#PortugueseGP The VROOM Blog: Marvellous Miguel masters Portimão

 In Blog, MotoGP, News

That’s it; the 2020 MotoGP season is over. And what a weekend we had to end the season. For the first time ever, the MotoGP paddock would set up and race at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimão. Anticipation was high – the MotoGP champion and teams’ champion may have been decided a week ago in Valencia, but there was still the constructors’ crown up for grabs, as well as Rookie of the year and top independent rider. There was also the small matter of the Moto3 and Moto2 championship fights going down to the wire.

There were lots of ‘lasts’ happening this weekend – Andrea Dovizioso would ride his last race in Ducati red before a years’ sabbatical (maybe even his last race ever), Cal Crutchlow would spend his last weekend as a full time MotoGP rider as would Tito Rabat and there was a whole host of riders riding their final races for their current teams.

Valentino Rossi, Fabio Quartararo, Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Pecco Bagnaia, Johann Zarco, Alex Marquez, Miguel Oliveira and Pol Espargaro will all be back on the grid next season, but all will wear different colours as they make moves for 2021.

This weekend sees Mika Kallio sit in for Iker Lecuona who is still absent following a positive COVID-19 test.

Still a ‘hot topic’ in the paddock is the second Aprilia seat – who would be team mate to Aleix Espargaro in 2021? In addition to the names mentioned last week (Chaz Davies, Remy Gardner, Marco Bezzecchi, Aron Canet and Fabio Di Giannantonio) we could apparently also consider Loris Baz and Joe Roberts, with Joe Roberts quickly becoming the ‘favourite’ to take the seat. When asked about the potential move by Michael Laverty on Sunday morning however, Italtrans team boss said that Roberts has signed with them for next season and that is final.

We now know that Aprilia will retain both Bradley Smith and Lorenzo Savadori and that a decision about which of them will bag the race seat and which will remain test rider will be made following their winter test program.

The free practice sessions on Friday were all extended to allow riders and teams to work on set up for the new circuit – this meant that we got two 70 minute sessions for the MotoGP class. The sessions weren’t all that exciting, but I’m never going to complain about bikes being on the track for longer!

After FP3 there were some surprising names on the list for Q1, including Franky Morbidelli and Joan Mir – although this is 2020 so it perhaps wasn’t too surprising…

Before we got to the Q1 session, there was FP4 which saw Pol Espargaro crash and remount his KTM before Takaaki Nakagami sent his Honda through the gravel with such a force that he was left picking up bits of destroyed fairing. Thankfully Taka himself was okay. The shocker of the session though was Johann Zarco – his Ducati appeared to ‘blow up’ with smoke billowing out of the back of it and potentially spewing oil onto the track. It wasn’t the blow up that was shocking though, it was the fact that Zarco decided that (having already moved off of the track) it would be ok to CROSS THE TRACK in the middle of a corner while his bike continued to blow smoke everywhere!

Even more appalling was the fact that there was no penalty from race direction for Zarco’s actions. I have to say one of the big disappointments of this season has been the lack of continuity from race direction when it comes to penalties.

After a delay to check the track following Zarco’s smoky jaunt, Q1 got underway and the final few minutes were where all the action was. With less than 3 minutes to go Cal Crutchlow went top with Franky Morbidelli in 2nd. Franky was back in his garage as the flag came out, and he watched in anticipation as Brad Binder lit up the screen with red sectors – was he going to bump Franky out of the top 2 and resign him to a 5th row start? No, as it turned out. Binder missed out on a Q2 spot much to Franky’s relief I’m sure!

At the other end of the time sheets was newly crowned World Champion Joan Mir in 20th on the grid ahead of only Tito Rabat and Mika Kallio.

Q2 saw Morbidelli and Crutchlow take advantage of their progression from Q1, taking 2nd and 4th on the grid. It was home hero Miguel Oliveira who took Portugal’s first ever MotoGP pole position and became the 7th different pole sitter of the season, with Jack Miller rounding out the front row in 3rd. Now for a sentence I didn’t think I would be writing this season – Stefan Bradl was the top factory rider in qualifying – he will start 6th on the grid after strong performances all through free practice.

Sunday morning warm up saw Cal Crutchlow top the session – would he end his time as a full time MotoGP rider with a bang? We didn’t have too long to wait until race time to find out.

As we awaited the race start, riders and team members began to gather at the front of the grid for a tribute organised by Herve Poncharal and his IRTA team to say thank you to Dorna Sports’ CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta for all of his work in getting the 2020 MotoGP championship up and running.

