The VROOM Blog #AlgarveGP Portimao – Perfect Pecco blasts to third victory of the season
Following a weekend off, the MotoGP paddock headed to Portimão for the second time this season for the penultimate round of the season – the Algarve GP. One rider who would certainly have been glad of the weekend off was new World Champion Fabio Quartararo who had had quite the celebration with his team on Sunday evening in Misano. His social media accounts suggested that he had thoroughly enjoyed himself, and a still hoarse Quartararo admitted to BT Sport’s Natalie Quirk that he had lost his voice, his shoes and his phone!
During the pre-event press conference, Fabio confirmed that he would not run the number 1 on his bike next season, and boy did people have something to say about it! Opinion was definitely divided with many suggesting that he should run it – it is the mark of the champion after all – while others argued that the number 20 is part of Fabio’s ‘brand’ and that changing it would have some kind of impact on his merchandise. To me though, for those saying it will impact merch sales – surely if he were to release a run of number 1 branded clothing, his fans would buy it anyway?
Honestly, I don’t see the problem with Fabio – or any rider – wanting to retain his own number instead of running the number 1. Sure, it lets everyone know that last season you won the championship, but that can be done in other ways – a touch of gold or a number 1 on the bike or leathers as an example. Valentino Rossi carried a number 1 on the shoulder of his leathers, and 2020 champion Joan Mir has replaced the ‘I’ in his name with a one to read M1R on his bike and kit this season.
It’s not like the number 1 plate has done wonders for anyone who has carried it in recent years – Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo all elected to run the number 1 following championship wins, but none was able to retain the title the following year, and riders can be a superstitious bunch – was it the #1 that caused them not to win the following year? Probably not, but you just never know! In fact, in BSB this season, last year’s champion Josh Brookes was having such a terrible run of form in the first half of the season that he ditched the number 1 plate mid-season to return to his traditional number 25 and he did see an improvement in performance. Was it the number? I doubt it, but if it makes the rider feel better, they should be able to run whichever number they want.
Talking of riders who didn’t run the #1, it was announced that the winner of the last two races – Marc Marquez – would miss the race this weekend due to a “slight concussion” sustained in a training crash. HRC test rider Stefan Bradl will once again stand in for Marc, and while I applaud Marc and the team for taking concussion seriously and sitting the race out, I can’t help but wonder if the decision would have been the same had a championship been on the line. I would like to think that it would have been, but given the seemingly blatant disregard for concussion that has been shown in the paddock this season – think Deniz Öncü in Misano – I’m not so sure….
In the time off between races, Danilo Petrucci has been spending time in Dubai with the KTM rally team in preparation for his Dakar Rally debut next year. There have also been rumours circulating that the Italian may head to America to race for Ducati in the MotoAmerica series in place of Loris Baz who will be returning to World Superbikes for 2022.
MotoGP rookie Jorge Martin admitted that he was apprehensive to be returning to the scene of the massive accident that saw him knocked out and sustaining multiple broken bones that at one point looked like they may have been career ending. I like that Jorge felt he was able to admit that he was going to have to “face one of (his) biggest fears” in returning to the Portimão circuit – there’s many a rider out there who would feel the need to say that it won’t affect them at all.
The MotoGP title may have been decided last time out, but the Moto2 and Moto3 championships were still up for grabs, and could be decided this weekend. Remy Gardner faces his first chance to clinch the title and heads into this weekend 18 points clear of team mate Raul Fernandez, while in Moto3 Pedro Acosta would have a second attempt to seal the deal, and with Dennis Foggia 21 points behind, a race win would do it for the young Spaniard.
There was much excitement during Friday morning’s FP1 session – Suzuki’s Alex Rins had been fitted with a ‘shoulder cam’ which gave a fantastic view as he lapped the Portimão circuit. It was really interesting to see a different view, and also to be able to watch as he engaged the ride height device – something that I was surprised Suzuki allowed seeing as we don’t currently have the same view from the other manufacturers. The camera was integrated into the front left shoulder of Rins’ Alpinestars suit, and is in the testing stage so wasn’t seen again for the rest of the weekend, but it was pretty cool to see it even just for one session.
In terms of lap times, it was Fabio Quartararo who topped the session ahead of Ducati duo Pecco Bagnaia and Jack Miller. FP2 saw the same top 3, with Joan Mir impressing in 4th.
