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Circuit: Algarve International Circuit, Portimao
Journey Of The Jackass 2021, Chapter 17: The Ass of the Algarve
With the MotoGP World Championship decided in favour of Fabio Quartararo after Pecco Bagnaia crashed out from the lead at Misano a fortnight ago, the final 2 races of the season over the next fortnight would be an all-out free for all, starting with the Algarve Grand Prix at Portimao, the series’ second visit to Portugal this season, following on from the Portuguese Grand Prix in April.
While the Drivers’ Championship has gone the way of the fabulous Frenchman, the Constructors’ and Teams Championships are still up for grabs, with Ducati only just leading Yamaha in the Constructors race, and Monster Energy Yamaha, despite effectively being Quartararo on his lonesome, only just leading Ducati Lenovo in the Teams Championship following the double DNF to Pecco and Jack Miller in Italy.
Still, it appeared the Bologna Bullets had a secret weapon delivered to the Algarve, because the one and only Casey Stoner was in attendance at a MotoGP event for the first time since he finished up as Ducati’s test rider in 2018, on this the 10th anniversary of his second MotoGP title!
“One other thing that definitely enjoyable was having Casey (Stoner) in the Ducati box with us this weekend, and me and Pecco both said it was helpful having someone like him around. I mean, I’ve worked with some spotters around the track and whatnot to help with my riding in the past but Casey is hardly your average spotter, the guy is a legend and one of the best to ever do it.” – Jack Miller
While Casey spent parts of the weekend coaching Jack and Pecco, and discussing his serious struggle with chronic fatigue, a visit from the 2-time World Champion wouldn’t be complete without one final hello to his old mate Valentino Rossi before the Doctor says goodbye next weekend in Valencia:
While Casey was in attendance, another multiple World Champion who would be missing was Marc Marquez, who had won the last 2 races in Austin and Misano, in which he led in a Repsol Honda 1-2 with Pol Espargaro, but the 8-time World Champion suffered a concussion during a training accident in Spain last week, and HRC elected to take no chances, meaning Stefan Bradl made his first Grand Prix appearance since Jerez some 6 months ago.
Bagnaia, Quartararo, Miller, Joan Mir and Alex Marquez set the pace in combined practice, and the slightly warmer than usual Autumn temperatures in the Algarve created perfect track conditions, meaning the riders were a serious chance of besting the lap record times from April, which was a 1.38.862 from Quartararo.
Just to prove it, Miller, Mir and Bagnaia all bettered the former lap record halfway through Q2, with Miller holding top spot until the final runs with a 1’38.836, as he eyed off his first Pole Position since Argentina in 2018…
But Bagnaia has developed a taste for Tissot watches, and he bettered Jack’s time by 6 hundredths of a second with 3 minutes to go, then the Italian went even better on his final and took pole by 0.146s with a 1.38.725, his fifth consecutive Pole Position to lead another Ducati 1-2 on Saturday, and in total, there were four GP21s were starting in the Top 5, with Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco on the Pramac Ducatis leading the second row.
In fact, a shoutout to Jorge Martin, who had more than a few mental demons this weekend, considering he suffered that horrific crash during the previous visit to Portimao that left him with fractured hands and legs, and had him seriously considering retiring from Grand Prix racing.
As Pecco matched Stoner with a record 5 consecutive poles for Ducati, another positive was that after 49 starts in MotoGP, Joan Mir finally started a Premier Class race from the front row, his first front row since his Moto3 days in 2017, and Joan was still livid with Alex Marquez for a good 10 minutes after they had a slight run in at Turn 3 late in the session.
Pol Espargaro had to pick up the slack for Honda with his esteemed teammate sidelined to start 6th, World Champion Fabio Quartararo was 7th, only the third time this season he’s missed the front row, and he had 4 Ducatis ahead of him, Alex Marquez was 8th, Franco Morbidelli showed he’s getting his one lap pace back, but he just doesn’t have the fitness base to complete a race, Iker Lecuona started in the Top 10 for KTM in his penultimate MotoGP race before he goes to Honda’s World Superbike program, Alex Rins was 11th on the sister Suzuki, and Luca Marini was slowest in Q2.
Completing the grid, Enea Bastianini started 13th, Aleix Espergaro started 14th as Aprilia missed Q2, Danilo Petrucci started 15th, Valentino Rossi 16th, Miguel Oliveira started on pole for his home race at this time last year, but 12 months on he was only 17th, Maverick Vinales 18th, Brad Binder in 19th completed a woeful session for the factory KTM team, Stefan Bradl started 20th, Andrea Dovizioso 21st, and lucky last was Takaaki Nakagami, who is just counting down the days until the season ends.
