Strap in! MotoGP™ revved up and ready for the rollercoaster
The paddock returns to Portugal after an incredible first four races, with Bastianini back in the hot seat
Monday, 18 April 2022
As the dust settles after a headline maker in Austin, the European leg of the season is just around the corner. The destination is the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve as the first of a back-to-back sees the paddock head for Portugal, and there is plenty to talk about on the way in after another shake-up last time out.
Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) is the natural place to start as the ‘Beast’ blasted back to the top step in style in Texas. In so doing, the Italian also took back the Championship lead and made quite a statement taking Ducati’s first win at the track, backing up a season opener in Qatar that was impressive but on Borgo Panigale happy hunting grounds. COTA was different, and Bastianini is, according to Ducati Lenovo Team’s Jack Miller with whom he shared the podium in Austin, also different – with rider not machine making the difference on, amongst other things, tyre life. That bodes well as the Bologna bullets face down Portimão.
The aforementioned Miller took his first podium of the season last time out though, and it wasn’t a win but it was a nevertheless impressive and hard-fought third place. He has been on the podium twice in Portugal too, and after it more being bad luck denting his place in the standings so far, he’ll want to stay in the podium postcode. Teammate Francesco Bagnaia, meanwhile, also has two podiums at the track and one was a win – with the Italian having proven a masterful opponent last season. As he rebuilds some good form after a a fairly nightmare first two races, will familiar and successful turf see him take another step forward?
Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) had a likewise difficult opening two races before then fighting for the win in Argentina, but COTA saw both he and teammate Johann Zarco fade slightly in the latter stages. Martin will want to put bad memories of the venue to bed as well as get back in the podium fight as he pushes to make up lost ground, and the number 89 can never be counted out – especially on Saturdays, where he’s on quite a run of front rows.
The man who beat Miller to that second place will also feel more confident heading into Portimão. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) pitched it to perfection to get Suzuki to 500 Grand Prix podiums and open his count for the season, on top of some solid consistency from the Hamamatsu factory overall this season. He’s had incredible speed on the Algarve before, before disaster struck, but the 2022 GSX-RR seems to have reset those limits Rins was all too often overstepping in 2021, allowing the Spaniard’s pace to shine again.
2020 Champion Joan Mir will also feel confident heading into Portugal. Although still looking for that first podium of the season, the number 36 has been close and, just like Rins, consistent. His record at the rollercoaster is an impressive one too, with two podiums from our two visits to the track last year. Is the time now for Mir’s classic consistency to kick up a gear as we head into Europe?
Behind the Ducati-Suzuki lock out of the top five at COTA came an almighty comeback from Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). The number 93 – never previously defeated if reaching the finish line in Austin – suffered a mechanical problem on his Honda that dropped him to dead last off the line, and then came a choice: a conservative return to competition as hinted at ahead of the event (and which may even have been enough to fight for the win without the extra hurdle) or a somewhat more rocket-fuelled push back to the front? Marc Marquez is Marc Marquez, and what followed was a goosebumps-inducer.
The number 93 got back into the top ten with speed that those he was passing could have considered a professional affront, but it wasn’t quite enough to get back into the podium postcode. Bastianini’s win was the fastest ever at COTA by a margin, so it was by no means going to be easy had the problem not occurred, but Marquez did end up in another great battle against reigning Champion Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP).
It was seemingly not simply about taking that sixth place in one race, with plenty more on the line in something akin to a 2019 rematch. For those watching, a round of it at a more Diablo-ruled venue would be a welcome second bout too, because it lit the latter stages on fire ahead of Rins’ launch on Miller. Marquez vs Portimão will most definitely be an interesting one though, as it’s a venue the number 93 has not yet mastered as he has so many. What will he have in the locker? And can Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) get back those Qatar podium vibes?
