#PortugueseGP Portimao, weekend preview: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3

 In MotoGP, News

MotoGP

2020 will forever be a season to be remembered: records equalled and broken, a new premier class Champion, history made for manufacturers old and new… and nine different winners already. The time has come for the curtain to come down but not without one final spectacular as the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve welcomes the MotoGP™ paddock for the final round rollercoaster, and there remains plenty on the line.

First mention must, of course, go to Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). The Majorcan arrives as the reigning MotoGP™ World Champion after converting his lead into the crown last time out, and he will now take on a venue that should suit Suzuki very much from the best position possible: little to lose, and in the best way. The number 36 admitted the calm exterior of late hadn’t been the whole story, so Mir unleashed could well prove the benchmark.

The fact the venue – with its incredible undulations and whole-new layout – may well suit the Hamamatsu factory is also crucial for Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and the manufacturer as a whole. Suzuki could complete the Triple Crown, as the riders’ title is theirs and so is the teams’ – all that remains is the constructors’ Championship, and it’s on a knife edge with Ducati as the two are equal on points. And when it comes to Rins, the Spaniard may have lost out on the crown but he’s well in the fight to end the year as runner up, and that’s despite having much of his earlier season affected by injury. He’s only four points off second place overall…

The man Rins trails, however, is on a roll. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) is currently the man in second and he arrives fresh from the top step. We’d seen the Italian win by domination twice this year already, but the third time was a charm for everyone watching as it all came down to a spectacular last lap scrap against Jack Miller (Pramac Racing). Morbidelli won to move up to second overall, and Petronas Yamaha SRT were also named best Independent Team. If Morbidelli can keep his form rolling, he has a chance not only to be runner up in the title fight, but also to take the top Independent Team rider honours too. His teammate, Fabio Quartararo, is the only man who can deny him – but the Frenchman is now 17 points off after a huge shuffle at Valencia, although he’s also gunning to leave the team on a high.

That huge shuffle has left it as an every man for himself to complete the top top four or five in the standings, assuming there’s no huge drama for the likes of Morbidelli and Rins. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is now fourth and two points ahead of Quartararo, and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) now sixth but equal on points with ‘El Diablo’. That could all change in a single corner at Portimão…

Dovizioso is also a key player in the constructors’ standings as Ducati face down Suzuki and Yamaha, but it’s an even bigger personal occasion for the Italian too: his last MotoGP™ race before a planned sabbatical. Whether it will be tinged with joy, sadness or relief in some ways remains a personal question for the man himself, but for millions of fans around the world the impeccable Italian will surely be very missed on the 2021 grid, and one last race in red is something to remember.

There are goodbyes for another player in the fight for the top five too, as Pol Espargaro is only three points off Dovi in the standings as he prepares to saddle up with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing for the last time. The Spaniard has been part of the project since almost inception and has seen it grow to race wins and, for him, an incredible run of podiums – so he’ll be pushing hard to go out swinging from his time with the Austrian factory.

Jack Miller also moves from Pramac to the Ducati Team next season and will want to move up on a high, Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) moves to replace him and Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) heads from Ducati to Red Bull KTM Tech 3. Tito Rabat (Esponsorama Racing), meanwhile, is another who faces a swan song for now, the Spaniard not currently set to return to the grid in 2021.

And then there’s Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol). Just to add to the swathe of goodbyes, the Brit, after three Grand Prix wins and some record-breaking achievements, is hanging up his race leathers to become a test rider in 2021. That will be with Yamaha, where there is also a pivotal goodbye as Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) leaves the team – but not factory – at the end of the season.

It’s been a tough one at times this season for the nine-time World Champion, but his time at the factory Yamaha team will be measured far more by their incredible shared successes. Breaking records and proving almost unbeatable for some time, the pairing is one of – if not the most – iconic in the history of the sport. The number 46 will remain on the grid but in the Petronas Yamaha SRT box next season, so it will be the end of a defining era for his team and the man himself.

Amongst everything at stake in the constructor and rider standings, and the final chapters many face, there is also the search for the tenth different winner to break the all-time record. Could it be Pol Espargaro? Miller? Zarco? Rossi? Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu)? The Japanese rider is searching for his first podium too, and has been on a run of serious speed but tinged with bad luck. There’s also the Rookie of the Year to be decided. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) all but has it wrapped up as he’s 20 points ahead of Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), but racing is never a formality. And certainly, at the behemoth of Portimão, it will be about as far from that as possible.

Finally, there is a home hero who arrives to race on home soil for the first time in the premier class: Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3). He’s already a podium finisher and a winner in MotoGP™, and there sadly won’t be any home fans at the track to cheer him on but there will be millions watching from home. As the Portuguese GP returns to the calendar, it will be a big race for Oliveira – and he’ll be pushing at the limit to end his season on a high before he moves to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing.