So just as it was on Saturday in Misano, Ducati held 46 cards in the 52 card deck that is MotoGP, and this time they weren’t going to waste them.
Race (25 Laps, stopped after 23)
On the Michelin tyre side, it was a unanimous choice from all 22 riders for the Medium front tyre, while it was a split decision for rear tyres, with 10 riders (Led by the front row trio) going for the Medium, and 12 riders (Led by Zarco, Pol Espagararo & Marquez) went for the Hard rear tyre, which would conceivably be the better tyre come the end of the race.
When the lights went out, Miller shot straight into the lead at turn 1, but Bagnaia recovered from a bad launch to reclaim the lead at Turn 2, as Petrucci became the first DNF of the race when he went down in Sector 2, and Mir took 2nd place from Miller at Turn 9, becoming the only rider who could stand a chance of stopping Bagnaia from galivanting away to victory.
The early mover was Miguel Oliveira, seemingly riding the home crowd wave to launch up to 10th place by Sector 1 of Lap 2, Alex Marquez was up into 5th place, Quartararo recovered from a bad start and was into 6th after passing Lecuona, who tried a move into Turn 1 on Pol Espargaro, but sent the both of them wide, and ultimately it was Aleix Espargaro that got sent wide at Turn 3.
While Mir kept pace with Bagnaia and put a gap back to Miller, Martin found himself stuck behind the Aussie, and Martin ultimately never got a chance to try a pass on the factory Ducati, because he was eventually passed by Marquez on Lap 4, and after a small fight, Marquez got 4th place, allowing Miller to build a small gap.
It was worth noting that Alex Marquez was the only rider in the Top 6 on the Hard rear tyre, the same tyre he’d used in last year’s Aragon race when he finished 2nd.
Out in front, Bagnaia’s lead first reached half a second on Lap 6, and he started setting a pace that stretched Mir on the Suzuki to the limit, Lecuona went too hot into Turn 1 from 8th and dropped to 12th, and the only rider that had the pace to match Bagnaia was Quartararo, but he was down in 6th and stuck in a Pramac Ducati sandwich, with Martin the toppings and Zarco the French sauce.
The next retirement was Aleix Espargaro on Lap 7, who had a fast fall at Turn 1 after losing the front end, and all said, the Top 8 were pretty much holding stations as the race ticked into Lap 10, with Zarco and Espargaro in 7th and 8th becoming the fastest riders on circuit.
By Lap 11, Bagnaia had his biggest lead of the race at just under a second, and Quartararo finally tried a move on Martin for 5th place at Turn 3, but he went in too deep and Martin made a simple cutback at Turn 4:
That same lap, Miller made a mistake at Turn 5 and suddenly had Alex Marquez on his rear wheel, and the younger Marquez was able to get onto Jack’s rear wheel, get the slipstream into Turn 1 and take 4th place, in what was the beginning of the biggest stoush between the two since the 2014 Moto3 title race!
Zarco passed Quartararo for 7th after the World Champion had a moment at Turn 13 and ran wide, meaning Fabio now had 3 Ducatis ahead of him, and with Quartararo being the leading Yamaha on track, the Bologna Bullets were now in position to wrap up the Constructors Championship with a race to spare.
Thanks to his remarkable consistency in lap times, which were never separated by any more than 4-tenths, Bagnaia’s lead was out to 1.4 seconds at half race distance, which shot past 2 seconds on Lap 15 after Mir seemingly made an error, but the Suzuki still had over a second to Marquez, who would have to deal with Miller again.
Quartararo finally got through on Zarco at Turn 13 on Lap 18, but Zarco got back ahead of his compatriot a few laps later, and Miller first tried a move on Marquez into the Turn 1 dip on Lap 19, but a block pass didn’t stick, and the LCR Honda rider stayed in 3rd for now.
The French Civil War had invited 8th placed Pol Espargaro into the Martin-led train, but that changed when Zarco caught up and passed Martin into Turn 1 on Lap 21 after a great final corner run, and Quartararo joined in to take 6th from the Spaniard, while further up, Marquez made a small mistake at Turn 5, allowing Miller enough of a gap on the uphill run to retake 3rd place!
Then, just behind the podium stoush, in an outcome that hasn’t occurred all season, Quartararo, as soon as he’d gone into 6th, lost the front end at Turn 5, and suffered his first retirement of the season, in this the 17th race!
