Maverick Vinales quote at 2017 French GP
"I didn't see that Valentino crashed until I crossed the line," said French GP winner Maverick Vinales (25). "In the last lap I was thinking, 'Okay, in the last corner, he is going to try to overtake,' so I was preparing myself for the 'touch.' Doing the fastest lap at the end was so nice."Photo: MotoGP
CC35, AD04
When practice began on Friday, the track was cold and wet. “If you make a small mistake,” Cal Crutchlow (35) said, “you can pay a heavy price when, really, it doesn’t mean much to the final outcome of the weekend, especially when we think Sunday is going to be dry.” Crutchlow qualified fourth and finished fifth behind Andrea Dovizioso (04).Photo: Michelin

2017 French GP Race Results 1. Maverick VIÑALES (25) Movistar Yamaha MotoGP YAMAHA 2. Johann ZARCO (5) Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YAMAHA 3. Dani PEDROSA (26) Repsol Honda Team HONDA 4. Andrea DOVIZIOSO (4) Ducati Team DUCATI 5. Cal CRUTCHLOW (35) LCR Honda HONDA 6. Jorge LORENZO (99) Ducati Team DUCATI 7. Jonas FOLGER (94) Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YAMAHA 8. Jack MILLER (43) Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS HONDA 9. Loris BAZ (76) Reale Avintia Racing DUCATI 10. Andrea IANNONE (29) Team Suzuki Ecstar SUZUKI 11. Tito RABAT (53) Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS HONDA 12. Pol ESPARGARO (44) Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 13. Bradley SMITH (38) Red Bull KTM Factory Racing KTM 14. Sam LOWES (22) Aprilia Racing Team Gresini APRILIA 15. Silvain GUINTOLI (50) Team Suzuki Ecstar SUZUKI DNF: Valentino ROSSI (46) Movistar Yamaha MotoGP YAMAHA DNF: Aleix ESPARGARO (41) Aprilia Racing Team Gresini APRILIA DNF: Marc MARQUEZ (93), Repsol Honda Team HONDA DNF: Danilo PETRUCCI (9) OCTO Pramac Racing DUCATI DNF: Scott REDDING (45) Octo Pramac Racing DUCATI DNF: Karel ABRAHAM (17) Pull&Bear Aspar Team DUCATI DNF: Hector BARBERA (8) Reale Avintia Racing DUCATI

Maverick Vinales was so deeply engaged in his intense battle with Valentino Rossi on Sunday at Le Mans that he didn't realize his teammate had crashed attempting to retake the lead on the 28th and final lap of the French Grand Prix. About his record lap, the new series points leader and now four-time MotoGP race winner admitted, "I risked a lot."

#GoNicky
The MotoGP podium thinking of Nicky Hayden.Photo: Repsol Honda
Moto3 winner Joan Mir
On the opening lap of the Moto3, oil dropped on the track led to a massive pileup. Following a lengthy clean up, the race was shortened from 24 to 16 laps. The 26-lap Moto2 and 28-lap MotoGP races went off without a hitch. Leopard Racing’s Joan Mir (36) was the winner of the wild Moto3 race.Photo: Michelin

Rossi’s miscue ultimately cost the nine-time world champion 20 points and dropped him after five of 18 rounds to third overall in the standings, 23 behind the 22-year-old Vinales. Realizing his folly, Rossi could be seen trackside leaning on the fuel tank of his damaged Yamaha M1, chest heaving, trying to catch his breath.

Home-country hero Johann Zarco led the opening six laps, taking advantage of his first front-row start and the grip offered by the softest Michelin slicks. "I was thinking, 'Okay, his rear tire is going to drop,' but it never dropped," Vinales said. "He was difficult to overtake. Finally, I got the chance in the first corner. I tried to pull, but for 10 laps my pit board said, 'Zarco, 0.3.'"

