate Franco Morbidelli.

Petrucci mastered the conditions perfectly, and apart from a fleeting moment when he was passed by Andrea Dovizioso with nine laps to go, always looked in command.

With five races remaining Quartararo leads the championship on 115 points, with Mir on 110 and Dovizioso three points adrift in third place.

Earlier, Italian teenager Celestino Vietti shrugged off a warm-up crash, his third of the weekend, to win the Moto3 race.

The 18-year-old held off his compatriot Tony Arbolino and new championship leader Albert Arenas on the last lap for his second career win from 33 Moto3 starts.

“It was a strange race, I didn’t expect this result,” said the KTM rider, now third in the championship on 119 points, 16 shy of Arenas with five races left.

“It was difficult to overtake – I’m very happy, we handled the race well,” added Vietti whose debut win in the category came at Spielberg in the Styrian Grand Prix in August.

Spaniard Arenas was already looking forward to the next two races at his home Aragon circuit.

“I like Aragon, I’ll continue (my world title bid) from there,” said the 23-year-old who moved to the top of the standings on 135 points.

Splitting Arenas and Vietti in the Moto3 title race is Honda’s Japanese rider Ai Ogura, who led the championship before this 10th leg of the coronavirus-disrupted season, but after his ninth place finish now trails Arenas by six points.

In the Moto2 category which completed the day’s action, Briton Sam Lowes took the honours, beating Australian Remy Gardner with Italian Marco Bezzecchi completing the podium.

Lowes capitalized on his compatriot Jake Dixon’s fall four laps from the end to take the lead and cross the line almost four seconds clear of Gardner, whose father Wayne won the 1987 500cc world championship.

Lowes is placed fourth in the standings on 103 points, 47 behind leader Luca Marini, who trailed in 17th in France.