Good thing he didn’t do that two weeks ago, or else we’d have a live title fight going into Valencia!
Despite losing 3rd, Marquez was able to stick to Miller’s rear wheel and keep the pressure on the Aussie, who had that trademark Ducati straightline speed for a defence, setting up a tense finish to decide the last spot on the rostrum, but any hopes of a Marquez counterpunch ended as the leaders crossed the line to finish Lap 23…
Further back at Turn 13, Lecuona in 12th place went for a move on Oliveira, but suffered a high speed washout as he hit the brakes and committed a serious case of KTM on KTM crime, and the impact to Oliveira’s leg was enough to see him on a stretcher and taken to hospital for examination, and for Race Direction to bring out the RED FLAG, and given it was Lap 23 and well over 75% completed distance, the race was declared there and then.
Despite the race ending in far from ideal circumstances, Pecco Bagnaia capped off a superb weekend by completing a grand slam – Pole Position, fastest lap, race win after leading every lap, which also confirms him for 2nd place in the Championship, as Ducati wrapped up the 2021 Constructors title, their third in all, and with Jack Miller taking 3rd, the factory Ducati Lenovo team have a 28 point stranglehold on the Teams’ Championship!
I think it’s appropriate that Casey Stoner wound up in that photo, because the GP21 is quite comfortably the best Grand Prix bike the Bologna factory have designed & developed since Stoner’s title-winning GP07, some 14 years ago.
Officially 2.4 seconds behind Pecco, Joan Mir produced his best ride of the season to take 2nd, locking up 3rd in the World Championship for 2021, even though (remarkably) he hasn’t led a single lap as the defending champion, our Jackass finished on the podium for the first time since Barcelona, ending a 10-race drought, Alex Marquez stepped up in his brother’s absence with his best ride of the year in 4th, and Johann Zarco’s 5th place saw him secure the Best Independent Rider title for 2021, although he did lose 4th in the standings to Miller with this result, albeit by a mere 2 points.
Interestingly, the official margin between Jack and Alex at the end of Lap 23 was a mere Five-hundredths of a second, as Alex was in the slipstream of Miller’s Ducati down the pit straight and shaping up for a move that lap.
Completing the other results, Pol Espargaro started and finished 6th, Martin was a fine 7th on his return to the scene of the accident, Alex Rins got up to 8th, Enea Bastianini racked up another Top 10 result in 9th, meaning the Rookie of the Year fight between Martin and Bastianini is now separated by just 3 points (94 vs 91) in the Italian’s favour with one race to go, and Brad Binder recovered from 19th to complete the Top 10, and Binder was the only KTM to actually finish the race.
Still, he did better than the Yamahas, because with the late crash to Lecuona and Oliveira, the leading Yamaha of Valentino Rossi was promoted up from 15th to 13th, the worst finishing result for a leading Yamaha in a Grand Prix since Malaysia in 1995, when Jeremy McWilliams was 14th (That’s if you don’t count the Harris & ROC Yamahas), while it’s only the second time in 14 years Yamaha haven’t had a bike finish in the Top 10 of a race – Europe last year was the other instance.
It does highlight an issue that pretty much every Yamaha rider except Fabio Quartararo has suffered this year, and Fabio himself mentioned it post-race – If they have a bad qualifying, then their hopes of a good result are pretty much rooted, because they get stuck behind the V4 bikes that will always demolish the Yamaha in a straight line.
Completing the finishers, Taka Nakagami came up from 22nd to 11th, Luca Marini started and finished 12th, the aforementioned Rossi was 13th, ahead of Petronas Yamaha teammate Andrea Dovizioso, Stefan Bradl got the last points position in 15th, with Maverick Vinales’ 16th leaving Aprilia pointless for the weekend, and not unsurprisingly with his knee condition, Franco Morbidelli finished last on the road.
Still, I’m delighted for a big result for Jack, especially with his future beyond 2022 destined to undergo a major Litmus test with the serious crop of talent Ducati have got racing in their satellite teams, and on we go to Valencia to end the year, where we might see an Aussie crowned as a World Champion!
Moto2: The Remy Rollercoaster
Halfway through Misano, it looked certain that Raul Fernandez was going to win his fourth consecutive Grand Prix and fly into the championship lead with two races remaining, only for the rookie Spaniard to make a massive error and suffer one of the biggest accidents this season, and a struggling Remy Gardner, who had a slender 9 point lead following his first DNF of the season at Austin, finished 7th and went into Portimao with an 18 point lead, and crucially, the son of Wayne had a bit of momentum back after Raul’s series of brilliant rides.
