Danilo Petrucci has taken a spectacular French MotoGP victory at a wet Le Mans after holding his nerve in a remarkable race that would also see Alex Marquez claim a shock podium too.

A pre-race downpour completely changed the dynamic of the event - which had been dominated by series leader Fabio Quartararo up to this point - and the ensuing encounter would duly throw up a series of unexpected incidents.

Even so, Petrucci largely won it from the front after taking the lead on lap one, rebuffing a flurry of activity around him with ten laps to go to make the break, before holding off a stunning charge from Marquez, who stamped his mark on MotoGP with an exceptional podium run.

With the race being delayed by a sudden and unexpected downpour just three minutes before lights out, it remained flag-to-flag but not enough to make anything other than wet tyres a necessity throughout.

However, as the first wet race since Valencia 2018, there were several riders on the grid - most notably pole man Fabio Quartararo and his closest challenger Joan Mir - who had never started a MotoGP race in these conditions.

With green lights coming less than 10mins after they were initially wheeled off the grid, a tentative start would see the hole-shot equipped Ducatis immediately surge to the front, initially with Miller in front before Petrucci and Dovizioso struck through on the Aussie.

Further back though, Valentino Rossi’s race ended at Turn 3 when he lost the rear of the Yamaha and slid off, taking the hapless Mir and Maverick Vinales out wide in avoidance.

Rossi as the most experienced rider on the grid notwithstanding, it quickly became apparent which riders had previous form in these circumstances as Quartararo - despite gamely holding on in the top five initially - was steadily picked off by others coming through behind him. Similarly, Mir - after his cross-up with Rossi - went backwards, joined by Pecco Bagnaia and Brad Binder.

Up front the top three began to stretch away, the Ducati triumvirate circulating in unison to make an initial escape before those further down with more feel in the wet worked their way into contention.

Leading this charge was Alex Rins, the Spaniard making quick progress into fourth from 16th on the grid, while KTM’s Pol Espargaro was also on the ascendancy. More surprising at this stage though was the rise of rookie Marquez on the Repsol Honda, as well as Tech 3’s Miguel Oliveira, another rider yet to race in the wet.

A series of consecutive fastest laps eventually brought Rins onto the tail of Miller to swell the lead group to four, but he’d find it harder to make an impression on the Australian as they swapped positions repeatedly.

Having kept a watching brief behind Petrucci for the first half of the race, Dovizioso made his move on lap 18, but perhaps didn’t quite expect his team-mate - whose lap times had dwindled in the previous revolutions - to fight straight back.

What followed was a bizarre moment at Turn 8 when the Ducati pair made light contact as Petrucci moved back past, only to then find Rins up the inside of both too after the Suzuki rider seemed to get his braking all wrong at an awkward trajectory on the kerb.

Despite this and perhaps remarkably, Rins got it stopped just in time - albeit delaying himself - but would force Dovizioso and Miller wide too. As a result, Petrucci suddenly found himself with breathing room, while the remaining three riders now had company from Espargaro, Marquez and Oliveira.

With Miller now in second place, his race lasted only a lap longer when his Pramac Ducati cried enough with technical issues, which was then followed almost instantly by Rins losing the Suzuki at Turn 3 and crashing out.

With two of the lead contenders out, Petrucci emerged with a two seconds advantage over Dovizioso, but the triple MotoGP runner-up was now clearly struggling with tyre wear, allowing Marquez first to pounce and move into second place.

The Spaniard - whose best finishing coming into this race was only a seventh - set off in chase of Petrucci. Though he made in-roads, enough to suggest he could have won had the race lasted a couple of laps longer, he couldn’t deny Petrucci a spectacular victory.

It marks an incredible turn of fortunes for Petrucci, whose form has slumped since he claimed a famous maiden MotoGP win at Mugello in 2019. However, on a weekend where he’s been markedly quicker than at any other time in 2020, this was a victory he’d been able to set up from Friday.

It makes him the sixth different race winner in nine races this season and allows him to depart Ducati on a high ahead of his Tech 3 KTM move for 2021.

A tremendous performance by Petrucci, it was nonetheless arguably bettered by Marquez, who put his other ‘wet race rookie’ counterparts to some shame with some deft wet weather handling on the Repsol bike that lifted him all the way from 18th to second, in turn bringing Honda its first podium of the season.

Behind him, Espargaro got the better of Dovizioso to put KTM back on the podium - now its fifth of the year - after cautiously working his way into contention.

Despite being swallowed up in the final laps, Dovizioso held on gamely for fourth place - a potentially crucial result in the context of his title hopes -even  rebuffing Oliveira enough so as to allow Johann Zarco to snatch fifth on the final lap having been easily the fastest rider in the closing stages.

Takaaki Nakagami maintained his perfect top ten record in a steady seventh, while Stefan Bradl drew upon his experience to score his own top ten finish on the Repsol Honda in eighth for what could be his final race deputising for Marc Marquez.

As for the championship battle, it was a sobering afternoon for Quartararo, who will no doubt be gutted to see his victory hopes dashed by the weather having looked so strong in the dry. To his credit, though he slipped back initially, he didn’t bow under the pressure of being overtaken and having slipped to as low as 11th, benefited from retirements ahead to bounce back to ninth.

Indeed, on the final lap Quartararo even dropped behind Vinales and Mir - who looked all at sea early on as they adapted to the conditions before coming on strong in the latter stages - but the Frenchman responded to get back ahead, with the trio finishing ninth, tenth and 11th in that order.

It means Quartararo has actually extended his championship lead to 10 points over Mir, though Dovizioso has closed in again at 18 points behind. Elsewhere, Vinales is 19 points adrift, with fifth place man Nakagami - who is demonstrating the value of consistency - 36 points away.

Binder and Bagnaia kept it clean to bring it home for 12th and 13th on an educational afternoon, while Aleix Espargaro and Iker Lecuona secured digits as the last remaining competitive finishers. Rins was 16th after remounting and then stopping to remove a marshal strap that became entangled on the rear of his Suzuki.

As well as Rossi and Miller, Cal Crutchlow - who was circulating with Marquez and Oliveira - scuppered his hopes of a good result with a crash at Turn 4, while Franco Morbidelli fell at the same point.

Bradley Smith was one of the riders to make swift progress early on only to fall on lap nine while running tenth.

 

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