Le Mans MotoGP: Bastianini shows he’s Marc Mk2, again


Enea Bastianini’s third victory from the first seven MotoGP races of 2022 came from his mastery of the front tyre, just like Marc Marquez’s six world titles: Le Mans race insight pt1

Enea Bastianini celebrates with team after winning the 2022 MotoGP French Grand Prix

Bastianini and the Gresini crew celebrate win number three. His hugely experienced crew chief Alberto Giribuola is to his left


Le Mans marked one-third distance in the 2022 MotoGP world championship and should confirm Enea Bastianini as a title contender, even for the non-believers.

The 23-year-old Italian’s latest ride in sunny but tricky conditions – the unforgiving Le Mans asphalt had seven of the 24 starters fail to see the chequered flag – showed once again that he has a certain skill that none of the others seem to have, with the exception of wounded-lion Marc Márquez.

This is his mastery of the risky art of taking Michelin’s front slick to the absolute limit, somehow playing with the squirming rubber to brake and steer at the same time, without ending up in the gravel.

After all, this was the skill that was the vital secret to Márquez’s six MotoGP titles.

After the race Bastianini was like he’d just been out for a gentle Sunday ride

I wrote exactly that last September, when Bastianini took his first MotoGP podium at Misano, but many didn’t believe.

The 2020 Moto2 champ’s only rivals at Le Mans were factory Ducati men Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia and there was a sense of irresistibility about his forward progress. Just before half-distance he out-braked Miller into the downhill Turn 8, where everyone was struggling to control the front tyre locking on the brakes. Except La Bestia.

From there he closed on Bagnaia – Jaws theme-tune style – until he was close enough to attack his countryman at three-quarters distance, out-braking him at perilous Turn 3, Le Mans’ number-one accident black spot. Bagnaia instantly counter-attacked when Bastianini ran slightly wide at Turn 6 then, two corners later, Bagnaia locked the front into Turn 8, ran off the track and Bastianini was back in front for the second and final time.

Another five corners and Bagnaia was down and out, losing the front into the low-speed penultimate corner.

Pecco Bagnaia leads Enea Bastianini in the 2022 MotoGP French Grand prix

Bagnaia leads, Bastianini has taken Miller, Joan Mir is soon to crash and Espargaró is closing, cheered all the way by the massive Le Mans crowd


“It was the perfect race… until the crash,” said a rueful Bagnaia after his second crash of the year. “When Bastianini overtook me I used the same strategy I used last year with Marc at Aragon – try to be in front again as soon as possible. But then I made a mistake at Turn 8. I tried to brake a bit harder but the front lock was heavy, so I went straight.

“When I got back on track, I thought, ‘no pressure, I will retake him, not quickly but with consistency’. My idea was not to recover too quickly because I knew it was easy to make a mistake. Then I entered Turn 13 a bit slower and I crashed, it was a bit strange. Today I had front lock more or less everywhere.

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“Now I have some days to think about this crash, to try to understand how to improve myself, because I can’t win the championship with these mistakes. Maybe it’s time to be more mature.”

Bagnaia’s exit handed Bastianini a 2.2 second lead, which he didn’t need to increase but he was comfortably faster than Miller during the final laps.

After the race Bastianini was his usual self – remarkably chilled, like he’d just been out for a gentle Sunday ride, laughing and joking with his fellow podium finishers Miller and Aleix Espargaró.

This was particularly impressive considering he had crashed three times during the weekend, including once in morning warm-up – and yet his confidence had remained rock solid

“I think I stayed calm in the first part of the race,” he said. “I didn’t have a strategy, but it was important for me to learn something when I was behind Pecco, because all weekend he was faster than me in two parts of the track. When I changed my lines I closed the gap.”

Bastianini Miller and Espargaro on the podium after the 2022 MotoGP French Grand Prix

Miller, Bagnaia and Espargaro on the podium – Le Mans is a point-and-squirt track, perfect for V4s


In other words Bastianini is still very much in learning mode, which must be a worry for his more experienced rivals. Although there’s not much difference between the GP22, used by Ducati’s factory and Pramac riders, and the GP21 that Bastianini rides, there is a big difference between the GP21 and the GP19 he rode last year so he’s still trying to extract the maximum from the bike.

Miller, who crossed the finish line 2.7 seconds down for his second podium of 2022, was mightily impressed by the winner’s pace

“This little bastard is always strong at the end of races,” he laughed, looking across at Bastianini during the post-race media conference, which he attended bootless, after launching them into the Le Mans throng. “He has done it more than twice; he’s done it plenty of times. He’s got good drive, he’s good on the tyres. He worked it well, rode a perfect race and didn’t make any mistakes.”

“All my wins are because I’m fast in the last part of the race and I don’t know why”

The Australian was particularly impressed by Bastianini’s corner-entry speed and thought (probably hoped) it would be his undoing.

“He started firing it in a bit deep. I saw him towards the end of the race at Turn 8, getting close to the kerb. You can see when someone does that, because their body goes a bit central. I thought finally he might be struggling with the front, meanwhile I’d been struggling with my front for about five laps.”

Miller was the only top-four finisher to use the soft front after two crashes in practice with the medium.