Still, Fernandez was back on top through practice, while Gardner was one the rider to make an inglorious start as he clattered into the back of Marcos Ramirez at the end of FP2, but luckily both riders escaped injury, and Gardner was the 2nd-fastest on the combined time sheets.
When it came to Qualifying, in what was a theme of the weekend across the 3 categories, Fernandez set a new lap record (Which was held by Gardner) on the first flying lap of Q2, then bettered it again, and again, to set pole position with a 1.42.101, while Gardner got himself out of a hole of his own making to make it up to 2nd on the grid with some good late laps, and Fabio Di Giannantonio shot up to the front row.
Completing the Top 12, Aron Canet qualified 4th after a late crash in Q2 dropped him off the front row, Augusto Fernandez and Cameron Beaubier in 5th and 6th were split by only 4-thousandths, in what was a rare Top 10 appearance for Beaubier as he was finally able to show his racecraft from a good position, Marco Bezzecchi and Sam Lowes (3rd and 4th in the title) were back in 7th and 8th, Ai Ogura was 9th, Jorge Navarro 10th, Xavi Vierge (Heading to Honda’s World Superbike program next year) started 11th, and Hector Garzo was 12th.
There’s another name you might remember from the last few years of Moto2 – last year’s Qatar Grand Prix winner Tetsuta Nagashima was back in the category on the Italatrans bike in place of an injured Lorenzo Dalla Porta, having last raced for Red Bull KTM Ajo in 2020, before a certain duo called Gardner and Fernandez came along.
Race (23 Laps)
When it came to the championship (Gardner 280 vs Fernandez 262), if Fernandez won in Portimao and Valencia, Gardner would need to finish at least 2nd and 4th (33 points vs 50), as two 3rd placings (32 points vs 50) would mean he’d lose on a race wins countback 9-4, but in a pivotal moment for the outcome of the race, Fernandez was confident enough to start on the Dunlop Soft rear tyre, which some riders couldn’t make last more than 4 laps, and Simon Crafar in pit lane predicted would only be good for 10 laps in the race, while Gardner, and most of the Top 10 went for the Hard rear tyre.
So as the lights went out for the last race of the day, both Red Bull KTM Ajo riders got clean getaways and held the Top 2 places, Marco Bezzecchi on the Soft rear made a great start from 7th to 3rd, Lowes went from 8th to 5th, while the first fall of the race was Somkiat Chantra at Turn 13, although it turned out the Thai rider was excluded, while Tetsuta Nagashima received a long lap penalty for jumping the start, and the next rider to depart was Albert Arenas, who suffered a horrible highside at Turn 15 to end Lap 2, almost taking Joe Roberts with him.
In the first major move of the race, Bezzecchi passed Gardner for 2nd into Turn 1 to start Lap 3, which meant Fernandez, with the title lead at that stage down to 9 points, had to put his foot down and build a lead with a bike between his teammate:
Not too far behind, Beaubier was making the most of his good qualifying performance to jump up to 4th place ahead of Canet and Lowes, while Ai Ogura went out from the Top 10 at Turn 13 on Lap 3, the Japanese rookie’s first DNF since Germany just before the summer break.
Despite dropping to 3rd, Gardner didn’t fall away from Bezzecchi, and it seemed like his immediate goal was to stick to the Italian for enough laps and wait for the Soft tyre performance to fall away, which is exactly what happened to Bezz last time the series was in Portimao (He led the early laps and dropped to 6th), after which he could have a shot at Fernandez.
Speaking of Raul, there was a recurring trend where the Spaniard would build his lead out to a second during the lap, then Bezzecchi would have a good Sector 4 and keep the gap at 3/4 of a second when they hit the start/finish line.
Further back in the Beaubier-led train that ran all the way back to Di Giannantonio in 8th, Lowes got Canet for 5th place to start Lap 7, with the two riders eventually passing Beaubier by the end of the lap.
Gardner slowly built pressure on Bezzecchi, while Fernandez wasn’t flying away from the Italian, which was setting things up nicely for the Australian to build into the race, although the lap where Bezzecchi seemed to fall away was Lap 8 as the lead got out to 1.1 seconds, meaning Gardner had to make the move to start Lap 9, and with a good run out of Turn 15 and the slipstream, Gardner comfortably reclaimed 2nd place and had 1.3 seconds to make up to his teammate:
Once Gardner passed The Bezz, the gap to Fernandez pretty much dropped below a second before you could blink, and it looked like Simon Crafar’s prediction of the Soft tyre falling away after 10 laps was coming true, which was also grim news for Bezzecchi with Lowes charging at him to take the last podium place.
