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Vinales heads up Yamaha MotoGP front-row sweep at Le Mans

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Maverick Viñales’ impressive start to life with Yamaha in MotoGP continued on Saturday as he swept to pole position for the French Grand Prix at Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe.

Viñales stepped up to a factory seat with Yamaha for 2017 after three-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo’s move to Ducati, and made a splash by winning his first two races for the team.

Viñales arrived at Le Mans trailing teammate Valentino Rossi by two points at the top of the riders’ championship, and took a step towards overhauling the Italian racing icon by taking pole position on Saturday.

The Spanish rider outqualified Rossi by just one-tenth of a second in the final stage of Q2, with Johann Zarco taking P3 for Tech3, Yamaha’s satellite team, giving the Italian manufacturer a front-row lock-out.

Cal Crutchlow led Honda’s charge in fourth place, beating factory rider Marc Marquez in P5. Andrea Dovizioso took sixth for Ducati, having made it through Q1 at the expense of a number of big names.

Marquez’s teammate, Dani Pedrosa, fell by the wayside in Q1, leaving him 13th on the grid. Lorenzo’s early struggles with Ducati continued as he too dropped out, finishing a lowly 16th.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.