“I crashed every time I used the medium – two from two, so I didn’t want to make it three from three in the race,” he added. “The soft was moving a bit more but I was getting a good reading [feeling] from it, so I could understand where I could push and where I couldn’t.”

Bastianini’s natural ability allowed him to feel what the medium was doing.

Pol Espargaro ahead of Fabio Quartararo at the 2022 MotoGP French Grand Prix

Espargaró fends off Le Mans crowd favourite Fabio Quartararo


“Enea’s secret is a lot of confidence with the front tyre,” said his crew chief Alberto Giribuola, Andrea Dovizioso’s former right-hand man, who has guided more Ducati riders to wins that anyone else since the days of Casey Stoner. “His riding style uses the front a lot in entry, which the saves the rear for the exits.

“This is a double secret, because if you gain a lot in the second part of braking into the corner [on angle] you can stop the bike better and turn better, then you can stand up the bike sooner, so you don’t have to accelerate so much on the edge of the tyre, so you don’t use the rear tyre so hard.

“When Enea can’t find that front feel then we struggle a bit more and he’s like the other riders, but many times we start a weekend with some front problems but we find the way to get the feeling for the race.”

On the other hand, it all seems to come naturally to Bastianini. “All three of my wins are because I’m always fast in the last part of the race and I don’t know why,” he grinned.

During the last few months Miller, Bastianini and Pramac’s Jorge Martin have been in competition for the second 2023 factory Ducati seat, alongside Bagnaia, who is already signed up.

Martin is a huge talent but he’s having a horrible second year in MotoGP – five crashes from seven races – while Miller has scored two podiums to Bastianini’s three wins.

Asked (for the umpteenth time) what are his chances of holding onto his factory ride for 2023, Miller shrugged his shoulders and had this to say, “Put two and two together – Enea has won three races, he’s doing a fantastic job and he’s Italian… makes sense doesn’t it?”.

Espargaró’s fourth podium in five races – 1.4 seconds behind Miller – confirmed his championship credentials for anyone still unconvinced by Aprilia’s transformation from MotoGP also-ran to title contender. He now stands second in the title chase, just four points behind Fabio Quartararo, with whom he fought throughout most of Sunday’s race.

Jack shakes hands with Pecco Bagnaia in Ducati pit at 2022 Le Mans MotoGP race

Bagnaia and Miller after the race – celebration and consolation


Once again Espargaró was just about lost for words after yet another podium, like he feels like he’s about to wake up from a dream.

“I have no words, sincerely,” he said. “I have no explanation of what’s happening, I don’t understand! I’m enjoying this year a lot because the bike I have is the bike I’ve always dreamed of.”

The Argentine GP winner might have been able to give Miller a harder time if not for the usual front-tyre pressure issues.

“The track was very slippery, so it was difficult to go very fast but avoiding a crash was the key,” he added. “Every time I got close to Jack I started to have a lot of movement from the front and I saw on the dash that the front tyre was on fire, so I said, OK, let him go, about half second and stay there.

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“Then during the last part of the race I saw on the big screens that Fabio was very close. I had studied him on videos during the weekend and he was better than the rest mid-corner, so I knew if I went two metres wide he’d pass me on the inside, so it was very difficult to make no mistakes during the last ten laps and stay doing 32 zeroes.

“Every time I got close to Jack I had problems with tyre pressure, so I knew Fabio would have exactly the same problem with me. I knew what I had to do: brake super-super-super-late and stop the bike in the middle of the corner but blocking him was difficult.”

Le Mans is mostly a point-and-squirt circuit, so it favours the V4s that can brake later, use less corner speed and accelerate harder, so despite the fact that Quartararo was the fastest rider of them all his sweeter-handling Yamaha inline-four couldn’t deal with the Aprilia and Ducati V4s.

“We had the best pace in practice but in the race if you’re not able to overtake or have a clear track it’s finished,” said the reigning world champion. “We were super-fast but we knew it wasn’t possible to overtake.”

With seven races done and 14 to go Quartararo may lead the championship but he doesn’t consider himself to be favourite, even though he’s Yamaha’s fastest rider, by a million miles. The next YZR-M1 rider at Le Mans took the flag 25 seconds further back, lapping nine tenths slower.

“Enea is the only guy who’s won more than one race and he’s won three, so he’s the man right now,” continued the 23-year-old Frenchman. “He’s had some difficulties at some tracks but he’s consistent and when he has the pace he’s really fast, so I’m not the favourite by far.

“I don’t know what I can do, because I’m pushing myself to limit, I’m on the limit everywhere. Even when I’m one centimetre behind these guys they accelerate and I lose one tenth and to recover one tenth you need to take a lot of risk. That’s why I don’t feel favourite.

“The only thing I can do is make no mistakes. If I make no mistakes I can be there, because almost every track we go to we are fast. I was fastest here on pace, but as soon as you make a small mistake you are gone.”

Quartararo is a different man these days. He no longer gets angry when he’s out-paced by the faster V4s because there’s no point, all he can do is wait for tracks that will better suit the Yamaha.

Mugello next, where he will be able to unleash the M1’s corner speed to great effect, but how will he keep the Ducati legions behind him on that long, long run to the finish line? Answer: he probably won’t.