LE MANS: Ducati’s Jack Miller held his nerve in a crash-filled MotoGP race in wet and windy conditions to win the French Grand Prix on Sunday, with the Australian finishing ahead of local hopes Johann Zarco and Fabio Quartararo.
It was Miller’s second consecutive victory following his success in the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this month, making him the first Australian to seal back-to-back premier class wins since Casey Stoner in 2012.
Quartararo reclaimed the championship lead and sits on 80 points, a point ahead of Ducati’s Italian Francesco Bagnaia, who came fourth in Sunday’s race. Zarco is now third overall with 68 ahead of Miller on 64.
In chaotic scenes at the Bugatti Circuit following a spell of heavy rain, a number of riders including defending champion Joan Mir, six-time champion Marc Marquez, Miguel Oliveira and Alex Rins failed to finish the race.
Miller, who started third on the grid behind Quartararo’s Yamaha team-mate Maverick Vinales, won despite a double long-lap penalty for speeding in the pit lane after early rain forced riders to swap their bikes in what would be the first flag-to-flag Grand Prix since Brno in 2017.
“It was very hectic,” Miller said in a post-race interview. “It was perfectly still pretty much just before... but when the rain and the wind came as I came down pit road the barrier blew into pit lane and I said: ‘They’re going to red-flag this.’
“But then it dropped off relatively quick... the first couple of laps were real dodgy on the wet tyres. But I had to get going and then I had the penalties... I generally do get speeding tickets here in France.
“But I was able to bosh them out pretty quickly and get to work on Fabio. I got in front of him and I felt comfortable. I was just riding to the conditions... Absolutely amazing. I can’t believe it. Back-to-back wins like this, it’s just fantastic.”
The race started in warm but windy conditions on the 4.2-kilometre Le Mans circuit in northwestern France, which has a longest straight of 674 metres.
Miller made a great start to overtake Quartararo and Vinales also overtook his team-mate, who dropped to third, while Franco Morbidelli crashed out on Lap 1 and the rain soon started to fall heavily.
Quartararo surged into the lead on Lap 4 as Miller briefly went off into some gravel, while Mir came off his Suzuki amid increasingly slippery conditions.
All the riders got a bike change on Lap 5 as a result. Quartararo came out behind Marquez, while Miller got back into third as riders adapted to new tyres.
A rare error from Marquez saw him ejected from his Honda after misjudging a turn, giving Quartararo the lead with 19 of 27 laps left.
But the Frenchman got a time penalty with 16 laps remaining, allowing Miller to pull clear while Zarco’s extra speed and nous in the rain shifted him into second.
In his third race back after a year out with injury, Marquez picked his way through the field before dropping out before the finish.
Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2021