Jack writes about his third top-four finish in just five races this season at Le Mans, where he took the lead before learning some valuable lessons …
So how am I supposed to feel about that, another fourth place at the French Grand Prix after finishing fourth last year too? Happy that I led the race and challenged Marc Marquez for a while, or pissed that I finished fourth and missed the podium? Let’s say I’m in the middle of happy and annoyed. Good to be up there, but a shame to not get a trophy for the team to take home.
I was 2.9 seconds from Marc at the end on Sunday, and last year it was 6.3 seconds (he won last year, too). So that’s progress you can measure with a stopwatch, but for me, this race was more progress because I learned a lot running with those front guys, and actually being one of those front guys. What I learned mainly was about managing the tyres on a cold track – it was only 18 degrees track temperature here today – and how to do that on a track with a lot of stop-go corners where you have to accelerate out after a hard braking zone, and not spin the tyre off its head.
The tyres started to become a factor after the first 8-10 laps, but it wasn’t so much in the fight I had with Marc, where I took the lead on lap five for a couple of laps, and then we had a fight for a few corners on lap seven before he took off. It was more catching Marc where I hurt the rest of my race, the laps I did narrowing the gap to him. I knew I had to try to slow down the pace after I’d passed him as I could tell I’d get some warning signs before too long, but he got back past me and I realised then that beating him, unless he made a mistake, wasn’t going to happen. He kept opening up the gap in the final sector of the lap so I concentrated on keeping calm, trying not to make any mistakes, and I think I was able to do that.
I had ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) right behind me itching to get past, so I let him go by about 10 laps from the end so I could sit behind him to see what he had. Danilo (Petrucci) was pretty keen to get past to have a go at ‘Dovi’, so I thought I’d let them have their fight and see if I could benefit from that. That didn’t happen, and while I had Vale (Valentino Rossi) closing on me at the end, I felt I had that one under control even if I was on the limit with grip and how hard I could realistically push.
The surprising part about the race was that it didn’t rain; we’d prepared for it to rain and got told it would probably hit around 2pm, the start of the race, and it got really overcast around the back of the circuit as we did the warm-up. But it never happened, and by the time we had the race, did the media and debriefed with the team it was still dry. Maybe didn’t help me, because I tend to move forwards in the wet, so maybe that was a chance that went begging for us.
Us riders always focus on what we could have done better when we get off the bike, straight away at least, so I should probably be more excited for a fourth place. But maybe that’s a good thing too, in that I know we have the bike and I know I can do it now, that’s all three races I’ve finished this year in fourth or better. Last year here, fourth was a bit of a lonely race and felt like a bit of a bonus; this time it feels completely normal to be up there fighting for those big points. I expect that of myself. Maybe it’s not completely normal leading a MotoGP race – not yet anyway, but we’re working on that …
We’ll get more of an idea with how far I’ve come with the next race in Italy, because I’ve had a shocker at Mugello all the times I’ve been there with MotoGP – only one point so far in four years. The speed was there last year but I managed to come off pretty early in the race, so this time we have to fix that – and I’m pretty confident based on what we’ve done so far that this is the year I can do that. Sixth in the championship going in, some good results banked already … about time, I reckon.
This story originally appeared on redbull.com
Photos courtesy of Pramac Racing