Johann Zarco P2 at FrenchGP
Frenchman Johann Zarco finished second at Le Mans, equaling fellow countryman Christian Sarron’s result in the 1988 500cc GP at Paul Ricard.Photo: Yamaha Tech 3
Zarco at 2017 FrenchGP
“You must do everything perfectly when you ride at this level,” Zarco said. “My weak point was [wheel] spin under acceleration.”Photo: Yamaha Tech 3

In fact, Zarco was glued to Vinales’ rear tire for 16 consecutive laps, never more than 0.624 seconds behind. “When I was leading, I had a flashback from Qatar,” Zarco said, recalling his crash in the season opener. “I said, ‘Don’t make a mistake.’ When Vinales overtook me, I was able to follow him. This was a key for me to be on the podium.”

Running the same medium-front, medium-rear tire combination as Vinales and nearly half the field, Rossi chased down and passed first Zarco and then Vinales. “For me, this could have been the best result of the season,” said the 38-year-old Italian. “It was very difficult because the pace was always high but, at the end, I had a good feeling, so I tried to attack.

“Unfortunately, on the last lap, I made a mistake in Turn 6 and fell back a little so Maverick was able to overtake me. I knew I had another chance—we were very close—because I was good in Sector 4. We don’t understand what happened in the crash. Usually you have to pay attention to the front, but I lost the rear.”

Zarco was content with third. “Valentino was so strong at the end,” he said. “But when he started to fight with Maverick, I was thinking maybe something can happen. And something happened. We went with soft tires to keep our confidence. I was lucky that today was sunny. Race time was not as hot as we expected and that was another key to keeping this pace today.”

2017 Le Mans Race Day
Ready to race: By early afternoon on Sunday, track temperature had risen to nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a significant jump from qualifying at the same time on Saturday. The historic Bugatti circuit was packed. Claimed spectator attendance was 104,020.Photo: Michelin

Dani Pedrosa charged from the fifth row of the grid, picking up five places in two corners to eventually earn his third consecutive podium. “It was hard situation before the start,” he said. “All night long, I was thinking, ‘How can I make it through the first chicane because it is so tight. When you are back in the pack, it’s so easy to make a mistake.

“After that chicane, the field stretches so much that it’s difficult to make ground. I knew I had a good pace, so this kept me confident. But, at the same time, I knew I had to get through. It was a little tough when I was behind [Andrea] Dovizioso because he was riding well. Also, his braking and performance out of the corner was good.”

Dani Pedrosa
Dani Pedrosa charged from the fifth row of the grid, picking up five places in two corners to eventually earn his third consecutive podium.Photo: Repsol Honda

Pedrosa also explained his on-track contact with Cal Crutchlow. “The pass with Cal was on the limit,” he admitted. “I saw the opening when he made a little mistake. Leaning on the right side [of the bike], I couldn’t really see him anymore. In that moment, he closed the door, recovering his line, and we hit. Fortunately, nobody crashed.” Crutchlow lost two places.

After running fourth for more than half of the race, Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda teammate, Marc Marquez, crashed, putting a dent in his title defense. “Since yesterday, I haven’t felt totally comfortable with the front,” he said. “I knew the Yamaha riders were stronger today, so my target was fourth or fifth place. I lost the front very quickly. I didn’t expect this mistake.”

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Round 6 of the series is scheduled for June 2-4 at Mugello in Italy, where Michelin will begin supplying a stiffer-construction front tire. Riders first tested the harder casing last November at Valencia and again during the recent IRTA test after the race in Jerez. The majority preferred the harder construction, said Michelin’s Nicolas Goubert.

“A lot of riders have been complaining from the beginning of the season about movement they could feel at the entry to the corner—when they go from a straight line to the apex. They could feel some movement, which was kind of imprecise. They feel happier with something stiffer, which gives them more feedback.”

Vinales admitted he is looking forward to Mugello. “It is going to be really difficult because my teammate is very strong there,” he said. “But the track fits my riding style well, and it looks like it fits the Yamaha; our bike is so stable and keeps really good rear grip. I was also feeling good in Jerez, so I don’t want to create any expectations.” Too late, Maverick.