Alex Hofmann: Le Mans Round Up

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Although Casey Stoner (Honda) walked away with Sunday’s French Grand Prix at Le Mans, the good news for Ducati fans is that Valentino Rossi scored his first podium of the season with a fine ride to third behind Andrea Dovizioso’s Honda.

After starting ninth, Val’s race proved he lost none of his touch through the shoulder injury, and when I had the pleasure of interviewing him after the race he was grinning broadly, saying the podium place felt almost as good as a win.

It could have gotten even better for PUMA’s partner team, for Valentino was up to second at one stage, and while the speed of his bike is still lacking in some areas, all the hard work put in by Ducati in testing before this race certainly paid off. The most remarkable thing about Valentino’s race was that he was lapping faster during the grand prix than in qualifying!

As Casey’s three pole positions in four races prove, the Hondas are still faster almost everywhere at the moment, followed by the Yamahas. But there should be more to come from Ducati as all the upgrades filter through, which is very good news, not only for the team and all Valentino’s fans, but also MotoGP.

Of course factors such as the accident between Dani Pedrosa and Marco Simoncelli, and Jorge Lorenzo’s warm-up crash, which meant the reigning champion was forced to race his spare Yamaha, played straight into Valentino’s hands, but that’s racing – and 16 points for third are 16 points no matter how they arrive.

After the race the talk in the paddock was mainly about the crash between Dani and Marco, and while some saw it as a racing accident which should not have been penalised, I believe Marco’s ride-thru penalty was justified. I mean, Dani had passed him when he had the door closed on him, and he just ran out of metres.

Now he has a broken shoulder, and what worries me most about this is that Dani has had so many shoulder injuries that I’m not sure the doctors will have a lot of bone to work with. He has just recovered from one broken shoulder, and now it has happened all over again.

I had Dani down as champion this year, but now he could be out for a while, if not out of racing then likely out of the top running, which means the championship will probably come down to Stoner and Lorenzo. But I don’t think we should overlook some of the other guys: things can change so quickly.

Equally as heartening as Valentino’s third place was Nicky Hayden’s consistent performance on the second Ducati. Nicky has had a tough start to the year, but this was probably his best race to date, although seventh from tenth does not seem that impressive on paper. However, that hides the fact that when he was running in clean air Nicky was posting top five times, and again it proves Ducati is moving forward.

Now we have almost three weeks to the next race in Barcelona on 5 June, but no such long break for me: I will be contesting the Four Hour VLN Race on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife on 28 May in a BMW. Talk to you again after that!