The Kawasaki Ninja 400 riders were out in force as always and for some of them it would be a weekend of contrasts. For one in particular Magny Cours would finally pay off with a visit to the top step of the podium.
Friday was devoted to a free practice sessions in what were changeable wet conditions. Saturday meant dry weather, Superpole Qualifying for grid positions and then Race One.
Before the racing had got underway there was a clear favourite - Victor Steeman (MTM Kawasaki) - who had been top in the Friday practice sessions and was the fastest rider in Superpole. Victor set a new track best lap time for the class with his 1’51.859s Superpole lap, around six-tenths of a second faster than the next quickest rider - and one second faster than the previous track best.
Victor eventually scored a well-deserved victory in Race Two, but only after a mishap in Race One.
In the opening 13-lap race, from his ideal starting position on the front row, Steeman took an early lead. The race settled into a very typical multi-rider fight for the podium places once more and more riders joined the fray. Steeman ended up in the midst of the contest for the lead as they closed in.
Two leading Kawasaki contenders for the win had already clashed and crashed on lap five, no scoring in the process. Bruno Ieraci (Prodina Racing) and Kevin Sabatucci (Kawasaki GP Project) tangled and fell, with Sabatucci getting back on - only to fall and no-score later.
A four rider incident on lap nine saw three Kawasaki riders fall from the leading group, when Steeman was over ambitious under braking into Turn Five, losing the front. Dirk Geiger (Füsport - RT Motorsports by SKM Kawasaki), Hugo De Cancellis (Prodina Racing WorldSSP300) and one other rider were also involved, with only Geiger getting going again.
This stroke of misfortune meant that no Kawasaki rider would make the Race One podium, with the highest ranked Ninja 400 rider being
Inigo Iglesias (SWM Racing Kawasaki) in fifth place. Samuel Di Sora (Leader Team Flembbo) was sixth at his home round.
Jose Luis Perez (Accolade Smrz Racing Kawasaki) was eighth, the final Kawasaki rider inside the top ten places. Máté Szamádó (MTM Kawasaki) was 14th in his first ride for the team.
In Race Two Steeman was given a double long lap penalty for his part in the Race One pile-up, but astonishingly he overcame these two interventions to win the race by 0.342 seconds from championship leader Alvaro Diaz.
Steeman had to come back from being 19th after the first of his long lap penalties had been completed and then he was down in 22nd place after his second long lap. He made up a huge number of places and went into the lead at Turn Five with four laps to go. His eventual win was the fourth of his career in this class.
Geiger made up for the disappointment of Race One’s no-score with his first ever WorldSSP300 podium finish for third place in Race Two.
Local rider Hugo De Cancellis (Prodina Racing Kawasaki) was fourth.
Kevin Sabatucci was another making up points on Sunday after losing some on Saturday, taking sixth place ahead of Petr Svoboda and Ieraci. Iglesias rounded out the top ten of Kawasaki riders in Race Two.
Yuta Okaya (MTM Kawasaki) was unable to race after suffering a concussion in a crash on Saturday, having already fallen without injury on Friday.
In the championship standings, after six rounds and 12 individual races, Diaz has 197 points, Marc Garcia 157, Steeman 147, Di Sora 130 and De Cancellis 107.
In the Manufacturers’ Championship standings Kawasaki is 29 points behind the lead - with two rounds and four races left to make up points.
Now that the French round has been completed the penultimate event of the season will take place at the Circuit de Barcelona - Catalunya, between 23-25 September 2023.
Victor Steeman (MTM Kawasaki), stated: “The second race was crazy. I knew I had two long lap penalties so I tried to slow down the pace at the beginning of those laps, to keep the group together. After my first long lap I saw that I was not that far away; so I directly did the second long lap and it worked out. I took it a little easy on the lap before I went away at the front, to save the tyre a little bit. In the last lap I also took it easy a little bit because my front tyre was finished. I am really happy for the team. They did an amazing job because in every session I was first, except Race One on Saturday. I am really happy and I cannot thank everybody enough.”
Dirk Geiger (Füsport - RT Motorsports by SKM Kawasaki), stated: “I want to say thank you to my team, they did an amazing job over this weekend and also over the year. They deserve this and I hope they will get more.”
Yuta Okaya (MTM Kawasaki), stated: “It was a very unfortunate weekend for us. We had the pace and the right feeling from day one, we were confident about being able to fight for the win during the races, but a crash in qualifying made me unfit for the weekend, with a concussion. Now I feel better, I’m OK and already thinking to recover for Barcelona. We will try to fight for the top there. We are not in the championship contention anymore, but I will focus, race by race, and try to get the best until the end of the season.”
Hugo De Cancellis (Prodina Racing Kawasaki), stated: “I'm quite happy with Sunday’s race, especially because I had a good pace and I fought until the end for the victory. I finished fourth, although I would have preferred to go on the podium. But we have recovered many points in the standings and we are fifth in the championship. The bike was perfect and I'm sure we could fight for the top positions in Barcelona as well.”
Bruno Ieraci (Prodina Racing Kawasaki), stated: “I'm not fully satisfied because we could have done better, but at least I managed to finish the final race eighth, conquering the top ten. The bike was very competitive and for this I want to thank the team who worked very well. The race was difficult, very hard-fought, but now I want to focus on Barcelona, where I hope to be able to demonstrate our competitiveness.”
Máté Szamádó (MTM Kawasaki), stated: “It was a great pleasure to be riding with MTM Kawasaki this weekend and I have to say I enjoyed every single moment of it. I came into a track I didn’t know with a very different bike than the one I am riding in the IDM championship, so I needed some time to understand things. I was able to improve step by step. I did a quite good Race One ending it with some points. I must be happy about it, but still I think I could have improved even more in Race 2. Unfortunately a crash finished my race for some points but I just came back to the track to get more experience. It was a crazy weekend, I’m very happy about this opportunity and I have to thank everyone who made it possible - from my family, sponsors and the team. It was incredible to work with the best WorldSSP300 team and I hope to be able to do it again in the future.”