All GIFs/Images: Dorna Sports
Circuit: Algarve International Circuit/Portimao
Journey Of The Jackass 2021, Chapter 3: It’s a fine line between gravel and pain
After two weeks off since the opening two rounds of the season, the World Championship returned to the Algarve region of Portugal and the Portimao Circuit, a track which had proved to be the sleeper hit of 2020 when it hosted the final round of the season, a race in which local hero Miguel Oliveira won comfortably from pole position, ahead of a great scrap between Jack Miller and Franco Morbidelli that wasn’t decided until the final sector of the race.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of this weekend was the return of Marc Marquez after 9 months of waiting, an event that could very well be the closest thing the Kingdom of Spain will have to the second coming of Christ, with Sunday’s race being held exactly 9 months to the day that The Ant of Cervera had suffered his humerus-breaking crash at Jerez, which meant there were now 3 sets of siblings on the grid; Alex and Marc Marquez, the Espargaro brothers Pol and Aleix, and the half-brother combination of Valentino Rossi and Luca Marini.
Did I mention Valentino Rossi and Luca Marini are half-brothers?
Because Valentino Rossi and Luca Marini are half-brothers.
Anyway, while Marc had finally recovered to the point of returning to racing, Jack Miller underwent arm pump surgery after Qatar II, ironically by a certain Dr Mir after his run in with Joan Mir at Losail, meaning the one known as Jackass wasn’t at 100% fitness during the race, Tech3’s Iker Lecuona was also fresh off arm pump surgery, Danilo Petrucci had dislocated his shoulder during a crash in Losail, then the casualties mounted up during Friday and Saturday practice.
Takaaki Nakagami fell down the hill into Turn 1 on Friday and suffered a collarbone injury, putting him out of Qualifying, although he did find a way to race on Sunday, but even scarier than that, Jorge Martin, fresh off his pole position and podium in Qatar, had a terrible accident at Turn 7 in FP3 that left him with head contusions, plus fractures to his ankle and hand, which required surgery in Barcelona with Dr Mir, but that has since been delayed due to the hit he took to the head.
Unfortunately, the Martinator had been Terminated, while Luca Marini and Pol Espargaro also had big spills during Practice, but they were both perfectly fine.
With Dorna lapping up the return of Marquez, the 8-time World Champion didn’t let them down by finding his way into Q2 alongside Joan Mir, with the two of them being so inseparable in Q1 they may as well have been conjoined twins.
However, continuing on his race-winning finish in Losail, Fabio Quartararo would start from pole position for the first time this season on the factory Yamaha, as his time of 1.38.862 bested Miguel Oliveira’s pole time from last season (1.38.892), with Alex Rins setting up Suzuki’s Sunday charge with a front row start alongside Johann Zarco, who overcome a fall in Q2 to start 3rd, with Miller, Franco Morbidelli and Marc Marquez filling out the second row, and behind them was Aleix Espargaro doing another fantastic job for Aprilia, Luca Marini started in the Top 10 for the first time, Joan Mir was 9th….
But, the cruel story of the day was that of Pecco Bagnaia, who had absolutely smashed everyone on his final lap with a record 1.38.494, almost four-tenths faster than Quartararo, but his time was struck from the record when he missed a yellow flag that was being shown for the fallen Miguel Oliveira at Turn 9, dropping him from pole all the way down to 11th.
The other cruel tale was Maverick Vinales, who had two hot laps deleted for lineball track limits breaches, right as he looked set to fire in a lap that would’ve had him close to the front row – Instead, Top Gun would start 12th.
Race (25 Laps)
Portugal was another one of the races that started an hour earlier to dodge a clash with Formula 1, but it was nice to see the biggest two-wheeled and four-wheeled categories in world motorsport come together for another tribute to Fausto Gresini, given F1 were racing at Imola, the very same part of the world where the 2-time 125cc World Champion and team owner was born, with Fausto’s 1987 title-winning Garelli machine making an appearance trackside in Italy.
Unsurprisingly, a Ducati led into Turn 1 as Zarco led from Rins, Marquez was up to 3rd, Miller and Mir were directly behind, Binder made up 7 places in half a lap (15th to 8th), and Quartararo (One of the few riders to start with a Hard rear tyre) was happy to watch in 6th place, but his factory Yamaha teammate Vinales fell in a hole that he never escaped from, falling down to 20th!
It was a red hot opening lap between the two most recent World Champions, as Mir barged his way past Marquez at Turn 7-8, then starting Lap 2, Marquez touched the rear wheel of Mir, costing himself and Miller a spot to Quartararo as they both checked up.
After that, Marc naturally began to struggle and dropped down to the fringes of the Top 10 as he continued to readjust to competitive racing.
Early in the race, Aleix Espargaro was the fastest rider on circuit and moved into 5th place after Miller went wide into Turn 1, while Pol Espargaro retired with a technical issue on Lap 5, having been racing alongside Vinales at the rear of the field, and a few seconds after that, Rins took the lead from Zarco at Turn 13, then Quartararo was into 2nd place with a slick pass underneath the Ducati.