Further down the grid, Jake Dixon went down at Turn 1 to start Lap 10, and unfortunately for Petronas Sprinta Racing, Xavi Vierge went down at the same spot a lap later, having run in the Top 10 for the entire race.
Back at the front, a charging Gardner cut the gap down to 4 tenths just past the halfway mark of the race, and it was evident how much more grip Gardner had when they hit the throttle at Turn 15, as Fernandez’ rear tyre started to squirm like a Mafia witness in the dock, and beginning Lap 13, Gardner hooked up his bike perfectly, got the slipstream, and claimed the lead on the downhill to Turn 1, and his live championship lead was up to 23 points!
Pretty much exactly as that pass occurred, Cameron Beaubier set what would be the fastest lap of the race, and took Canet for 5th place at Turn 1, continuing the American’s fantastic race.
After losing the lead, Fernandez was pushing so hard to stay with Gardner to try and force the Aussie into a mistake, and credit to Raul, despite that tyre disadvantage, he stuck within 3 tenths of Gardner for several laps, showing he wasn’t totally out of the race, and it should be noted Raul was the only Soft rear rider able to make that shoddy bit of carcass work 2/3rds into the race.
In the hunt for the remaining podium spot, Lowes and Beaubier were now taking chunks out of Bezzecchi, who was now the slowest rider in the Top 15, with Beaubier half a second faster than anyone on the track, and to the shock of nobody, Lowes passed Bezzecchi for 3rd on Lap 17, and it turned out Beaubier didn’t even need to sharpen his elbows, because Bezzecchi would lose 2 places in 1 at Turn 5 a lap later, also allowing Canet back into 5th.
With 4 laps to go, with the MotoGP podium trio watching on, Gardner’s lead was out to half a second as he kept breaking away from Fernandez in Sector 4, Lowes had a lock on 3rd place, and by now he was faster than the Top 2, but the 4 second gap to Fernandez meant that the Brit just didn’t have enough laps to run him down.
The decisive break came on Lap 20, when Gardner pushed his lead out beyond a second for the first time, and by now Fernandez seemed to accept reality that he just didn’t have the rubber to challenge his teammate, who was just too good on the day, and I’d think Raul was counting his lucky stars that Lap 23 was the final lap, because Lowes was absolutely flying….
But more importantly, REMY GARDNER HAD DONE IT, WINNING FOR THE FIFTH TIME IN 2021, AND HE GOES TO VALENCIA WITH A 23 POINT LEAD!
In the biggest crunch race of the season, dealing with sore ribs after the Friday crash, the Son of the Wollongong Whiz produced his best performance of the season, and Gardner seems to love the Algarve – He got his maiden there win last season, he finished 3rd in April, and another win here!
Must be the surf.
In the 7th 1-2 finish for Red Bull KTM Ajo this season, on the same day they won the Moto3 race + title with Pedro Acosta, Raul Fernandez finished 2nd, finishing only 0.885s ahead of 3rd placed Sam Lowes… another lap and it would’ve been championship over, but alas, Raul is still a chance for the title at Valencia, albeit a Dumb and Dumber style chance.
Completing the Top 10, Canet finished in 4th place thanks to a last lap, a mere 5-thousandths ahead of Beaubier, denying the American a career-best result, Celestino Vietti made a charge up to 6th and beat home teammate Bezzecchi, Jorge Navarro was 7th, The Bezz dropped to 8th, Augusto Fernandez was quieter today in 9th, and Marcel Schrotter finished 10th, as Fabio Di Giannantonio ultimately finished outside the Top 10 despite his front row start.
So in the standings, Gardner moves on to 305 points, becoming the first rider in any category this season to pass 300 points, Fernandez’ 2nd moves him to 282 points, which means that in the event of Raul winning in Valencia this coming weekend, which I’d say is extremely likely, then Remy has to finish no worse than 13th.
Still, stranger things have happened!
And finally, congratulations to Territorian Joel Kelso, who made his third cameo appearance in Moto3, and scored his first career points with 14th place, ahead of his full-time debut in 2022!
Admittedly, Divebomb Darryn Binder taking out Sergio Garcia and Dennis Foggia on the last lap to seal Pedro Ascota’s rookie Moto3 title helped make that happen.
Up next: The season finale in Valencia this weekend!