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Portimão Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On Two Titles Clinched, Remy Gardner's Win, Sam Lowes Digging Deep, And Raul Fernandez Dominating

This was as fun as it looked. The grandstands may have been empty and the paddock quiet, but the Algarve International Circuit lived up to its billing as a spectacular circuit. Not since Turkey’s fabulous Istanbul Park in 2005 had grand prix racing come to a new venue as jaw-dropping and thrilling to the naked eye.

Riders raved about the swoops, the undulations and the blind crests. Sunday showed the 4.6km layout could provide half decent racing, too. For the opening races lived up to the surroundings, with Moto2 and Moto3 serving up vintages high on adrenaline, spectacle and stress that had the championship fight go right the way to the wire. Here are some of the big talking points from the small classes on the last weekend of the season.

Italian Revival

For Enea Bastianini, his directive was clear: a top four finish was enough for a first world title no matter where his rivals finished. If Sam Lowes wasn’t victorious and Luca Marini was, he simply needed a top eight. Thoughts that the Algarve International Circuit (a track unknown to him but not his three rivals) could throw up a banana skin were dashed early. Enea was an impressive fifth at the close of day one.

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Portimao MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Local Knowledge vs Fast Riders, Yamaha's Conundrum, And Suzuki Sinking Without A Trace

According to Albert Einstein's Special theory of relativity, time slows down as your speed increases. The faster you go, the slower time appears to pass. That would explain why the Covid-compressed 2020 MotoGP season has simultaneously felt like it was taking forever and is over in the blink of an eye. 14 races in 18 weeks was brutal on everyone involved, an intense schedule which had everyone working at light speed yet struggling to keep up. You would have to go back to the 1960s to find a season that was so short. But back then, they were fitting 8 races into 18 weeks, not nearly double that.

At least we had a fitting stage for the season finale. In a season with highs and lows, holding the last MotoGP round of 2020 at the roller-coaster which is the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve was fitting, a metaphor for the year made physical. But did that location give the winner, Miguel Oliveira, an advantage at what was effectively his home race? Was he, like Nicky Hayden at Laguna Seca in 2005, better able to unlock the secrets of the Portimão track because he had ridden here so often?

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Portimao MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Fairy Tale Time At Portimao?

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. 

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Portimao MotoGP Friday Round Up: Fun, Fear, And Finding Setup At Roller-Coaster Portimao

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.

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Portimao MotoGP Thursday Round Up: How To Approach The Last Race With Nothing On The Line

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

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Valencia Moto2 & Moto3 Review - Neil Morrison On A Moto2 Thriller, Diggia's Downfall, Lowes' Fortitude, And The Vicissitudes Of Airline Seats

Joan Mir wrapped up the MotoGP title with a round to go. But the junior classes will go right to the wire after two dramatic encounters at the Valencian Grand Prix. Moto2 produced its best race of the year, Moto3 its biggest winning margin of the year. Here, we look at last weekend’s big talking points in the junior classes.

Chaos reigns in vintage finale

As fun and open as Moto2 has been this year, a race wasn’t decided on the final lap (Jorge Martin’s controversial penalty at the Styrian GP aside) from round 1 to round 13. Here, it would have been hard to conjure up more drama if events had been penned by a Hollywood scriptwriter.

Once European GP winner Marco Bezzecchi hit the front on lap five, it was hard to see a way back from his pursuers. But by Sunday lunchtime the wind had picked up considerably from the morning, making the Moto2 machines nervous and twitchy. “With the wind, I really struggled,” said Bezzecchi. “The bike was very nervous, I had little grip.” This surely played a major part in the nature of the top five: just 0.8s covered first to fifth after 25 laps.

As did Di Giannantonio. He and Bezzecchi had more than a second in hand over the pursuers with five laps remaining. But the Speed Up man’s two moves pushed them wide, allowing the rest back into play. It was a finale to remember.

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Portimao MotoGP Preview: 2020's Final Unexplored Frontier

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.

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Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Battles On A Tight Track, And Comparing The 2019 And 2020 Yamahas

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.

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Valencia MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 1: The Meaning Of Joan Mir's Championship

So it turns out somebody does want to win this thing after all. After a wild, wild ride through the 2020 MotoGP season – scratch that, through all of 2020 – Joan Mir has finally been crowned champion. And he did it in the most Joan Mir way possible: not with an extravagant flourish, or with all-out aggression risking everything, but by understanding what was needed, riding to the limits on the day, and seizing the prize when it was offered. This was a title won with the head, with generous measure of guts and heart thrown into the mix.

There's an old cliche about swans, gliding gracefully and calmly across the water while paddling like fury below it. That was how the Suzuki rider came into the second weekend at Valencia, the race where he had the title within reach. Outwardly projecting calm, he had the turmoil of nerves to deal with underneath. Try as he might, Mir could not prevent that tension from breaking through to the surface.

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Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Pressure Of The Championship Is Starting To Count

It was supposed to be a steady, stable weekend with consistent weather for all three days of the Valencia MotoGP round. But it's 2020, so of course, that didn't happen. After a solid day of dry weather on Friday, conditions turned on Saturday. Not by a lot, but just enough to render chasing a quick time in practice and qualifying a treacherous business, with light rain coming and going throughout.

After the track dried in FP3, it never really rained hard enough to need wet tires. But there was just enough rain at times to make grip supremely treacherous, and to force riders to take bigger risks than they might have wanted. Alex Márquez paid the heaviest price, pushing hard in Q1 after rain had started to fall, the rear coming round on him and snapping back to highside him to what looked like low earth orbit.

It turned out to be a lucky escape for Márquez, the Repsol Honda rider escaping with a painful tailbone and a badly bruised bone in his left hand. His injuries were severe enough that his participation in the race tomorrow is to be assessed during warm up on Sunday morning.

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