John McPhee has doubled down on his French Grand Prix to take his first win since Brno in 2016, managing the race at Le Mans to perfection to leave him clear of Lorenzo Dalla Porta and Aron Canet at the chequered flag. Controlling the race from the start despite dropping back to seventh and working his way forward again, he also handed the Petronas Sprinta Honda team their first ever Grand Prix win in the process.
Speaking afterwards, McPhee said: "I can't explain my feelings right now. I'm very excited. It has been a long time since I won and throughout the season we have suffered a lot. Transforming speed into results has been difficult, and finally we managed to achieve it yesterday by taking pole position. I have to thank the team because they have given me a lot of support. We have experienced hard weekends and we have been able to change the situation. My last victory was at Brno in the wet, so it's amazing to also have a win in the dry. It's my first victory of the season, but there is still a lot of time in which to take the season where we want it.
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"Looking back at the first four races, I have kept calm and have continued to believe in myself. The speed has always been there and in each session we've shown a good pace thanks to the work by the team. It's good that we've taken this good result that takes us into the top ten of the World Championship, but there is still a long way to go. Things are very even in this series and each rider pushes 100%. There have been ten different winners in the last ten races and that shows that Moto3 is a tough class. There are circuits at which I am normally not fast but at which I have done well, like for example Le Mans. It's a good result for me ahead of the coming races."
Behind McPhee and the podium fight there was chaos, however, with Dennis Foggia, Tatsuki Suzuki, Tony Arbolino, Niccolo Antonelli, Romano Fenati, Marcos Ramirez and Darryan Binder among the championship-favourite fallers in the scrap.
McPhee takes his first pole of the season
John McPhee has delivered a textbook performance in qualifying for the French Grand Prix, progressing from Q1 to Q2 and learning conditions en route to be unstoppable when the flag came down. Joined on the front row from Tony Arbolino and Friday's fastest man Ai Ogura.
McPhee looked to initially be in danger in Q1, leaving it late to put in his first fast lap - but then backing that up with a series of quick times even as he picked his way through traffic, eventually ending the session 0.2 ahead of Arbolino.
Speaking afterwards, he said: "I can't explain what it means to have taken pole position here! I'm very happy for both myself and for the team, because we had not been getting the results we wanted. We worked very hard and in the end we have achieved what we had been looking for. We had difficult conditions yesterday and didn't have a good day; I made a couple of mistakes that forced us to go through Q1.
"In the first qualifying session I found more speed, I felt good, the bike worked better to secure a place in Q2, where I could clock a fast time and get the pole position. I feel strong in any conditions, whether dry or wet so I think there will be a great battle tomorrow; we don't know what the weather will be like, but I feel good."
Tatsuki Suzuki heads the second row from Gabriel Rodrigo and Marcos Ramirez, while Niccolo Antonelli, Raul Fernandez, Kaito Toba and Sergio Garcia round out the top ten. McPhee's fellow British rider Tom Booth-Amos will start from 29th.
Ogura a surprise on first day in France
Ai Ogura was a surprise fastest man on the opening day of Moto3 action at the French Grand Prix, topping the time sheets on the Honda Team Asia bike from Niccolo Antonelli and fellow Japanese rider Tatsuki Suzuki.
It was a disappointing day for John McPhee, though, ending up 20th after struggling with a couple of crashes – but confident that he can bounce back tomorrow.
"The positive side from today is that we tried different things out and we have learned from them. We are working hard on the front end and I think we can take a good step forward tomorrow. That said, it's been a difficult day. In FP1 I crashed and in FP2 I made a mistake, went straight on and fell when I reached the gravel.
“It was a shame, because it was the only moment of the session in which we had new tyres on the bike. Obviously, they were dirty from then on, and I only had two laps to set a good lap time. We will have to improve in a few areas tomorrow, but we have to take the weather into account as if it rains it will be difficult to improve our times."