'Strange old track': Jack Miller sets fastest time in both practice sessions at Le Mans

Le Mans (France) (AFP) - Jack Miller was fastest in both sessions at Le Mans on Friday, as practice opened for the French MotoGP, but remained wary of the “strange old track” where he was victorious in 2021.

The Australian, in his first season with KTM, followed his third place in the last race in Jerez by starting fast.

He set the quickest time in the morning with a lap of 1min 31.449sec and improved to 1:30.95 late in the afternoon. It was the only time under 1:31 all day.

“Perfect Friday is always good but hopefully we can translate that into a good Saturday and an even better Sunday,” said Miller who won the French race on a Ducati two years ago.

“Strange old track Le Mans,” he said. “You can’t push to your absolute limit. I think last year 47 crashes in all classes.”

Miller was 0.119sec faster than Spaniard Aleix Espargaro on an Aprilia with Italian Marco Bezzecchi third at one-fifth of a second on his Mooney Ducati, despite a crash.

Reigning champion Francesco Bagnaia was ninth, 0.558sec off the pace but good enough to put him in the top ten, which gives a direct pass into the second qualifying session on Saturday.

He spent part of the second session on Friday dodging Marc Marquez, seeking a tow in an attempt to set a top-10 time.

Despite a second crash of the day, six-time MotoGP world champion Marquez, still gained the time he wanted late in the session when he tailed Jorge Martin who was shadowing Bagnaia.

The Spaniard is returning after missing three races. He broke his hand in a crash after starting from pole in the season-opener in Portugal. A fifth surgery in three years followed.

- ‘I was on the attack’ -

On Friday, Marquez slid off on turn nine in the second session. After slithering into the gravel shedding bike parts, Marquez leapt up and slapped his hands together in frustration as he ran towards his Honda. He still recorded a lap that put him eighth, 0.482 seconds behind Miller.

“I am very happy with my day, even if it is true that I had two crashes. I could have avoided the first one, but I was on the attack to secure my place in Q2 in the second one,” said the Catalan.

Bagnaia, who rides a factory Honda, won the last race in Spain and holds a 22-point lead in this year’s standings over fellow Italian Bezzecchi.

Bagnaia has a miserable record in France with his best result fourth in four appearances at the circuit. Last year, he crashed after starting from pole position.

French contender Fabio Quartararo could only manage the 12th best time on his Yamaha.

The weekend marks motorcycling’s 1,000 grand prix landmark, 74 years after the first feast of speed was staged.

Modern racing machines, backed by the big budgets of A-list manufacturers, are a far cry from the 500cc bike which carried Britain’s Harold Daniell to victory in the first grand prix staged on the streets of the Isle of Man in 1949.

The bespectacled Daniell, who had been barred from fighting in the Second World War due to poor eyesight, claimed victory on a storied Norton machine.