Finally, it was time for the final race of this frantic MotoGP season. Would we see a 10th different winner?

As the lights went out it was pole man Miguel Oliveira who took the holeshot from Franky Morbidelli, Jack Miller, Cal Crutchlow and Stefan Bradl. Joan Mir was up to 12th within a few corners!

Lap 2 saw Pecco Bagnaia retire from the race as Joan Mir dropped back to 20th. As Miguel extended his lead to 1.7 seconds ahead of Franky and Jack, Brad Binder crashed out of the race ending his rookie season in the gravel.

Soon Pol Espargaro was on the move, making his way past Stefan Bradl and setting his sights on Crutchlow, passing him a few laps later. Takaaki Nakagami and Fabio Quartararo had a mini battle for 9th with Alex Marquez lurking in the background as Fabio retook the position from Taka.

By the mid-point of the race there was a cracking battle for 4th place between Pol Espargaro, Crutchlow, Bradl and Zarco with Alex Rins closing them down to join the fun as his team mate Mir languished down in 16th. As Dovi made his move on both Nakagami and Rins for 8th, Joan Mir ended his championship winning season by retiring to the pit lane.

With only a few laps to go, Cal Crutchlow ran way wide and dropped back to 9th before we were treated to another last lap battle between Morbidelli and Miller. As Miguel Oliveira made more history by winning the first ever MotoGP race at Portimão, it was Jack Miller who got the better of Franky Morbidelli this time around!

There were plenty of tributes from teams to riders as the race ended, from Ducati hanging pit boards with ‘Grazie Danilo!’ and ‘Grazie Andrea!’ for departing riders Petrucci and Dovizioso, to Crutchlow’s LCR Honda team all wearing t-shirts thanking the Brit for his time with the team.

One of the biggest movers in the paddock next season is probably Valentino Rossi, who leaves the Factory Yamaha team after 15 years over two stints with the team. Vale will remain a Factory supported rider, but will be situated in the Petronas team alongside in-form protégé Franky Morbidelli – I’m warning you now that there may be some Four Seasons references next season!

Yamaha produced a lovely tribute wall for Vale with team members taking time to sign messages for The Doctor. My favourite one was from paddock stalwart Alex Briggs – who will also be leaving his role at Yamaha and the paddock altogether – who wrote ’21 years! working for the GOAT “you are the sh*t”’. Apparently there is a story behind that message – Alex Briggs needs to get a book written ASAP!

Having had the riders’ and teams’ championships decided in Valencia, it was Ducati who thwarted Suzuki’s attempts to win the Triple Crown by taking the constructors’ championship courtesy of Jack Miller’s 2nd place finish this weekend. Also in play this weekend were Rookie of the year and top independent rider. Brad Binder took the Rookie of the year honour despite a late season charge from Alex Marquez, and Franky Morbidelli took the title of top Independent rider as well as securing 2nd in the riders’ championship. Alex Rins was able to round out the Championship podium in 3rd place, despite finishing back in 15th in this race.

In Moto3 we were treated to another nail-biter of a race. Raul Fernandez took off at the front and that was pretty much all we saw of him as the focus remained on the 3 young men who could take the title in this last race of the season. Albert Arenas was leading the standings heading into the race, but there was still a chance for either Ai Ogura or Tony Arbolino to pip him to the championship. Starting from 27th on the grid many had written Arbolino off, but this is Moto3 – you can be leading into the last corner and finish the race in 12th!

As it was, Arenas did enough to take the championship with Arbolino making up 22 places in the race to pinch 2nd in the championship from Ogura. They finished joint on points, but Arbolino takes 2nd having won a race this season.

Moto2 wasn’t any less exciting as their championship also came down to the final race with 4 contenders – Enea Bastianini, Sam Lowes, Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi. In a race which saw Remy Gardner take his first win, Marini and Lowes finished on the podium but it was not enough to deny Bastianini the championship. Sam Lowes produced an epic ride with a broken wrist to take 3rd place in the race and in the championship. Just like Arbolino and Ogura, Marini and Lowes finished the season joint on points. They were also equal on wins with 3 each, meaning that 2nd and 3rd place in the championship was decided by 2nd place finishes and Luca had 3 to Sam’s 2.

So, that’s it for the 2020 MotoGP season. It’s been a cracker, and I’ll be back with a season review in December by which time I’ll no doubt already be suffering from withdrawal and champing at the bit for 2021 to get underway!

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