MotoGP™ journeyed to France for round five of twenty and Husqvarna Motorcycles watched Ayumu Sasaki finish runner-up with his FR 250 GP around a sunny and busy Le Mans.
The SHARK Grand Prix de France brought the LIQUI MOLY Husqvarna Intact GP team and the MotoGP series into northern Europe and few events are more historic or vibrant than the annual stop at Le Mans.
Once again the meeting counted on a noisy and appreciative crowd that packed the grandstands and fences despite the unsteady weather conditions that veered between sunshine but also brisk, light showers. Le Mans is one of the shortest world championship tracks but also one of the hardest for braking and mixes several fast sections with slower, more technical zones.
MotoGP basked in the legacy of 1000 Grands Prix in France and the iconic Husqvarna name played a key role in a gripping Moto3 event that opened the show and set the tone for more intense MotoGP fare.
Ayumu Sasaki was again a prominent figure in the division and stood out for his speed and potential as much as the distinctive Husqvarna Motorcycles white livery. The Japanese was a protagonist through Practice on Friday, sealed his third Pole Position of the season on Saturday and then moved diligently into the leading group during the formative phases of the race on Sunday.
The 23-year-old tucked in behind Daniel Holgado and ran either 1st or 2nd for most of the 20-lap race distance. As the final two circulations approached Ayumu loomed over the back of the Spaniard’s motorcycle with intent but exercised a degree of restraint after falling out of similar promising positions in Argentina and the United States. Sasaki’s mature approach made sure of the runner-up slot by just one tenth of a second and ensured 20 points as well as his second podium appearance of the year.
The bounty lifts Sasaki to 6th in the world championship standings while the points assist Husqvarna Motorcycles to 4th in the Constructors list.
Collin Veijer set about using his FR 250 GP to unlock the critical markers for Moto3 pace throughout Friday. The Dutchman looked set to emerge from Q1 until a hefty crash ended his session and meant the seventh row of the grid. On Sunday Collin was a feature in the second group. In the end his pursuit up the rankings enabled him to grab the last point in 15th.
The Moto3 duo will now have to wait three weeks before sampling the speed and curves of Mugello in Italy for round six.
Ayumu Sasaki: “It was a difficult decision to take because on the last lap I thought I could pass for the lead but the last few races have been disappointing and we are quite far away from the leader in the championship, so I decided to stay back and accept P2. I am not 100% myself just yet so I am not pushing like I do in qualifying but this podium is good. Now we have the momentum going and we can think about the win. We will keep going.”
Collin Veijer: “I am quite happy to take a point after what happened through the weekend. Already in FP2 I missed some time and it was raining in the next session and then the big crash wasn’t helpful! I took it calm on the first lap and then managed the race. We have to be satisfied but we want more.”
Husqvarna Motorcycles counted on rookie Senna Agius once more to line-up besides Lukas Tulovic in Moto2™. The teenager, who had scored an impressive victory in the corresponding category for the opening round of the FIM Junior GP championship the previous week, stood in for the absent Darryn Binder who continues to recover from his broken hand, sustained in practice for the Grand Prix of the Americas last month.
Tulovic performed well in qualification on Saturday for 15th on the grid while Agius found his way to 24th. The 22-lap race was reduced to 14 after a multi rider crash on the opening circulation forced a red flag decision by Race Direction. The restart saw the German riding strongly after an excellent start elevated him into the top ten. Lukas maintained his speed to take 11th and a ‘personal best’ to-date. Agius returned the bike to the pitbox after posting 19th.
The Moto2 and Moto3 wings of the Intact GP team will be in action once more on June 10th-11th for the Gran Premio D’Italia Oakley at Mugello.
Lukas Tulovic: “After Jerez the goal was to master the next step. We had a better start to the weekend, qualified better and therefore simply created a better starting position for the race. I was able to learn a lot from top riders this weekend and I'm happy with the pace I was able to set. The top ten is not far away. I was even faster in some of the flowing sections and got closer towards the end of the race, but I think I can do better on the brakes. We still have to work on the setting here and there, but overall we put a good bike on the track and I was able to ride a good race.”
Senna Agius: “A tough race, especially the last five laps because I did not have much left to give. My lap-times were not bad and I want to improve my consistency in the future. The weekend has been full of learning, and I will take many things from here to my next race. A big thank you to the team for letting me be here in Le Mans and I cannot wait for next time!”
Results Moto3 SHARK Grand Prix de France
1. Daniel Holgado (ESP) KTM 34:07.176, 2. Ayumu Sasaki (JPN) Husqvarna +0.150, 3. Jaume Masia (ESP), Honda +0.946, 15. Collin Veijer (NED) Husqvarna +16.969
World championship standings Moto3
1. Daniel Holgado (ESP) KTM 59 points, 2. Diogo Moreira (BRA) KTM, 55, 3. Ivan Ortola (ESP) KTM, 50, 6. Ayumu Sasaki (JPN) Husqvarna, 43. 20. Collin Veijer (NED) Husqvarna, 8.
Results Moto2 SHARK Grand Prix de France
1. Tony Arbolino (ITA) 22:34.233, 2. Filip Salac (CZE) +0.620, 3. Alonso Lopez (ESP) +1.537, 11. Lukas Tulovic (GER) Husqvarna +11.588, 19. Senna Agius (AUS) Husqvarna +22.615
World championship standings Moto2
1. Tony Arbolino (ITA), 99 points, 2. Pedro Acosta (ESP), 74, 3. Alonso Lopez (ESP), 61, 17. Darryn Binder (RSA) Husqvarna, 10. 20. Lukas Tulovic (GER) Husqvarna 6