Motorsport

Motorsport Monday: Portuguese MotoGP

Just a note, I had to cut Remy Gardner’s stellar Moto2 performance into a separate Two-Wheel Tuesday report, because it would’ve sent this report over 5000 words and chewed my bandwith to shreds!

Franco Morbidelli (3rd), Miguel Oliveira (Winner), Jack Miller (2nd)
(From the MotoGP Twitter)

Another podium to end 2020 for Jack Miller!

Images & GIFs belong to Dorna Sports.


Circuit: Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, aka Portimao

I think that graphic best illustrates the ‘Rollercoaster’ layout of Portimao, with the elevation changes being built into the design making it very different to most 21st century circuits – Another example being the Circuit Of The Americas in Austin, Texas.


Journey of the Jackass 2020, Chapter 15: The Party In Portimao


After Formula 1 got their first taste of Portimao last month, the MotoGP season concluded with an inaugural round at the Algarve circuit, the series’ reserve track since 2017, and the first time Portugal had hosted a round of the World Championship since the run at Estoril ended in 2012.

The fact that everyone even got to the end of a revised 14-race season without another ‘major’ disruption (Even through several positive COVID-19 tests to personnel and riders) was a major credit to the some 10,000 people in both the paddock and behind the scenes, especially CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta and his team at Dorna, who pretty much created a season out of thin air after the enforced shutdown in March following the MotoGP-less Qatar round.

It was great to see hundreds of those people were honoured during the broadcast, because this couldn’t have happened without them:

Of course, the last race of the season is the time to say adios, and outside of the two Suzuki riders, Portugal was the final race for so many riders with their respective teams & manufacturers before they move for 2021:

Outside of Dovi leaving Ducati and Pol Espargaro leaving KTM, the most notable was that after a record 15 seasons (2004-10, 13-20), it was Valentino Rossi’s last race with the Factory Yamaha team, which also saw him part company with his faithful Trans-Tasman mechanics Brent Stephens (The Kiwi had been with Vale since 2004), and Aussie Alex Briggs, with Briggs heading back home for a break after a 28-season career in Grand Prix racing that stretched back to working for Darryl Beattie and Mick Doohan at Rothmans Honda in 1993 under the leadership of Jeremy Burgess.

One of the best mechanics on the grid, Briggs was part of 12 500cc/MotoGP titles for Doohan and Rossi, and no fewer than 130 premier class Grand Prix wins.

Three riders also said their farewells to MotoGP – Dovi will take a well-documented sabbatical after 13 seasons in MotoGP, Tito Rabat was leaving Avintia Ducati, and 3-time race winner Cal Crutchlow was stepping down from full-time riding at age 35 to take the Yamaha test rider role (To the chagrin of Jorge Lorenzo), and Cal may have been a Pom with a runny mouth and a penchant for crashing, but I think the fans will miss him, solely for the fact that he shattered that 35 year winless drought for British riders in the Premier Class, thanks to that win at Brno in 2016, the first for a Brit since Barry Sheene’s last Grand Prix win in Sweden in 1981.

I’ve got no doubt Jack will miss him, considering they’ve been damn good friends ever since Cal was Jack’s teammate at LCR Honda in 2015, which was Jack’s rookie season.

And they call it Stoppie Love

Finally, with Iker Lecuona unable to race for KTM Tech3 due to his positive COVID-19 test last week, KTM once again recalled Finn Mika Kallio as a substitute, having last raced in 2019 when Johann Zarco left the factory team mid-season.

With Suzuki and Joan Mir taking the Riders’ and Teams’ Championships in Valencia, the only title to be decided in Valencia was the coveted Constructors’ Championship.

Suzuki and Ducati were level on 201 points, Yamaha were on 188 points with their 50 point penalty, so on paper it was down to Hamamatsu vs Bologna, with Ducati aiming for their first crown since Casey Stoner’s 2007 Championship, and Suzuki aiming for their first since 1982 to complete the Triple Crown.


Qualifying


Jack Miller was fastest overall on the combined practice times, heading local hero Miguel Oliveira, Alex Rins, Dovi, Takaaki Nakagami, Johann Zarco, Fabio Quartararo, Pol Espargaro, Maverick Vinales, with Stefan Bradl going straight into Q2 on the Repsol Honda.

