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.
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.
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.
The premier class got another hour to enjoy the wonders of the Algarve Circuit and nice warm asphalt welcomed them and opened the floodgates on times in the 1:39s. While KTM and Honda hogged the limelight early in the session, it was Yamaha and Ducati who fought for the lead by the final time attack. Ducati got the upper hand this time out and it was courtesy of Johann Zarco aboard the 2019 machine, the Frenchman one tenth of a second faster than Maverick Vinales. Aleix Espargaro was once more inside the top three, two tenths off top spot and ahead of Fabio Quartararo.
The premier class’ first ride on the rollercoaster of Portimao gave us over an hour of nice wheelie shots out of turn 8 and a pretty tight field until the late time attack that not everyone joined. Although there was no one in the stands to greet him, home hero Miguel Oliveira grabbed top spot at the checkered flag by four hundredths of a second to make a dream start to his home race. Maverick Vinales spent quite a bit of time at the top throughout FP1 but settled for second, while Aleix Espargaro put his experience from the test to good use to join the top three.
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.
It started off with the Asia Talent Cup graduation ceremony, which finished just before the MotoGP rider debriefs were due to start. At the same time as the first batch of debriefs, there were the press conferences for the Moto3 and Moto3 championships, featuring the three title contenders in each class. More debriefs, and then the MotoGP pre-event press conference, this time with the line up expanded from six to seven riders. A final debrief – Valentino Rossi – and then the last press conference of the day, an hour-long discussion with the six MotoGP factory bosses, looking back at the season.
It was a long day. Growing up, my mother used to warn me of the perils of watching too much TV, telling me I risked developing square eyes. Nearly half a century later, I think I finally understand what she meant. Of all the information that was poured into my brain during this everlasting day, I'm not sure I managed to retain any of it.
New track, but an old friend for some
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. The Autodromo Internacional do Algarve at Portimao (more correctly spelled Portimão, but like most English speakers, searching for diacritics on my keyboard is so foreign that I cheat by skipping straight to the Anglicized version of the name) is set just inland from the Algarve, Portugal's southern coast, amid a vast swathe of golfing resorts.
On Sunday Franco Morbidelli proved that an old motorcycle can sometimes be better than a new motorcycle. And he’s not the first to do that
There’s been so much talk about Yamaha’s 2019 and 2020 YZR-M1s in recent weeks that this may be a good time to look into the joys of second-hand MotoGP bikes.
Fabio Quartararo, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales can’t revert to 2019 M1s due to MotoGP engine regulations but you can be sure they would if they could, because the 2019 M1 chassis seems to be better balanced than the 2020 version.
The Valencia round of MotoGP is going to be remembered primarily as the race where Joan Mir make history, becoming the sixth Suzuki rider to win the premier class title, following in the footsteps of Kenny Roberts Jr, Kevin Schwantz, Franco Uncini, Marco Lucchinelli, and Barry Sheene. Rightly so, given the significance of that title, and Mir's path to winning the title. You can read more about that in part one of my Valencia round up.
But there was more to Valencia than just Joan Mir clinching the championship. The Circuit Ricardo Tormo is supposed to be a hard track to pass at, yet in all three classes we saw last-lap battles where the lead and podium places changed hands multiple times. We saw the 2019 Yamaha triumph where the 2020 model came up a long way short. We saw KTM take three of the top six positions, and we saw Andrea Dovizioso surprise himself with an eighth place.
So here are some notes from an intriguing and exciting race weekend.