South African hotshot Darryn Binder again showed impressive pace; he was unlucky to crash out of third on the very last lap of an incident-filled Moto3 race.
Local hero Johann Zarco (Yamaha Tech 3) grabbed the lead from pole-sitter Vinales off the line, with Rossi slotting into third, and held off the might of the two factory Yamahas for six laps of his home circuit before Vinales got by and opened a small but vital gap, leaving Zarco to duel with ‘The Doctor’.
Finally, with less than seven laps to go, Rossi pulled the pin, overtook the Frenchman and went on the charge, reeled in his team-mate and took the lead with less than three laps to go – setting up an epic last-lap duel with his young team-mate.
Rossi led going into the final lap, only for an uncharacteristic mistake to let Vinales back through, and the number 46 had to push hard to close back in. He was right up to Vinales when he suddenly slid out, and it was all over for the veteran of more than 300 Grands Prix.
Zarco held his nerve under huge pressures to come home second, Dani Pedrosa completing the podium on the second factory Honda after an awesome slice through the field. He started 13th, was seventh after the first few laps and then pushed his way past Ducati Team rider Andrea Dovizioso and Honda privateer Cal Crutchlow to set off after the frontrunners, closing in on Marc Marquez before watching his team-mate slide out.
‘DesmoDovi’ fought off Crutchlow to take fourth, while Jorge Lorenzo on the second Ducati Team Desmosedici took a top six finish to gain an impressive 10 places from his difficult grid position, with Zarco’s Tech 3 team-mate Jonas Folger seventh.
Jack Miller (Honda) again hit his 2017 target of a top 10 finish in every race, finishing eighth despite a huge crash on Saturday, ahead of a fantastic home showing for Ducati privateer Loris Baz, and Andrea Iannone on the works Suzuki.
Vinales’ triumph and Rossi’s disaster catapulted the Spaniard back to the top of the standings, with 85 points to Pedrosa’s 68, while ‘The Doctor’ dropped back to third on 62, only four points ahead of last year’s arch-rival, Marc Marquez.
Franco Morbidelli (Kalex) took another incredible win – his fourth in five starts, after crashing last time out at Jerez – to extend his points lead, after first dicing with Thomas Luthi (Kalex) and then holding firm under incredible pressure from rookie superstar Francesco Bagnaia (Kalex).
Morbidelli’s victory in France maintained his team’s 100 percent win rate in 2017, despite another awesome ride from rookie Bagnaia – only 1.7s behind at the line – with Swiss veteran and multiple Le Mans winner Luthi third.
Luthi got the best launch off the line, with Morbidelli moving up past Bagnaia as the two fought it out through the first corners, and it looked like the Swiss rider could escape. An early crasher was Luca Marini (Kalex), while Alex Marquez (Kalex) slotted into the chase behind the top three.
Morbidelli didn’t leave it long to pounce for the lead, as a stunning duel unfolded between the championship leader and his Swiss challenger before Luthi ran wide as Morbidelli moved up the inside – and Luthi was pushed back to fourth. That left Bagnaia and Marquez chasing the Morbidelli while Luthi recovered and Mattia Pasini (Kalex) lurked in fifth.
Bagnaia held firm, close behind Morbidelli in the lead, as a small gap appeared in the battle between Luthi and Marquez; with a handful of laps to go Luthi made it stick, leaving Marquez to bring it home fourth after an impressive display despite a small fracture in his foot sustained on Saturday.
Lorenzo Baldassarri (Kalex) was a high profile crasher out of the top 10, with Dominique Aegerter then left in a gap behind Pasini to fly the flag as fastest Suter once again in sixth.
Takaaki Nakagami (Kalex) took a solid seventh after passing Simone Corsi (Speed Up) in the closing stages, with Xavi Vierge (Tech 3) ninth ahead of more good form from Yonny Hernandez (Kalex) to complete the top 10.
Championship leader Joan Mir extended his points lead once again in a race marred by drama, red-flagged and then restarted. Aron Canet and Fabio Di Giannantonio completed the all-Honda podium more than four seconds adrift of Mir, after pulling clear of a classic Moto3 freight train.
Polesitter Jorge Martin (Honda) pulled a superb launch in the original start before something spilled on the track brought down almost half the field, creating a huge pile-up in the gravel trap. The red flag came out and operation clean up began – with all the riders cleared for the restart – and they went back out for a shortened 16 lap race.
Off the line for the second time, Martin again got an incredible start to take off at the front, before Romano Fenati (Honda) struck back to take over. The biggest loser off the line was Nicolo Bulega (KTM), who dropped back from second on the grid to outside the top 20 by the end of Lap 1.
Bulega had been one of those caught worst in the initial incident, as well as Niccolo Antonelli (KTM), who then slid off – before a huge highside took Martin out of the hunt.
Fenati was out front trying to pull away from championship rival Mir in second, only to slide off at Turn 7, leaving Mir out front and clear by more than two seconds, an advantage that would only grow as the laps ticked on.
Behind him the Platinum Bay KTM duo of Marcos Ramirez and Darryn Binder followed up their impressive rides at Jerez, battling for second with Canet, Di Giannantonio, Juanfran Guevara (KTM), Enea Bastianini (Honda), Jules Danilo (Honda), wildcard Danny Kent (KTM ), Andrea Migno (KTM) and Jakub Kornfeil (Peugeot) while Bo Bendsneyder (KTM) and John McPhee (Honda) reeled in the group from behind.
At the end Canet moved to the front of the group to cross the line cleanly ahead of Di Giannantonio, with Ramirez taking another fourth to equal his career best from Jerez.
Guevara took a career best in fifth, ahead of a solid finish for Bastianini and an incredible showing at home for Frenchman Jules Danilo in seventh. Migno was eighth and Bo Bendsneyder beat wildcard new team-mate Danny Kent to ninth, with the 2015 Moto3 world champion completing the top 10.