until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


MotoGP's best crowd has the heroes it deserves

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The Le Mans MotoGP weekend was always going to be something special. That much was obvious even before the French Grand Prix got underway.

So when the final Sunday crowd figures revealed a record-breaking weekend attendance it came as absolutely no surprise, especially given the reception that 120,000 French fans gave Fabio Quartararo and Johann Zarco - the two home heroes, two riders far from competing at the sharp end right now - on Sunday.

The first hint of how big an event this would be came on Wednesday afternoon when The Race first arrived at the track - and discovered the whole of Le Mans in gridlock as fans tried to get into the vast campsites as they opened up for the weekend.

From thereon in, it only built and built, with the crescendo coming just before the start of Sunday’s race when 100,000-plus people at what is already physically the noisiest track on the calendar (a weird trick of its architecture and geography) all joined in to absolutely lift the roof off with their rendition of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

The race was brought forward a week this year in order to catch public holidays in France on both Wednesday and Thursday, with most turning that into an extended five-day weekend. Those who'd bought their tickets weeks ago, before they sold out, got exceptionally lucky with the weather too - with unseasonable sunshine beating down all weekend long.

That very much aided the Le Mans atmosphere, too, because in all honesty what it has done differently from every other race on the calendar hasn't been doing a better job of telling people the race is on - but convincing them to stay for the full duration of it and camp on site.

Only Assen and the Sachsenring manage to even come close to the level of sheer chaos, mayhem and fun you get at Le Mans - so it’s not a coincidence that they’re also the two other races where people are most likely to camp.

Veteran organiser Claude Michy has managed to convince the masses that they should see the French GP as a festival, not just a race day, and it’s paying off for him with record-breaking crowds. The near-300,000 times the turnstiles spun at Le Mans is a new record for MotoGP in the modern era.

When you see some of the images of mayhem from the campsites ringing the circuit, you might think that many of those who come never plan on seeing a motorbike and are only there for the party. You’d be wrong.

The reality is that while they might be hardcore party animals in France, they’re also passionate MotoGP fans, and the struggling duo of Quartararo and Zarco were left more than a little overawed by the response they received from the crowd all weekend long.

To their credit, though, both Quartararo and Zarco raised their game in response to that wave of emotional support from the local fans.

Quartararo, very much the darling of a considerably younger audience than most racers these days, managed to deliver what was arguably his best Sunday of the season up until his crash, with a fall from sixth place at least hinting that things are slowly but surely getting better for Yamaha as it rebuilds its beleaguered project.

And while things might be harder still at Honda, it’s a testament to Zarco’s grit that he was again the best of that particular contingent. While a Q2 appearance was never really on the cards, he hauled his LCR-run RC213V as close as he could - missing out by four tenths - to preserve his record of being the fastest Honda in every qualifying session so far this year.

His reward for another consummate job on Sunday was 12th place, within sight of Raul Fernandez's Trackhouse Aprilia at the flag.

Quartararo - who ran a special-liveried fairing on Sunday, revealed the night before in front of a capacity crowd in the main straight grandstand on Saturday night - admitted after his crash that while he wanted to finish, he’d rather have fallen off fighting for the sixth place he was in at the time than cruised home to a spot outside the top 10, such was the energy the fans gave him.

“I was completely at the limit from lap one, and it’s a miracle I didn’t crash earlier!” he said “But when you are in front of your home crowd, you want to give everything. I can say that I crashed because I was giving my all.

“It has been a couple of years where we’ve not been performing like we should, but running to the box after the crash and hearing the whole crowd shouting your name and calling on you is really emotional.”

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