The first half of FP3 didn’t see many improvements in lap times, but as the time attacks began to come in at the end of the session, the timing screen lit up with red sectors as riders battled to gain passage straight through to Q2. The session ended with Pecco Bagnaia just 0.001 seconds ahead of Fabio Quartararo, while Joan Mir, Jack Miller, Alex Marquez, Franky Morbidelli, Alex Rins, Pol Espargaro, Luca Marini and Jorge Martin also secured slots in Q2.
FP4 saw Pecco set the fastest time ahead of Johann Zarco, Luca Marini and Iker Lecuona, while Fabio finished in 5th.
For the first time in a while, I find myself not having to write that there are several ‘big’ names in Q1 that you would have expected to go straight into Q2, as they all have! The only exception perhaps would be home hero Miguel Oliveira who won the final race of last season here, but given his current form, I wouldn’t have expected him to go through to Q2.
There were several riders you might have picked as favourites to go through though, with the likes of Johann Zarco, Enea Bastianini and Taka Nakagami all set to do battle, and after the first set of runs, it was Zarco and Aleix Espargaro who held the coveted top two places. With 3 minutes to go, a crash for Taka Nakagami brought out the yellow flags for a short time, but it was Zarco and Lecuona who topped the session to progress through to Q2.
Q2 was a fast session, with Jack Miller setting an all-time lap record with 9 minutes left on the clock, while Luca Marini crashed at turn 14 and jumped the barrier to get back to the pits for his second bike. After the first runs, it was Miller leading from Mir and Martin, but with just 2 minutes to remaining in the session, Pecco fired in a lap even faster than his team mate to take his 5th consecutive pole position. Joining Pecco on the front row would be Jack Miller and – for the first time in his MotoGP career – Joan Mir!
Technically, Joan has started a race from the front of the grid having inherited a front row start following a penalty for Zarco last year in Styria, but this is remarkably the first time he has qualified on the front row since he moved up to MotoGP in 2019.
Rookie Jorge Martin qualified a solid 4th, while Champion Fabio Quartararo could only manage 7th on the grid despite strong performances in the free practice sessions.
Warm up on Sunday morning saw crashes for Alex Marquez and Aleix Espargaro, and it was once again Pecco who topped the times – would anyone be able to stop him come race time?
Before the MotoGP race got underway, there was the small matter of Pedro Acosta’s second opportunity to clinch the Moto3 title, and we were treated to a belter of a race. Dennis Foggia made a great start and led for much of the race, but Pedro was on the move and was soon battling for the lead. He was leading on the final lap of the race when Foggia’s title hopes came crashing down following heavy contact from a wayward Darryn Binder who was in way too hot.
Now, I know that Pedro was leading the race when Dennis was taken down, and that with the points advantage he had over Dennis chances are he would have gone on to win the championship anyway, but in racing you just never know for sure and in that moment, Binder ended any hope that Dennis had of carrying the title fight to the final round of the season.
Don’t get me wrong, Pedro Acosta is a very worthy champion – he is the first rookie to win the lightweight class since Loris Capirossi back in 1990 – but Dennis didn’t deserve for his championship fight to be ended by the idiocy of Darryn Binder. Binder was disqualified from the results (he crossed the line in 4th) but that’s of little consolation to Foggia, and honestly what difference will it make to Binder himself? He has been a frequent flyer in the steward’s office throughout his 7 seasons in Moto3, and he just doesn’t seem to be learning from his repeated mistakes.
To his credit, Darryn did head to the Leopard garage to apologise to Dennis, but he was met with hostility which many criticised. I don’t think though that straight after the incident was the time to try and apologise – emotions would obviously be running high, and I wasn’t at all surprised with the response he got when he walked into the garage.
The race order was altered this weekend, with MotoGP going ahead of Moto2, but before we get to the MotoGP race action, I will have a quick mention for the Moto2 title fight. Heading into the race, Remy Gardner was leading his rookie team mate by 18 points, but Raul Fernandez was looking strong this weekend and had secured pole position just ahead of Remy who started the race from 2nd.
Sure enough, it was Raul who initially led the race, but Remy kept his cool, waited for his tyres to get up to pace and took the lead on lap 13. Remy held on to the lead and took the win, with Raul finishing in 2nd place meaning that the title fight will go down to the final round next weekend, with Remy taking a lead of 23 points into Valencia.
