Editor’s note: This story was originally published Sept. 14.
The rally races started late with rainy and muddy conditions, but the sun started shining this afternoon, helping the traditional horses and riders reflect on the countdown to this weekend’s Le Mans 24-hour race.
Bernardo Bontes graciously greets everyone he meets around Le Mans—horse, rider, journalist. It’s hard to believe that last year’s winner did not last longer than the first few laps, falling from the car in the mountains and almost missing the start line this year.
That of course didn’t stop Bontes from staying positive and still writing his memoir “The Colours of Le Mans”—about his amazing time at this race, in particular his fun victory in 2010, and the birth of his baby.
In an ironic twist, Bontes recalls his owner saying it is this race where riders start to pick up skills that will later serve them well in MotoGP, a lot of which is helped by the training provided by veteran Andoni Ortolani.
Bontes and Ortolani’s time on track has been brief, coming for two races last year, the first of which was a retirement (of Ortolani’s bike) when he felt he could not perform. But their time together was only a fraction of Bontes’s racing career, which ended one race short of winning the iconic race in 2010. And without Ortolani’s skills, his second of two LMS12 sonics is not likely to have a chance of a comeback at the front of the grid.
However, Bontes has found his feet again in the factory Ducati team, riding a bike that gets better every year. So don’t count him out yet. If the rain holds off in the early race on Saturday morning, Bontes and Ortolani could find themselves on the podium this year.
While they should meet again on Lap 50 on Saturday, for Saturday night’s race, it seems a lot more likely that the riders will be able to spend more time getting their gears right.
The best drivers to watch at Le Mans are current World Champion Marc Marquez and current Factory Circuit leader Andrea Dovizioso. They are two of the most popular riders in the paddock, which is excellent for racing because it makes it a little harder to pass. They share the top spot of the Le Mans 24-hour standings, Marquez with 579 points and Dovizioso with 552. The rest of the top ten is led by Dani Pedrosa, Johann Zarco, Bradley Smith, Maverick Vinales, Johann Zarco and Andrea Iannone.
View the entire photo gallery from Le Mans to see the best bikers take on the notoriously difficult racing track.