Tag

Portuguese GP

Browsing

The idea behind setting the grid in Grand Prix racing is simple: after two 15 minute sessions, the rider who sets the fastest lap gets to start from pole position, the other riders ranked in order of their best lap times.

Of course, the fact that qualifying is split into two sessions to prevent people using tows to artificially boost their starting positions (more on that later) is already a distortion, as the quickest riders left in Q1 have sometimes posted faster times than those who made it through to Q2.

It was hardly ideal circumstances to make a return to the toughest class in motorcycle racing after more than eight months without riding a bike. Overnight rain left the track covered in damp patches, making the surface treacherous and unpredictable.

But that didn’t deter Marc Márquez: though he wasn’t the first out of the pits in FP1, he was on track soon enough. And he was fast soon enough too, ending the morning session as third quickest, just a quarter of a second slower than Maverick Viñales.

Drawing conclusions from times which are 2.5 seconds off the race lap record and 3.5 seconds off the best pole time is a little premature. But Márquez was fast again in FP2, in much drier and consistent conditions.

After a month in the desert, MotoGP returns to something more resembling normality. The Grand Prix paddock has left Qatar behind to fly to Europe, gathering at the Circuito do Algarve in Portimão, Portugal.

The change is all-encompassing: from the wild temperature swings from day to night of Qatar to the temperate climes of Portugal’s Algarve coast in balmy springtime; from dust and wind to mist and sunshine. From the bright artificial spotlights to being bathed in natural sunlight.

Above all, though, the change is from having a narrow window where everything resembled race conditions, that golden hour from 7pm to 8pm, to having usable conditions both morning and afternoon.

From a track where Michelin couldn’t bring a selection of tires which would allow a choice for the race at night, to a track where the teams should be able to find a tire that works for their bike, instead of having to bend their bikes to suit the only tire that will withstand the the weird conditions that prevail in the Qatari night.

Not that tires won’t be an issue at Portimão. Last year’s allocation has been tweaked, based on data collected at the track when MotoGP visited for the first time.

And because we go there now in mid-April, rather than late November, when the sun is higher in the sky and radiating more heat into the ribbon of asphalt the riders have to traverse.

Are we in for a fairy-tale ending to the wild ride that has been the 2020 MotoGP season? The odds are very good indeed, if only because qualifying has laid out so many different scenarios for a fitting end to the year.

We already have a fairy-tale ending to qualifying, Miguel Oliveira the first Portuguese rider to take pole, at the first MotoGP race to be held at Portimao, the first race in Portugal since 2012.

Could Oliveira convert his maiden pole into a second win? There is plenty of reason to think he might do exactly that.

Whenever a journalist gets a little too excited over a rider’s lap times after FP2, and starts asking them what it means for the race, they inevitably get slapped down with an old racing aphorism.

“It’s only Friday,” riders will say, whether they are at the top of the standings, at the bottom, or somewhere in the middle. Being fast is nice on a Friday, but there is still a long way to go until the riders line up on the grid on Sunday. An awful lot can, and usually does change in the meantime.

That old adage is exponentially true on a Friday at a brand new track where nobody has ridden before. Especially an extraordinary track like Portimao, which snakes all over the Algarve countryside like a roller-coaster hewn into the hills.

And so the voyage into the unknown begins. MotoGP kicks off its final round of this fundamentally weird season at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimao.

The combination of the final round, a new circuit, and the Moto2 and Moto3 titles still at stake meant that it was a long and grueling day of interviews, media debriefs, and press conferences, with barely a moment to catch your breath or a quick bite to eat in between.

And so a strange and unexpected season draws to a close.

Fifteen rounds of Grand Prix motorcycle racing – fourteen rounds of MotoGP, after the premier class were forced to skip the opening race at Qatar at the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic – were far, far more than we expected in the early months of the year.

It is a credit to Dorna, the manufacturers, and to the teams that we have made it this far. It hasn’t been easy, and it meant squeezing a punishing schedule into a very brief period of time, and limiting the number of tracks and countries MotoGP visited, but in the end, we got our money’s worth.

So it is fitting that we end the 2020 MotoGP season at a brand new venue MotoGP has never visited before, the first new track since Buriram joined the calendar in 2018.

MotoGP is set to make its debut at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimao in November, as the last race of the 2020 season, and as a brand new track on the calendar, the teams, factories, and riders have no data on the circuit.

To help them prepare for the race, Dorna has organized a test at the circuit ahead of the race.

The timing of the test is a little unfortunate. The test is due to take place on October 7th and 8th, directly before the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.