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Riding the Rollercoaster: The Highs and Lows of the Portuguese GP

Fabio on Pole

The Portimao racetrack has been a hit with audiences and riders alike since it was introduced at the end of last year’s season, and six months later we’re back here again. However, even better than another go on the rollercoaster is the fact that eight-time world champion Marc Marquez is back on the grid for the first time in 265 days.

With all three championships about to really kick into gear as we move into the European leg of the year, let’s take a quick look back at all the action from the practice sessions.

Marc Marquez makes 2021 return!

Moto3: Penalties galore!

The championship for the lightweight class is currently being led by the rookie sensation Pedro Acosta, who took a phenomenal second place finish in the opening round and then an absolutely unbeatable win from a pit lane start in round 2. This imperious form of his may also carry over into today’s race as well – Portimao was where Acosta took his first win in the Red Bull Rookies cup, which he dominated last year. Despite starting from 12th (though he has been promoted into 10thdue to penalties for John McPhee and Jeremy Alcoba) you have to imagine that he could have the pace to make it another decent point’s haul.

Acosta leads the championship

However, he won’t be getting another storming win without the other riders putting up a fight. Andrea Migno has scored just the second pole position of his Moto3 career, and I have to say he’s looking in imperious form. Don’t forget, the only other pole position he’s had ensured that he took a podium finish, not to mention that last year’s runner up in the Moto3 championship, Tony Arbolino, took the V and E Snipers team machinery (the very bike that Migno is riding) to 5th place having started from almost last on this very track. 

Also up at the front is Dennis Foggia, who will start from second in today’s race. He must be thinking the victory is in reach, after all, who can forget his astounding podium finish last year at this track, where Foggia had to take two long lap penalty loops, pass half the field, and still scored a podium finish. 

Don’t forget about Jaume Masia. The championship hopeful will certainly be looking to re-impose his status as top dog in the Red Bull KTM team, after being so thoroughly outclassed by rookie teammate Acosta in round 2. Masia’s pace has been supreme across the weekend and he topped the warm-up session this morning.

Rewind back to Qatar, what happened?

Easily the biggest losers of this race will be John McPhee and Jeremy Alcoba. Alcoba has had the speed to put himself on the front row in qualifying, and I would have said he could heavily feature in the podium battle. However, following the fight between himself and John McPhee in the Doha GP, both riders will be starting the race from the pitlane, with additional time penalties added on – Alcoba only allowed to leave pit lane after all the riders have passed it and plus 5 seconds, and McPhee plus 10 seconds.  

In all honesty, I can’t see either rider getting into the points in this race, and for McPhee this is worrying. The Scottish rider is in the last possible year he can ride in Moto3 due to age limitations, and he’s scored no points in the opening two rounds – through the mistakes of other riders. McPhee is desperate to be involved in the championship battle, and with potentially not scoring in the first three races, it could be championship challenge over already.

McPhee starts from Pit Lane

However, this is Moto3 and everything can happen. I haven’t spoken of Rodrigo or Artigas but both have shown impressive speed, and could throw a spanner in the works, and who knows? If half the field crash – which is very possible in the lightweight class – McPhee could be in the points. Picking a winner in Moto3 is too much of a lottery for me to make a viable guess, but I would be surprised if Migno and Masia weren’t up there.

Moto2: Sam Lowes dominating the class

Can anyone stop Sam Lowes? Lowes has been imperious, taking the full 50 points in the opening doubleheader, as well as all the pole positions possible. Lowes will start from pole in today’s race, and you have to imagine he’ll be on a roll to take his third straight win of the 2021 season. Lowes really does seem like he’s in form this year, and it would be one hell of a statement if he could win today.

The dominant Sam Lowes

But as always, it wouldn’t be a competition if the winner was that clear cut! The inaugural race winner of the Portuguese GP, Remy Gardner, has also been in fine form, having been just behind Lowes in the opening rounds, and he’s shown some seriously impressive speed around the Portimao circuit. Gardner topped morning warm up with a new all-time lap record for the intermediate class, and if he can get a good start, I don’t think even Lowes could compete with him. 

I was expecting Joe Roberts and Raul Fernandez to also feature in the podium battle for this race, as they too showed exceptional pace in all free practice sessions. However, it would seem that both ran into difficulties in qualifying, neither rider managing to qualify higher than the third row. However, nothing is impossible so let’s see how their race trim is, and where they are a couple of laps into the race.

KTM Superduke RR sold out in 48 mins

The usual suspect of Marco Bezzechi is also in contention, with a second-row start and displaying some steady pace. In all honesty, I don’t know if he could manage a podium result, but with Roberts and Gardner suffering from poor qualifying, that could just be the advantage Bezzechi needs to get his first podium finish of the 2021 season. 