As the MotoGP riders lined up on the grid, Ducati riders Bagnaia and Miller paid tribute to Ducati legend Paul Smart, who passed away following a road traffic accident at the end of October. Former GP and TT racer Paul was probably best known for winning the Imola 200 with Ducati in 1972, and Pecco and Jack displayed messages reading “Goodbye Paul” on their screens while on the grid.
It was Miller who managed to grab the holeshot, but Bagnaia was quickly through on his team mate. Joan Mir held his 3rd position ahead of Jorge Martin, while the Honda duo of Pol Espargaro and Alex Marquez were in 5th and 6th respectively.
For the second race in a row Danilo Petrucci found himself unable to complete the first lap following contact from another rider. Last time it was Joan Mir, this time – we didn’t see the crash – Danilo laid the blame at the door of the KTM factory team, but was unsure if it was Miguel Oliveira or Brad Binder who provided the race ending contact to his own KTM.
Meanwhile, Joan Mir had passed Miller for 2nd, Alex Marquez had made his way through on Pol Espargaro for 5th, Iker Lecuona was in 7th just ahead of Fabio Quartararo, and home hero Miguel Oliveira had made his way up to 12th from 17th on the grid.
On lap 2, Iker made a move on Pol but ran slightly wide allowing Fabio to make his way through on him in return. A couple of laps later Alex Marquez passed Jorge Martin for 4th, but Martin fought straight back only to run wide and lose the place anyway! Their back and forth allowed Fabio to catch them and he was right on the back of what was now a three man battle for 4th place.
Out front, Pecco and Joan were beginning to pull away from Miller in 3rd, and for some reason Dorna decided to show us the ‘fan wall’. I hate the thing – I understand why the introduced it last season as the pandemic meant that there were no fans trackside, but come on, there were fans in the circuit this weekend!
Back on track, Iker ran way wide on lap 7 and found himself back in 12th as Pecco extended his lead over Joan to 0.7 seconds. Alex Marquez was looking on form, and was closing in on Jack Miller, while further back Aleix Espargaro crashed out of the race at turn 1.
Within a few laps, Alex was on the back of Jack and Fabio and Jorge were battling back and forth for 5th. Alex made his move and was past Jack for 3rd place into turn 1 on lap 12, while further back Fabio had a huge moment which saw him lose 6th place to compatriot Zarco.
The next few laps, honestly, were fairly dull (I genuinely wrote the word dull in my notes!) but by lap 19, things had started heating up again. Jack and Alex were giving us flashbacks to 2014 when they fought right down to the final race for the Moto3 championship, swapping places and hounding each other for position! Johann Zarco passed team mate Martin on the start / finish straight and Fabio also passed the rookie a few corners later before crashing out of the race to record his first DNF of the season. Fabio had been the only rider to have scored points in every race so far this season!
On lap 23 Miguel Oliveira and Iker Lecuona crashed – the Tech3 youngster had crashed while trying to overtake his Factory team mate and wiped him out. The race was red flagged as Miguel was stretched off, and we saw Iker crouched in front of Miguel, no doubt checking he was okay. Miguel was sent to the hospital for checks, but has since said he is fine, and Iker took responsibility for the crash and apologised for ending Miguel’s race.
Given that more than 75% of the race had been completed, a result was declared with Pecco taking his 3rd win of the season ahead of Joan Mir and Jack Miller, with Alex Marquez in 4th for his best finish of the season.
Pecco’s win (and Fabio’s DNF) means that Ducati have now secured the Constructors World Championship, while Johann Zarco has secured the title of top Independent rider.
The parc ferme interviews once again showed these racers for the decent human beings that they are. Jack Miller was first up, and expressed his concern to Simon Crafar about whoever had been involved in the red flag incident, and said that it was never nice to take a podium under a red flag. Simon was able to let Jack know that the riders were okay, and you could see that Jack was relieved. Pecco had obviously been told that Miguel and Iker were okay, but he still took the time to say that he was pleased to hear the news, and that once he knew everyone was okay, he was very happy to have won the race.
Joan Mir said that he wanted to send strength to Lucio Lopez – a journalist who was injured in an accident outside of the circuit on Saturday evening – and to the family and friends of João Fernandes, the police sergeant who lost his life in the same accident.
Next weekend we will see the final race of the season, in Valencia. It will no doubt be an emotional weekend – after 26 years in the MotoGP paddock, Valentino Rossi will race his last race before he retires, and I really hope he has a good weekend!