If there ever was a Diablo-ruled venue though, the Algarve has been such. When Quartararo won at the track in the Portuguese GP last season, it looked effortless – with five seconds in hand by the flag for a statement win. Then, later in the year the points were much more precious than a full push for glory. So what will the number 20 have in store this time around? It’s one podium so far after a difficult start to the season for Yamaha, and Quartararo has so far been a lonely presence in the upper echelons for the Iwata marque. Will the return to Europe hail a little more for the factory, and its reigning Champion? Franco Morbidelli (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) will also be hoping so after a tough start to the season, and the number 21 is no stranger to the podium in Portugal.
That can also be said of another up and down starter to the season: home hero Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). The number 88 has that awe-inspiring wet win under his belt from Indonesia, but has otherwise had a tougher time of it so far compared to teammate Brad Binder. KTM overall also had a tougher time of it in Texas, with the top ten remaining out of reach on race day. Oliveira absolutely gassed it on first touch with his home track though, disappearing in a real masterclass – so can he find more form on home turf and, perhaps importantly for KTM, can they find consistency again at a venue where they have a few more laps? Binder’s position in the Championship took a dent last time out, and they’ll want to make sure it’s one duff weekend only seeing a handful of points slip away.
Aprilia also had a tougher time of it in Texas. The Noale factory have struggled at the venue before but, coming from victory, they will still have wanted more than 10th and 11th. Having said that, just like KTM, an outlier if remaining an outlier is no reason to expect that form to continue on European turf. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) tasted the highs of winning and being Championship leader, now sure to be aiming to get back amongst the podium fight, but teammate Maverick Viñales also made an important step in Texas despite it being a tougher result on paper: he finished ahead of the number 41. What will they have in their arsenal as the paddock returns to Portugal?
It’s been said many a time that it’s when the European leg of the season starts that the picture really starts to become clearer, and after a record breaking range of riders on the podium already this season there’s certainly room for many to find some better consistency. But the show is guaranteed to remain a stunner as MotoGP™ heads to the Grande Premio Tissot de Portugal and the golden era continues, so make sure to tune in as the lights go out on Sunday at 13:00 local time (GMT +1), which is 14:00 in much of Europe but an hour earlier for Lisbon and London.
MotoGP™ CHAMPIONSHIP: TOP 5
1 Enea Bastianini (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) – Ducati – 61
2 Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) – Suzuki – 56
3 Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) – Aprilia – 50
4 Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) – Suzuki – 46
5 Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) – Yamaha – 44
Early pacesetters vs maiden success: Moto2™ resets for the rollercoaster
The intermediate class heads for Portimão with some new podium players and the two early favourites looking to bounce back
The Circuit of the Americas saw some milestones for two Moto2™ riders: Tony Arbolino (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) took his Moto2™ maiden win – incidentally also his first visit to the rostrum in the class – and Jake Dixon (Autosolar GASGAS Aspar Team) took a maiden Grand Prix podium in any class. Arbolino has been quick before as a rookie but has taken a definitive step forward this season, and Dixon has been there or thereabouts a few times before bad luck and trouble put paid to the podium. This time, the battle between bringing it home and pushing on to fight it out – in this case with Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) – saw the Brit tick the box and complete an impressive trajectory from British Superbike to Moto2™ podium.
That makes for an interesting conundrum as to what to expect on the Algarve. Arbolino and Dixon will arrive with a shot of confidence, and the latter certainly has a weight off knowing that first part of the job is done. So can they fight at the front again? It wasn’t just COTA where they were quick, so all signs point to yes. Dixon, in fact, eyes Portugal as a good chance to achieve even more.
Ogura can’t be counted out either. The Japanese rider has made a habit of bothering the podium fight all year and if in doubt, will send – having also unburdened himself fairly early of the need to tick that first Moto2™ podium box. He’s now second in the standings too, although he seems to want a win more than much else, so if in doubt, will still send. Teammate Somkiat Chantra, meanwhile, arrives from a little too much send as the Thai rider came crashing back down to Earth from a stunning first couple of races, and he’ll want to bounce back and overcome his Long Lap Penalty given for that incident as quickly as he can. Sam Lowes (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team), one high profile name caught up in it, will also be keen to head back onto familiar turf and stake a claim back on the frontrunners.