Rins also required the Miller Taxi Service after his Suzuki broke down at Turn 8 to end FP3, but Jack was nowhere to be seen, so it looked more like the Spaniard was admiring Oliveira popping a wheelie.

Bradl’s performance meant the likes of Crutchlow, Rossi, Binder, World Champion Joan Mir, and last week’s winner Franco Morbidelli would have to go into Q1, which was delayed by over half an hour due to Zarco’s engine spewing fluid over the track in FP4, which wasn’t helped by Zarco cutting right across the track to get back to the pits, rather than pulling off.

Having officially wrapped up the title, the pressure was apparently off Mir, but it didn’t seem to help the new champion, as he didn’t even escape Q1 and started from a career worst 20th place, making him the first 500cc/MotoGP World Champion since Wayne Rainey in 1992 to not claim a Pole Position in winning the title.

Crutchlow and Morbidelli went through to Q2 at the expense of Binder, and with Pole Position up for grabs in the second session, Franco looked like he might just get another P1 start, but making home ground advantage count, Styria winner Miguel Oliveira hooked up a great lap on his second run and took his maiden MotoGP Pole Position, at his home Grand Prix!

It was Miguel’s last race for Tech3 before he gets a promotion to the factory Red Bull KTM team, and having given Tech3 that maiden win back in August, the Portuguese rider delivered Hervé Poncharal’s team their first pole position since they switched to KTM from Yamaha at the end of 2018.

It’s looking like that move by Hervé was a huge win/win for both manufacturers – Yamaha signed up Petronas SRT, who have left the factory team eating cobwebs this year, and Tech3 have finally won races with the Austrian make.

Morbidelli went from Q1 to 2nd on the grid by only 0.044s, Miller made it consecutive front row starts in pursuit of that elusive win for Pramac Ducati, Crutchlow’s final MotoGP race would begin from 4th, Quartararo started from 5th and secured the brand new BMW M2 as the best qualifier, and a big thumbs up for Stefan Bradl, with 6th making him the fastest of the factory riders on the grid, beating out the likes of Vinales, Pol Espargaro, Rins, and Dovi.

It was Bradl’s best starting position since he started 3rd at Germany 2014 on an LCR Honda.

The sad irony of Oliveira’s fantastic Saturday was the local fans couldn’t see his performance in person, and you can only think they’d have been hanging off the grandstands with excitement seeing the only Portuguese rider & race winner in MotoGP history claiming the country’s first pole position.

I suppose his epic escort into Portimao was close enough.


Race (27 Laps)


Before the race, there was a message to the fans about Racing Through Adversity in 2020, plus a show of appreciation towards Carmelo for everything he’d done this season:

At the start, Oliveira jumped and led straight away, Morbidelli and Miller resumed their fight from Valencia, with Franco staying ahead in 2nd place, and further behind, Quartararo was barely clinging on to a Top 10 position, while Mir had a very eventful opening lap – He cannoned into Pecco Bagnaia at Turn 3 with such force that Pecco suffered massive right shoulder pain and had to retire:

Not a great way to go into the factory Ducati team.

The Suzuki No.1 charged from 20th to 12th, but promptly fell back to 20th after touching up Zarco at Turn 3 on Lap 2, almost throwing the Spaniard over his handlebars, which also sent Brad Binder flying down the order to avoid making contact.

Starting Lap 3, Pol Espargaro went off the track at Turn 1, swapping 5th with Bradl, and just behind them, Binder crashed out at Turn 1, although with Alex Marquez needing to win to have any hope of pinching Rookie Of The Year, the South African was probably singing Hakuna Matata.

By Lap 4, Oliveira on the Hard/Hard Michelin tyre combination was on another astral plain to everyone, already moving 2 seconds clear of Morbidelli and Miller, and the Portuguese rider was the only rider in the 1m38s lap times, a good half a second faster than anyone.

If Portimao is a rollercoaster, then Miguel was riding on rails.

It’s well documented that Oliveira is studying to become a dentist, but with the way he was bisecting the field, he was more like a surgeon.

As Miller and Morbidelli started building three degrees of separation from the remainder of the Top 10, Pol Espargaro reclaimed 5th from Bradl, setting off 4th placed Crutchlow, with a huge train featuring Zarco, Quartararo, Rins, Vinales, Nakagami, Dovi and Alex Marquez starting to form up, which gave us some of the best racing all afternoon.