In a major disappointment for our protagonist, Jack Miller’s race ended early when he crashed out at Turn 3 on Lap 6 after misjudging his braking approach behind Aleix, ensuring there wouldn’t be another Portimao podium, and on the same lap, the defending race winner Oliveira went down at Turn 14, although he rejoined the race in last place.
As it turned out, due to the red leathers covering it up, Jack didn’t even realise he’d popped the stitches in his arm during the crash, leaving a rather gruesome sight for the fourth estate to enjoy:
Quartararo made the move for the lead on Rins down the drop to start Lap 9, made it stick, and immediately began putting a dozen bike lengths on the Suzuki, who fought back and kept pace, while Mir was dropped like a stone in a pond as the two leaders set a scorching pace.
Having climbed up to 6th place, Pecco Bagnaia was the first rider to lower the 2020 lap record with a 1.39.728, and hilariously, two of the pairs of siblings still in the race were together at half-race distance – Marc and Alex Marquez were 9th and 10th, and Luca Marini and Valentino Rossi were 11th and 12th.
Quartararo lowered the lap record on Lap 13, then did it again next lap, but Rins followed him with a 1.39.598, as Zarco shot past Mir down the straight to take 3rd.
Unfortunately, right as the Rossi sibling rivalry was about to take off with Valentino passing Luca for 11th place, The Doctor’s wretched run continued when fell at Turn 11 on Lap 15!
Meantime, the lap times between the leaders were identical; Quartararo posted a 1.39.472 on Lap 18, Rins set a 1.39.471 moments later to take the fastest lap, then bettered it with a 1.39.450 on Lap 18, but even still, flawless Fabio was only eight-hundredths slower and forcing Rins to the brink.
Continuing his recovery from Saturday’s heartbreak, Bagnaia took Mir for 4th place on Lap 19, but with the pressure up front at breaking point, Rins, having ridden a fantastic race, fell off his Suzuki at Turn 5, right as he’d set what remained the fastest lap of the race!
With 6 laps to go, Fabio was off and gone to his second win in succession, leaving Zarco and Pecco in the final podium spots, with Mir sitting back in 4th, and at the same place where he’d taken Mir minutes before, Pecco took 2nd from the French rider, and later on in that same lap, Zarco went out from 3rd at Turn 10, and with it, the Championship lead went as well!
The win was now decided, but the podium places weren’t finished yet, because Franco Morbidelli was closing in on Mir with 4 laps to go, and Pecco was struggling with his rear tyre, with his only defence being to build enough of a gap down the straights to make the Suzuki’s cornering advantage a moot point, and just behind them, Brad Binder was into the Top 5, a superb recovery after KTM were borderline invisible in Qatar.
However, at the end of the day, ‘El Diablo’ blitzed his way to his second consecutive win and took an healthy early lead in the title race, Pecco did hold on to 2nd place, leaving me to think what could’ve been for the Italian had his pole lap stood, defending champion Mir was finally back on the podium by 2-tenths to Morbidelli, Binder simply ran out of laps to challenge the podium places, and Aleix Espargaro on the Aprilia finished in the Top 6, continuing on their best run of form since they returned to MotoGP, with the cruel irony of that being Mr Gresini isn’t around to enjoy it.
Marc Marquez made a successful return in 7th as the lead Honda ahead of his brother, Bastianini scored another Top 10 finish, and Nakagami, despite having a shoulder that was more sticky tape than flesh, finished in the Top 10, just ahead of a very disappointing Top Gun, who could only sit back and watch as his teammate recreated Cristiano Ronaldo’s signature celebration in CR7’s homeland:
Well, at least he wasn’t doing the Eagle Rock.
Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster
The first 2 rounds of the intermediate class had been dominated by the Ashes combination of Brit Sam Lowes and our Remy Gardner, with supporting appearances from the rookie Raul Fernandez and Italian ‘veteran’ Marco Bezzecchi, and it appeared this two-wheeled Ashes was set to continue when Lowes took his third consecutive pole position from the Aussie, who took his maiden Grand Prix win at Portimao last season, with Xavi Vierge stringing a lap together, Japanese rookie Ai Ogura popped up in 4th, with Bezzecchi 5th and Lowes’ teammate Augusto Fernandez in 6th.
Off the line, Gardner got the jump on Vierge and Lowes, but Bezzecchi cut underneath everyone to lead into Turn 1, where the first major moment of the race occurred when championship leader Lowes was sent skyward in a violent highside while trying to avoid Gardner’s rear wheel, only just missing out on claiming the KTM as collateral damage, and just for good measure, the Brit was hit by his bike, but he hobbled back to pit lane intact.
Gardner assumed the lead from Bezzecchi, with Joe Roberts into 3rd from 8th on the grid, before Bezz retook the lead on Lap 3 and made a break for it, before more carnage ensued in the space of half a lap.
