Martin wins French MotoGP sprint to pad championship lead

motorsport11 May 2024 16:17| © AFP

Jorge Martin cruised to his third MotoGP sprint victory of the season as he won in Le Mans on Saturday to increase his championship lead.

Marc Marquez, who started 13th on the grid on his Gresini Ducati, finished second with a third Spaniard, Maverick Vinales, on an Aprilia, rounding out the podium.

Italian Enea Bastianini was fourth on a factory Ducati to climb to second in the championship standings. He trails Martin by 28 points.

In morning qualifying, Martin, on a Pramac Ducati, became the first MotoGP rider to go round the Bugatti Circuit in under 1min 30secs.

He then crashed but suffered no after-effects in the race, pulling smoothly away from the field as rivals suffered problems.

The closest challenger in the standings, Francesco Bagnaia, who also crashed his factory Ducati late in the morning, had problems with the backup bike in the race.

He started second on the grid but fell to 15th on the first lap. The reigning double world champion had slipped to last by the time he veered off the course on lap four.

Aleix Espargaro started fast from the second row on his Aprilia. Too fast, the stewards ruled, penalising the Spaniard with two long laps. He still managed to take fifth.

Vinales, said his rear tyre had overheated and he had decided to "defend not attack."

Italian Marco Bezzecchi crashed out on lap 10 while running comfortably second on a Ducati VR46.

"The objective was to pull away," said Martin at the finish. "Marco was putting out some great laps, then when I saw he crashed I just tried to keep my constant pace right to the end, quite relaxed."

Martin took his 12th career sprint victory when he crossed the line 2.28 seconds ahead of Marquez, who had surged through the field from the fifth.

Marquez said it was his best MotoGP start ever because with modern technology getting an edge off the line was harder.

"It was a good start – a combination of concentration, luck, risk, instinct," he said.

"With all the holeshot devices and all these things it's super difficult to make the difference on the start because every rider, every manufacturer starts in a good way," he said.

"For me the most important thing was the pace after that."

The sprint was raced under sunny skies in 26-degree celsius heat. Rain, and even thunderstorms, are forecast for the main race on Sunday from the same grid positions.

"Tomorrow will be a long race," said Martin.