It seemed like Oliveira’s goal was to build as big a gap as possible, then force Morbidelli and Miller to use up their Medium front tyres just to keep pace while he saved himself some grip in the middle stages (Oliveira fell away in the 2nd Half of the Valencia races), before breaking their backs in the closing stages.

Espargaro took Crutchlow for 4th on Lap 7, and outside of a brief mistake in the middle laps, the best of the rest position was Pol’s quite comfortably, as he now led the massive pack, which stretched down toValentino Rossi in 15th, only 4 seconds beuind.

It looked more like your typical Moto3 race.

Starting Lap 10, Oliveira’s lead was out to 3.8 seconds after setting the overall fastest lap of the race (1.39.855) on Lap 9, Morbidelli was a steady 0.7s ahead of Miller, who was 3.4 seconds ahead of Espargaro, with that gap continuing to grow lap by lap.

Further down, in one last flat performance for the 2020 Yamaha, Quartararo was ganged up on by Taka, Dovi and Alex Marquez, dropping the Frenchman to 12th, and having led the Championship heading into Aragon, Fabio was on course to get dumped down to 8th in the final standings.

Pol Espargaro made another error at Turn 8 on Lap 12, briefly costing him 4th to Crtuchlow (The KTM was back ahead by Sector 4), as 4th through 8th were all within half a second of each other, and Nakagami and Dovi in 9th and 10th weren’t out of it.

With 10 laps to go, Oliveira pushed his lead out past 4 seconds, and any fears of a tyre dropoff for the KTM were pretty much nonexistent with how little pressure (Actually, was there any at all?) Morbidelli and Miller were putting on the race leader.

Summing up how much Morbidelli’s performances saved Yamaha from a total wipeout in the second half of the season, the 2020-spec M1s of Quartararo, Vinales and Rossi were now plugging away in 13th, 14th and 15th.

At the start of the year, that combination was 1-2-3 at Jerez II… The Top Gun was back to the Pop Gun.

Meantime, Joan Mir’s reign as champion began on a very quiet note, retiring from 16th on Lap 15 with a mechanical failure on the GSX-RR, and Suzuki said sayonara to the Triple Crown, plus a 1-2 in the Championship, with Rins falling down to 12th on Lap 17 thanks to fading tyres, that also left him a sitting target for the gaggle of Yamahas.

Welcome to 2020, where Rins, Quartararo, Vinales and Rossi are fighting for 12th place.

Long story short, Rins lost that fight, and he lost it badly.

Back to the podium fight, and biding his time with the same strategy as last weekend, Miller was on the rear wheel of Morbidelli’s Yamaha by Lap 18 with some personal best lap times, but the Aussie made a small error which cost him a cheap 4 tenths and sent the gap back out to half a second.

Dovi was showing some great consistency in his last Ducati ride, picking off Bradl for 7th, then taking 6th and 5th in one fell swoop at Turn 1 on Lap 21 after he passed Zarco, plus Crutchlow went wide and ultimately plummeted out of the Top 10.

That also allowed Nakagami to pass Zarco and stick to the Ducati, and in fact, Taka would finish over the top of Dovi and move up to 5th place by the end of Lap 21.

A couple more laps and Taka may very well have given Espargaro a big fright, such was the Japanese rider’s pace.

Lorenzo Savadori became the third and final retirement around this time in the race, although he’s apparently so irrelevant that all he got was a screen notification while the Race Director focused on Miller trailing Morbidelli.

With Oliveira charging to a magnificent win (Which was so dominant it felt boring), on the penultimate lap, Miller had closed the gap to 2nd place back to 2-tenths, but despite the Aussie being the faster of the pair, Morbidelli used his Yamaha’s natural cornering speed out of long sweeping final corner to eek out a few more metres before the pit straight, denying the Ducati the chance to rip clean past with the top speed difference, which meant Miller would need to make a pass under braking on the narrow track.

So for the second weekend in a row, Morbidelli and Miller would lock horns in a thrilling last lap duel, but this time around, Jack got close enough and fired a pass through Turn 13, Morbidelli tried fighting back, but this time, Miller made the pass stick through Turn 14, and it may not have been for the win, but he got one back on Franco!

However, there was one clear standout on Sunday, and via one of the best rides of 2020, Oliveira ended his stint with KTM Tech 3 by leading all the way at home, claiming his second win of 2020 by 3.1 seconds!

