Miller vs Quartararo: How MotoGP’s nearly-men came of age in tricky Le Mans test

Why the multiple curve balls of the French MotoGP proved Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo, Johann Zarco and Pecco Bagnaia have officially come of age

Jack Miller, Fabio Quartararo

They say nothing levels the playing field more than in a wet race, so what do you call one that started dry became so soaked to necessitate a change of bike before then drying out under blazing sunshine as if nothing had happened?

Indeed, in terms of flashpoints, the French MotoGP had everything, including negotiating a wet track on slicks, nailing the rarely needed pit-stop bike change before attempting to keep things sunny side up on a dry circuit with treaded tyres blowing chunks of rubber with every turn.

In fact, the conditions were so varied that no-one could be blamed for any errors that may have occurred and indeed we saw some quality candidates slip up; Marc Marquez - the wet weather flag-to-flag master - crashed twice, while the likes of Joan Mir, Alex Rins, Franco Morbidelli and Miguel Oliveira also hit the deck.

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In the end we were left with a fitting top four of Jack Miller, Johann Zarco, Fabio Quartararo and Pecco Bagnaia, a quartet you might have cautiously tipped for a title fight prior to Le Mans but have now shown exactly why they deserve such a status.

With rain threatening before the start of the race, Miller - riding a confidence wave following his Jerez win - was arguably the favourite, his ability to adapt to both the conditions and the strengths of his Ducati exceeding that of his relatively untested rivals. He went about it the long way - literally - after completely missing his pit-lane speed limit marker (by about 10km/h) to earn a two long lap penalties, but dry or wet Miller looked in control in France. 

It is further evidence that Miller is the title contender his Ducati factory status automatically installed him as, but remained something of a question mark at the start of the year owing to his lack of silverware. In MotoGP terms Miller is experienced, though it is worth noting he is still one of the younger riders on the grid and while his progress has been more modest than he would have liked in that time, the opportunity of leading Ducati’s charge has clearly not been lost on him.

Fabio Quartararo - Yamaha Le Mans MotoGP French

Fabio Quartartaro stops history repeating on home soil

If anything though it was Quartararo that perhaps deserved even greater plaudits for a performance that was described as ‘insane’ by one Suzuki’s Mir.

The Frenchman hasn’t been blessed with greater fortune recently after seeing an almost certain win in Jerez seize up with his muscle-pump addled arm, but he was still impressive to take pole less than two weeks after surgery on said arm. Imagine what was going through his mind when dark clouds gathered above him in a mirror of 2020 when Quartararo was thrown into the deep end of his first ever wet race right in the midst of his title battle. 

Back then Quartararo had to play it very safe but it exposed the work he certainly needs to do in order to become world champion. As such, this was a big test for Quartararo in what was still only his second race and his first flag-to-flag.

While he fluffed the flag-to- flag element by riding into the wrong garage (earning a penalty) and didn’t have the confidence to prevent Miller and Johann Zarco from overtake him, his run to third was representative of the big step forward the already rapid Frenchman has made in becoming a complete rider. 

Moreover, anyone who got a glimpse of his very distressed, pockmarked and chewing-gum textured tyres at the end of the race will tell you everything you need to know about Quartararo’s resilience under pressure, something that let him down on more than one occasion in 2020.

Johann Zarco - Pramac Racing Ducati

Zarco and Bagnaia prove dark horse status

While the attention has been on Miller recently, it is worth pointing out that he is still only the third-best placed Ducati rider in the standings behind Bagnaia and Zarco.

All the ingredients were there for Bagnaia to endure a shocker on Sunday after a torrid qualifying result of 16th on what was a damp circuit at the time suggested the Italian - who like Quartararo has only ever competed once in the wet on a MotoGP bike - has also come a long way in a few short months.

Like Miller, Bagnaia was handed a double penalty for speeding in the pit lane but at times he was the fastest man on circuit and made fistfuls of overtakes en route to fourth, ensuring he remains just a single point shy of Quartararo at the top of the table. He hasn’t won a race yet, but then that didn’t stop Mir in 2020…

Zarco, meanwhile, appears to have returned to the form that at one stage during his Tech 3 days had him pinned as France’s next superstar. Indeed, his fall from grace with KTM and his unashamed attitude means it is easy to forget Zarco - twice a Moto2 champion - should by all accounts bear the credentials to be a world champion. 

His run to second in the French MotoGP was ‘very Zarco’ in that he felt his way into the race before finding his rhythm and pushing on. It was smart and well-judged, so it is surely only a matter of time now before he secures that elusive long-awaited maiden win, not just for himself, but Pramac Racing too.