Toni Elias followed up his Spanish GP victory with a repeat performance in today's French Grand Prix at Le Mans, holding off home hero Randy de Puniet
while the battle for the final podium position went right to the flag.
Qualifying saw series leader Manuel Poggiali claim his first pole position of the season courtesy of his Friday time, while Franco Battaini, who starts the race from second on the grid, was the fastest man in the wet.
Fellow front row starters Randy De Puniet and Fonsi Nieto were also impressive in both the wet and dry sessions, with local hero De Puniet second fastest yesterday, whilst Poggiali lapped in the top five.
Into today's dry race and Jerez
victor Elias shot from the second row to lead the field through the first chicane, with de Puniet, Nieto, Porto, Poggiali and Guintoli in close pursuit.
Immediately making his intentions known was de Puniet, who – spurred on by the partisan crowd – offered the front wheel of his LCR Aprilia inside Elias on several occasions over the next few laps, before finally outbraking the Spaniard on lap 4 top lead his home GP.
By contrast, runaway points leader Poggiali's race would come to a brutal end on lap six when he rammed the back of third placed Porto's machine, taking them both out, after the Honda rider appeared to back off slightly between two tight right handers. The San Marinese simply gassed out of the first turn and into the rear wheel of Porto's machine, with each blaming the other for their exit.
That accident split the leading group in two, allowing de Puniet and Elias to break away up front, while 3secs further behind Battaini and Campetella Racing team-mate Guintoli battled for the final podium place.
By the halfway point, de Puniet continued to carry his – and the French fans – hopes of victory, but Elias was shadowing his every move and the hard racing Toni would make Randy earn every inch of a potential first GP victory.
The Repsol rider made that task even harder for de Puniet on lap 15 (of 26) when he physically muscled his way inside at the final sequence of corners. But while one Frenchman was under pressure, another found himself given a welcome break as Battaini ran wide into the gravel trap and so gifted Guintoli third.