Styria may have been a touch fortunate for Miguel, but there was nothing fortunate about this – Absolute dominance at every point.

Capping off a superb day for Australia after Remy Gardner’s maiden Moto2 win, Jack Miller ended his Pramac Ducati tenure with consecutive 2nd place finishes, securing Ducati’s first Constructors title since 2007, Morbidelli wrapped up 2nd in the Championship (And the top Independent Rider award) with another podium, Pol Espargaro left KTM with a solid 4th and an impressive Top 5 Championship finish, and Taka Nakagami was the leading Honda in 5th, confirming 2020 as the first year since 1981 that Honda went winless in the Premier Class.

I think we can pinpoint that problem to the Marc Marquez-sized hole in Repsol Honda.


Result


Tito Rabat finishing last by a mere 0.001s to Mika Kallio

Rossi ended his last factory Yamaha race in 12th, Crutchlow dropped away to 13th, but two other top notch results were Stefan Bradl’s 7th, rebounding from a nasty crash in the Warm-Up, plus Aleix Espargaro making it back-to-back Top 10 finishes for Aprilia in 8th, only 3-tenths behind the German.

Interestingly, this was the first MotoGP race since Qatar 2004 to feature an all-satellite team podium, and it was only the second race this year to not feature a Spaniard on the podium – The Czech Republic (Which also featured Morbidelli) was the other.

It certainly wasn’t the best race we’ve seen this year, but still, it was good enough to make want to see Portimao make a comeback in 2021.


Post Race/Season


So with Portugal done, that’s left the final Championship standings in this wild old season looking like this:

A mere 7 points between 3rd and 7th!

The record will show Morbidelli finished only 13 points behind Joan Mir, Alex Rins finished 3rd with his busted shoulder, Dovi finished 4th ahead of Pol Espargaro thanks to his race win in Austria, and Maverick Vinales finished 6th overall, edging out our Jackass on that same race win tiebreaker, while Brad Binder in 11th was officially awarded Rookie Of The Year.

That said, 7th overall is an improvement on 2019’s 8th placed finish for Jack, even with some of the rotten luck he’s endured this year (Losing two races on the last lap, plus an engine blow up when he was looking a serious hope of victory in France), and with this final fortnight of the season, he’s going to Ducati Corse in 2021 as the clear No.1 rider, and finally, we’ll get to see the Queenslander as a fully-fledged factory rider in his 7th premier class season.

To end up seventh in the world championship, my best finishing position yet and one place better than last year … I’m happy with that. Had some bad luck too, so to be seven points off third in the standings … we’ll look back and wonder what could have been, it’s been a season for that for so many of us. Considering I had four DNFs, it’s been a good year. 

“Stealing Second In Portugal” – Jack Miller

As Big Kev would say:

That said, the bigger story of that Top 10 may very well be Fabio Quartararo finishing in 8th, having spent so much of the season in the Top 3 of the title fight, and he only finished 2 points ahead of Miguel Oliveira on the final standings.

Despite almost being the title favourite after Marc Marquez went crashing through the Jerez gravel trap, combined with 2 wins from 2 races, Fabio didn’t record a single podium outside of his 3 wins, and only had 1 other Top 5 finish, recording just 77 points in the final 12 races.

It was a brutal combination of cracking under the pressure of being a title chance, and the complete and utter collapse of the 2020 YZR-M1, despite it winning more races than any other bike this season, mechanical issues ensured Yamaha didn’t win a single title for the fourth season running.

It makes me think Petronas Yamaha might actually win this rider swap between Quartararo and Rossi… simply because they’ve still got Franco Morbidelli.

Of course, thanks once again to the efforts of an Australian, Ducati secured the Constructors’ Championship for the second time, only the second time in the last 47 years a non-Japanese manufacturer has won that crown, and with Rins’ Sunday shocker in 15th, combined with Morbidelli’s 3rd, that means that the final record will show Yamaha (Post Penalties) as finishing 2nd to the Bologna Bullets in 2020:

Despite finishing 4th, KTM were only 4 points off 2nd place, which is a true testament to their immense improvement in 2020, in which they racked up 3 wins, 3 pole positions and 8 podiums.


So on that note, thanks for reading these MotoGP reports in 2020, and hopefully if shit doesn’t explode into the fan in the next 4 months, we’ll be back at the end of March!

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