So strap in, gear up and get ready for another spectacular weekend of racing as MotoGP™ takes on the rollercoaster Autodromo Internacional do Algarve. For some it’s a farewell, for others a final stand and for everyone, a completely new challenge.

Moto2

The time has come for the final showdown in the 2020 Moto2™ World Championship, and what better place to decide the outcome than a new challenge for everyone? Four riders remain in the running: Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) arrives on top, Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) is 14 points back, Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46) 18… and Marco Bezzecchi (Sky Racing Team VR46) is hanging on with a 23-point deficit. One of them will end the season with the crown, and the Algarve will decide which.

It is, regardless of who takes to the rollercoaster of Portimão the quickest, Bastianini who arrives with the key advantage. 14 points in his pocket mean he can afford to not take every risk and play it a little safer, needing to finish in the top four to guarantee himself the crown regardless, and even if he doesn’t manage that, his rivals remain facing down a mountain.

Bezzecchi is the simplest equation: the Italian in fourth has no choice but to win if he’s to lift the crown, although he has already done that twice in 2020 so it’s far from a long shot. He would also, however, need Bastianini to fail to score – and Lowes and Marini not do much better. Marini, meanwhile, needs at least a second place to hold up his half of his chances, and then also would need to pray for some much worse luck for his rivals. Lowes needs a podium as his minimum, but the Brit also arrives battling injury after his huge FP3 crash in the Valencia GP. So it’s advantage Bastianini, although anything can still very much happen.

This season we’ve seen riders crash out the lead, frontrunners battling injury, sudden highsides… and many a change of fortune. There are also a whole host of other fast riders on the grid who will doubtless play a big role in deciding the 2020 Champion. Jorge Martin (Red Bull KTM Ajo) arrives from a win and is heading for MotoGP™, Fabio Di Giannantonio (Beta Tools Speed Up) from close to victory and wanting some revenge… Aron Canet (Pull&Bear Aspar Team) wants the Rookie of the Year title and Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP 40) the same, as well as another podium. Joe Roberts (Tennor American Racing), meanwhile, will want to leave his team on a high and Remy Gardner (ONEXOX TKKR SAG Team) won’t be shy about pushing the limits – which could be the key to glory at a whole new track…

Who will come out on top in the season finale? FP1 will give us the first clue, and then it could likely become a numbers game as Bastianini faces the pressure of the lead, Lowes rides through the pain barrier and Marini and Bezzecchi play their last rolls of the dice. Tune in at 12:20 (GMT) on Sunday to see who tames Portimão and who takes the crown.

Moto3

After 14 races and some incredible highs and lows, the rollercoaster 2020 Moto3™ season is almost at a close with three contenders hoping to lift the crown. In the Gaviota Aspar Team corner there’s Championship leader Albert Arenas, in the Honda Team Asia corner Ai Ogura, and then there’s Rivacold Snipers Team’s Tony Arbolino. Arenas’ lead is eight points over Ogura and 11 over Arbolino, or in other words… it really is everything to play for.

If Arenas wins the Portuguese GP or comes second, he’s the Champion. If he’s on the podium in third and Ogura doesn’t win, likewise. But if he’s not on the podium it all becomes a maths challenge with the three contenders, and lately Arenas has not been on the podium. Add in the new, undulating rollercoaster of Portimão where most have zero or very little experience and the final round is sure to be a showstopper.

The man with the momentum on the way in is not the Championship leader, it’s Arbolino. He’s the latest winner – becoming the 25th different rider to take a victory across all classes this year, equalling the record – and that’s put him right back in the hunt. The Italian has also been a dark horse for some time and arrives with a little less pressure as the underdog, but then Ogura does in many ways too, the Japanese rider’s season a case study in consistency and podiums rather than how to the take pressure as a favourite for the crown.

The pressure then, really, is on Arenas – so can he take it? The Spaniard has had his share of bad luck this season and a few key mistakes, but he’s also shown his A-game to be the best in the business as he’s outfoxed everyone on some pitch perfect final laps. Is that what he’ll bring to Portimão? Or will experience not prove an ace card at a brand new venue?

The other question is their rivals, who may be out of the running for the crown but are very much in the running for the win recently. Raul Fernandez (Red Bull KTM Ajo) is on form, Darryn Binder (CIP – Green Power) arrives from a first pole… Sergio Garcia (Estrella Galicia 0,0) is on a roll of rostrum form. It’s more than a three-horse race and it may well come down to those around the three contenders on track to decide the outcome of the Championship and how they balance risk and reward. And all this at a brand new track…

It’s been a stunning season and the Grande Premio MEO de Portugal is sure to round it out in style. Tune in for the Moto3™ race on Sunday at 11:00 (GMT), where we’ll see a Champion crowned – and another rollercoaster lightweight class battle.

Recommended Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search