Vermeulen wins wet Le Mans race
Chris Vermeulen was the winner of a breathtakingly unpredictable Alice Grand Prix de France at the historic Le Mans circuit, with the heavy rainfall ending a six year victory drought for Suzuki in MotoGP.
The Australian had previously benefited on home soil in the first ever flag-to-flag race, and did even better on the 800cc to take his maiden victory in the premier class. His triumph also means that five of the last six Grand Prix winners have hailed from the Antipodean island.
The race was an incredible display of the competitive nature of MotoGP, and provided fans with the sight of a number of first time leaders as the riders negotiated the changeable weather conditions and bike change choices.
The opening laps saw proud moments for Randy de Puniet and Sylvain Guintoli, who led their home race with amazing starts.
The French duo showed no fear amongst former winners and World Champions, and the sight of Guintoli at the head of the field on his own merit was a memorable one for his countrymen and Yamaha satellite team. Unfortunately the two both crashed as their gamble on staying out ahead of the majority of the field just failed to pay off.
By lap 10 the track was completely wet, meaning that the riders were effectively obliged to change bikes in order to remain competitive. Carlos Checa and Toni Elias hit the deck before there was a chance for them to make the switch, and a chaotic pair of laps followed as the pack rearranged themselves. Some semblance of order was established when all the riders had moved to their wet bikes, with Vermeulen making the best of the situation to lead all the way to the end after a battle with previous flag-to-flag racewinner Marco Melandri.
The Gresini Honda rider himself had an outstanding race, for his best result of the season onboard the Honda RC212V. He maintained a comfortable lead over third placed rider and World Championship leader Casey Stoner, who kept his nerve and saved himself from crashes in a tremendous display of his mastery of the Desmosedici GP7.
The all-Bridgestone podium all had comfortable gaps between each other, and also from fourth placed rider Dani Pedrosa.
Although not a fan of wet weather racing, the Spaniard certainly had a good ride from low down on the grid to add more points to his championship tally.
A clearly delighted Alex Hofmann took fifth at Le Mans, his best result in MotoGP. Overtaking five time MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi will have been a moment to savor for the German, who pumped his fist in the air upon crossing the finish line.
Rossi lost ground in the overall classification courtesy of a sixth place finish, having strayed wide in the difficult conditions on a pair of occasions. The Italian was passed by Pedrosa, Hofmann and Nicky Hayden as he struggled on the right hand corners of the Bugatti circuit, although Hayden’s unfortunate crash with two laps to go effectively bumped Rossi up to a top six place two laps to go effectively bumped Rossi up to a top six place.
One of the early beneficiaries of the bike change, John Hopkins ran wide whilst battling with Melandri and could not get higher than seventh, ahead of Loris Capirossi on the second factory Ducati.
Pos Rider Bike Time/Behind
1. Chris Vermeulen Suzuki 50:58.713
2. Marco Melandri Honda + 12.599
3. Casey Stoner Ducati + 27.347
4. Daniel Pedrosa Honda + 37.328
5. Alex Hofmann Ducati + 49.166
6. Valentino Rossi Yamaha + 53.563
7. John Hopkins Suzuki +1:01.073
8. Loris Capirossi Ducati +1:21.241
9. Makoto Tamada Yamaha + 1 lap
10. Sylvain Guintoli Yamaha + 1 lap
11. Fonsi Nieto Kawasaki + 1 lap
12. Colin Edwards Yamaha + 3 laps
Alex Barros Ducati
Kenny Roberts Jr. KR
Nicky Hayden Honda
Shinya Nakano Honda
Randy de Puniet Kawasaki
Toni Elias Honda
Carlos Checa Honda