At the end of Lap 4, Yarl Montella had a massive highside off his Boscoscuro, leaving the luckless Stefano Manzi with nowhere to go but straight into the stricken bike, causing Montella’s bike to catch fire, but thankfully both riders walked away:
Next, at Turn 5 on Lap 5, the Honda Team Asia riders Ai Ogura and Somikat Chantra collided after Ogura made contact with Cameron Beaubier, triggering a lowside for Ogura that sent him clattering into the innocent Chatra!
Chantra continued, but he didn’t threaten the points with the time lost.
As Bezzecchi started to slip back and his lead was cut from 1.3 seconds down to 6-tenths, Aron Canet started to put himself into the race, passing Gardner for 2nd on Lap 9, and the sister KTM Ajo bike of Raul Fernandez had risen from 10th to 5th, and was briefly 4th before Joe Roberts passed him, but he inherited the place when Gardner dealt his winning chances a big blow by running wide at Turn 3 on Lap 10, briefly dropping down to 5th behind Fernandez.
Completing a tumultuous couple of laps, Canet took the lead from Bezzecchi to end Lap 10, but the Italian used the slipstream to retake the lead down the straight, Canet took the inside line and tried a block pass into Turn 1, but neither of them ended up leading, because Roberts shot straight through to take the lead!
Further down in 15th and 16th, Nicolo Bulega tried a dive bomb on Bezzecchi’s teammate Celestino Vietti, but said dive bomb would spectacularly explode in both their faces, and an unhappy Vietti almost started a Donnybrook with Bulega in the gravel afterwards.
It had been just under 10 years since an American has won a Grand Prix at any level (Ben Spies won the 2011 Dutch TT for Yamaha), and the last to win an Intermediate class race was John Kocinski in his 250cc title year of 1990, but Roberts was in position to break the duck, albeit under major pressure from Canet, who had a shot at his first Moto2 podium, let alone a win.
So at half-race distance, Roberts led a train of 7 bikes (With Augusto Fernandez in 7th) that were separated by only 1.5 seconds, with Gardner now up to 3rd and back in race-winning contention, Xavi Vierge and Raul Fernandez were engaged for 5th and 6th, and ridding the race of all British influence, Jake Dixon fell out of 8th at Turn 8 on Lap 15.
Having done the hard work to get back to 3rd, Gardner’s winning chances were gone for good when he made a mistake at Turn 8 on Lap 16, dropping him down to 5th behind and some 2 seconds behind Roberts and Canet, having been within a bike length at the start of the lap!
For so long, it looked like it might be Canet vs Roberts for the race win, but right as Canet took the lead, he was hit with a track limits warning and had to walk the tightrope for the rest of the race, and directly behind, Raul Fernandez was coming into his own with 5 laps remaining, in pursuit of a maiden Moto2 win!
First, the Red Bull KTM rider took 2nd place from Roberts on Lap 19 after the American went into Turn 1 too hot, then he took the lead from Canet to begin Lap 20, and began stretching out was a race-winning lead, setting the fastest lap of 1.42.864 a lap later!
Gardner retook 4th place from Bezzecchi, setting up a massive final lap stoush for the podium places, with 3 riders into 2 spots bound to end in tears for someone.
It kicked off when Roberts made a successful move on Canet at Turn 10-11 to take 2nd place approaching the final sector, ahead with Gardner lurking like a shark, and as Turn 13 approached, Canet was always lining up a move, which allowed Gardner to swoop and try and take them both, but Canet ran away with 2nd place as Roberts fought back into Turn 14, Gardner dived underneath the American, resulting in the two making contact and Roberts being sat up on his Kalex, but it stuck, and Remy got the final podium place, putting both Red Bull KTM Ajo bikes in the Top 3.
Capping off another fantastic day for Aki Ajo’s setup after Pedro Acosta won again in Moto3, Raul Fernandez claimed a magnificent maiden Moto2 win from Canet, who also claimed his and the renamed Boscoscuro’s maiden Moto2 podium, and after a wild ride, Gardner kept his podium streak going to take the the Moto2 Championship lead in the process, but it felt like a case of what could’ve been for the son of the Wollongong Whiz without those errors.
Raul is the first rookie to win in Moto2 since Alex Rins in 2015, and now trails Gardner by 4 points after three rounds, and going back through the history books, this is definitely the first time an Australian rider has led the Moto2 World Championship in it’s current form, and it appears this is the first time in at least 4 decades that an Australian has led the Intermediate championship.
Kel Carruthers won the 250cc title in 1969, Gregg Hansford led the 250cc championship in 1978 before he lost the title by 6 points to Kork Ballington, and it appears Casey Stoner never led the 250cc championship in his breakout 2005 season, given Andrea Dovizioso led him by 3 points despite Stoner winning 2 of the first 3 races that year, before Dani Pedrosa took the lead for good after winning the fourth race in France.
So this should tell you that Remy’s in some kind of rarified air!