Spain’s two-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo won his second successive MotoGP on Sunday when he took the French race for the fifth time in his career at the Bugatti circuit in Le Mans.
The 28-year-old coasted home ahead of Yamaha team-mate and championship leader Valentino Rossi, who recorded his ninth successive podium finish.
This was Lorenzo’s first podium at Le Mans since 2012.
Rossi’s Italian compatriot Andrea Dovizioso took a fine third on a Ducati for his fourth podium finish in the five races thus far this season.
Australian rookie Jack Miller, who won the Moto3 race here last year, crashed out on the 12th lap. Rossi, bidding for a 10th world title, is on 102 points and leads Lorenzo by 15 points with Dovizioso third on 83.
Two-time defending champion Marc Marquez fell further behind Rossi in the title race as he finished fourth only just getting the better of Italy’s Andrea Iannone, who was riding with a dislocated shoulder.
Marquez trails Rossi by 33 points.
Jorge Lorenzo is congratulated by an unidentified man after winning the France Motorcycle Grand Prix race at the Bugatti race track in Le Mans
“I had a very good start and then had a hard duel with Andrea,” said Lorenzo, winning the 56th Grand Prix of his career. “When I saw Valentino was in second place I knew he was very quick so I had to burn him off which I managed.
“This win is very important for the championship,” added Lorenzo, whose last title triumph came in 2012. Rossi, who had started a lowly seventh on the grid, was delighted that taking a gamble on tinkering with the bike had paid off.
“I am feeling good, as the gamble paid off,” said the 36-year-old.
“I still had a lot to do coming from that spot on the grid but we had great speed thanks to the changes we made to the bike.
“However, Jorge was too quick for me. Still it is a very great result for the championship. It was a solid ride,” added the exuberant rider, fondly known as ‘Il Dottore’ (the doctor).
Marquez’ team-mate Dani Pedrosa had made the worst possible return to action after recovering from surgery on an injured forearm when he came to grief on the second lap although he rejoined the action.
Pedrosa was not the only rider to come off their bikes as Scott Redding and Stefan Bradl saw their races end early on, along with Redding’s fellow Briton Cal Crutchlow and Miller.
Marquez looked to have jumped two places going out into the country with six laps remaining but Iannone showing admirable fortitude fought back to reclaim fourth spot but Smith, having looked the favourite to go fourth, dropped to sixth with Marquez sandwiched between them.
In the end it was to be the only positive note in the race for Marquez as he eventually got the better of Iannone and held on narrowly for what might prove to be invaluable points in the title race come season’s end.