Maverick Viñales moved back into the lead of the MotoGP riders’ championship by winning Sunday’s French Grand Prix in Le Mans as Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi crashed on the final lap.
Viñales took pole on Saturday ahead of Rossi and MotoGP rookie Johann Zarco, who appeared to be in contention for a famous home victory when he charged into the lead on the first lap.
Zarco was powerless to keep Viñales back when the Spaniard made a pass for the lead seven laps on, but the Tech3 rider did well to defend from Rossi and hold on to second place.
Rossi eventually overhauled Zarco with six laps to go before setting off in pursuit of Viñales, who he quickly caught and passed with three to go.
Rossi opened the door for Viñales late on to allow the Spaniard back past, but then saw his push to take back the lead on the final lap end in dramatic fashion when he slid off the track and out of the race.
Viñales crossed the line with a three-second buffer over Zarco in second, allowing him to pull out a 17-point lead in the riders’ championship in the process.
Viñales closest title rival is now Dani Pedrosa, who battled from 13th on the grid to take the final podium position in third place.
Pedrosa led Honda’s charge at the Circuit de la Sarthe after three-time world champion Marc Marquez crashed out, leaving him empty handed.
Andrea Dovizioso finished fourth for Ducati ahead Cal Crutchlow and teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who like Pedrosa had to fight back from a Q1 exit.
Jonas Folger was seventh on the second Tech3 entry ahead of Jack Miller and Loris Baz, while Andrea Iannone rounded out the top 10.
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.