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. The Red Bull KTM Tech3 rider has pretty good pace – he looked comfortable posting low 1'40s in FP4 – and the riders with better pace are some way back on the grid.
Or maybe it is Franco Morbidelli's opportunity to stamp his authority on the 2020 season, taking a fourth win to clinch second in the championship and demonstrate once again that Yamaha made a mistake in overlooking him for the factory team, and in choosing not to provide him with a 2021-spec M1 for next season.
Dream come true?
Or perhaps it is Jack Miller's turn for victory, to make it ten winners in a season and break the previous record? It would be a fitting reward for the Pramac Ducati squad, after the Australian came so very close to beating Morbidelli at Valencia last week.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto2 class in Portugal:
Results and summary of qualifying for the MotoGP class in Portugal:
The final practice session for the premier class started with some wind and ended with some smoke, but neither of those slowed down Pol Espargaro, nor did an early crash at turn 5. The Spaniard showed some good consistency as he robbed colleague Miguel Oliveira from topping another session on home soil. Oliveira ended second by only three hundredths of a second after putting together a solid session and the home rider was only six thousandths faster than Takaaki Nakagami.
Results and summary of qualifying for the Moto3 class in Portugal:
Despite enjoying the best of the conditions, the intermediate class were in no rush to make an impact on the combined standings and the time attack that closed the session wasn’t all that feisty either. Remy Gardner managed to surpass Friday’s benchmark in the final 5 minutes of FP3 and led the way by two tenths of a second, while Luca Marini’s FP2 time was enough to keep him second on the combined timesheets. Hector Garzo was one of the few early improvers and the Spaniard topped the session before dropping to third overall, with compatriot Marcos Ramirez up to fourth.
A sunny Portimao welcomed the premier class for Day 2 but riders struggled to make the most of the conditions and were slow to improve their times from Friday. The time attack started early to avoid any yellow flag concerns but after 15 minutes of battle, not everyone managed to go faster. A trio who had no such issues were Jack Miller, Miguel Oliveira and Takaaki Nakagami, the three riders trading top place for much of the session but in the end it was Miller robbing the home favourite by a tenth of a second.
The lightweight class opened yet another fine morning in Portugal and it was a bittersweet one for Jaume Masia. The Spaniard was the early leader of the session and then found three tenths of a second more than his rivals in the final time attack to top the session but he also got sanctioned with a double long lap penalty for irresponsible riding in FP2. Friday leader Albert Arenas did not need to improve to secure a ticket to Q2 but the championship leader did improve to finish second overall.
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. The track is so different, and so difficult, that there is still a huge amount of work to do before anyone can start to draw conclusions. Add in the fact that Michelin has brought four fronts and four rears (with two different hard tires front and rear), and you have a huge and complex puzzle to solve before Sunday. Two 70-minute sessions on Friday helped, but were still nowhere near enough.