Augusto Fernandez and Ai Ogura are the spanners in the works for this particular race, with both of them managing second-row starts. Ogura, while impressive for a rookie to head the second row in just his third ever race in the intermediate class, may not have the pace to run with the front runner, but Fernandez is another story. Fernandez has struggled since he was last-minute promoted into the Marc VDS team, and it was a surprise to see Lowes emerge as the premier rider for the iconic team. However, it would seem that Fernandez has regained his form somewhat, and it would be a wonderful surprise to see him back on a podium for the first time since 2019.

Ultimately I think the fight for the race win will be between Gardner and Lowes, just as it was in the opening rounds, but maybe third time will be the charm for Gardner to upstage Lowes. 

Can the American cut through the pack?

MotoGP: Marquez is back and looks sharp!

The King has returned! Marc Marquez is back and it is truly wonderful to see him back on my TV screen again. Whilst I would be surprised to see him take the victory, or even a podium in this race, what with the fatigue he is clearly suffering from his out of shape right arm, Marquez has impressed, as we all knew he would. He will be starting from 6th on the grid – an amazing feat when you take into consideration the fact that this is a brand new track for him with the RC213V, all the other riders have raced here before, and he had to come through Q1. Marc is incredible, and I do believe that (if he can manage to see the race through to completion) we could see him take a truly phenomenal top 8 or even top 6 today.

The King has returned!

As for the race win, well it would seem that Yamaha’s woes from last year’s Portimao race have been utterly erased. Fabio Quartararo has been in utterly imperious form this weekend, the high of his outstanding victory in the Doha GP clearly working its magic on the Frenchman’s confidence. Quartararo was the only rider to have continuous pace in the 1:39.8 region, with the rest of the field putting in race simulation laps in the low 1:40’s. If Fabio can get away well, I really doubt that anyone could match his rhythm, and he could take another exceptional win. 

But of course, this is MotoGP and the margins are very fine. Johann Zarco, the championship leader, has been closest to his compatriot on pace, and with a front-row start combined with the Ducati hole-shot device, my bet is that he will lead into the first corner. If the Ducati straight-line speed can mess up Quartararo’s rhythm, Zarco may well be on for his first MotoGP race win, and more importantly, he could take a firm early hold on this year’s title.

Metzeler’s M9RR tyre reviewed

What about Franco Morbidelli? The Italian had an absolute stinker in the opening rounds – a mixture of technical woes befell him in the Desert, but Morbidelli was runner up in last year’s championship for a reason. He seems to have regained that form, and despite some clear resentment towards Yamaha for leaving him with a nearly 3-year-old bike, it does seem that the 2019 M1 is still dynamite round the Portimao circuit. I would be very surprised if Morbidelli weren’t fighting at the front in today’s race. 

We can’t forget about Jack Miller or Alex Rins either. Miller has a score to settle with his poor performance in the opening rounds, and with his second-row start, plus the Ducati hole-shot device, it’s likely we will see a Ducati 1-2 at the first corner. Whilst Alex Rins will line up in second on the grid – his better ever qualifying performance. What can he do with a clear track in front of him, for only the fourth time in his 65 premier class races? I will admit he doesn’t have the best race pace on paper, but we know how well the Suzuki can keep its tyres – something both the Ducati’s and Yamaha’s have struggled with in the past.

Rins starts from Second on the grid

Maverick Vinales and Pecco Bagnaia were the biggest losers in qualifying yesterday, as both were almost on pole, but both had their lap times removed for yellow flag infringement and track limits controversies. Both will start from the third row, but Vinales especially has shown imperious pace on worn tyres, so they could still be in with a shout – if they get their elbows out early enough. 

What about home favourite Miguel Oliveira? The Portuguese man had a dream first race at his home GP last year, with pole position, fastest lap and the race win. This year though, it would seem that the KTM woes with the Michelin front tyres are continuing. All KTM riders have complained of too soft tyres – even when running the hardest tyre option available. It could be a nightmare for Oliveira, as he lines up from the fourth row of the grid. 

For my money, the race win could come from four or five riders, but with the dominant pace he can run, plus his confidence from the Doha GP, I think Fabio Quartararo will be the victor today, but all will be revealed very soon.

The Doha GP was a classic – will the Portimao race be one too?

So, there you have it – my predictions and analysis of the weekend’s action thus far. Who will conquer the rollercoaster this afternoon? It’s all to play for as we get ready for the Portuguese GP.

This article was written by the fantastic Rebekah Lee, our resident Motorsport nut and MA Creative writing graduate. She’s been fascinated by all things motorsports since childhood – follow her on Twitter at @bekahjlee

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