Speaking of bouncing back, Fermin Aldeguer (Lightech Speed Up) is on a mission to do the same having similarly overcooked it in Texas, although having been judged to have had a lot less time to react after the Chantra incident ahead. It’s now a lot of speed and a lot of bad luck for the 54 so far in 2022, but the key is the first bit because the second seldom lasts forever. Portimão is turf he knows much better too, so that is a warning sign for the rest if ever there was.
And now, Celestino Vietti (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) and Aron Canet (Flexbox HP 40). Having tipped themselves favourites to fight for the crown throughout the season, Texas was the first big hurdle for both. First, it seemed like Canet’s lucky day in the standings as his main rival faced his first DNF of the season, and then the pendulum swung swiftly back and the chance was lost – of gaining serious ground and of taking that first Moto2™ win. It’s likely both will be straight back at the sharp end though and Vietti still leads the standings, with the gap between the two unchanged but a few riders gaining ground in between. What can they do on the Algarve? Their past form at a venue seems to matter little so far in 2022, although Canet has already visited the podium, so don’t bet against it.
Finally, Red Bull KTM Ajo. 2022 has been a far cry from 2021 so far, but the season is early and the time is plenty. Augusto Fernandez will likely be looking for a points haul in Portugal and to keep it within the limits as he looks to rebuild some consistency, and rookie teammate Pedro Acosta will be an interesting watch. This is the venue the number 51 blitzed in pre-season, and a venue he’s already more than mastered in Moto3™. If the more difficult start to Moto2™ has left Acosta feeling he needs to pull a rabbit out the hat, the Algarve seems to set a good stage for him to try.
Moto2™ race last this time around, with the schedule a little different to the usual. The lights go out for the intermediate class at 14:30 local time, which is GMT +1 as summer time begins – an hour behind much of Europe as Lisbon lines up with London.
Moto2™ CHAMPIONSHIP: TOP 5
1 Celestino Vietti (Mooney VR46 Racing Team) – Kalex – 70
2 Ai Ogura (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) – Kalex – 56
3 Tony Arbolino (Elf Marc VDS Racing Team) – Kalex – 54
4 Aron Canet (Flexbox HP 40) – Kalex – 49
5 Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) – Kalex – 45
Can Foggia, Migno and Masia keep it pinned in Portugal?
The first two have form and the latter arrives from his first win of the year, but if some rookies have already been gaining headlines so far, we’re now heading onto more familiar turf…
The Moto3™ race in Texas boiled up into another classic encounter, and from the unique COTA the grid now heads for the differently unique Autodromo Internacional do Algarve. Jaume Masia (Red Bull KTM Ajo) arrives having put some bad luck to bed and fresh from the top step, and Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) was likewise back on the podium – with the two making amends from a more dramatic encounter in Argentina. Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing), meanwhile, was once again fast, consistent and drama free – something he’s making a habit of in 2022, and something that’s put him 16 points clear in the standings.
Portimão has already been a good hunting ground for the Italian too, with his speed having been consistently impressive and any bad luck purely that. Migno has also been on the rostrum in Portugal more than once and will be hoping to repeat the feat, and it’s now Masia who arrives looking to prove flashes of speed at the venue can return some big points this time around.
On the other side of the coin, Sergio Garcia (Valresa GASGAS Aspar Team) is looking to bounce back from bad luck at COTA and find some more podium form on the Algarve, and teammate Izan Guevara will want to be right back in that rostrum fight. Ayumu Sasaki (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) heads in with his form seemingly ironed out and shouldn’t be discounted, and the names of the potential frontrunners go on. But then there are the rookies.
There have been some standout performers so far, but on speed alone the honours until this point have to go to Diogo Moreira (MT Helmets – MSI). The Brazilian has had a mix of bad luck and mistakes, to be expected in a first World Championship season, but the pace has been stunning – and the veterans on the grid will be sarcastically pleased to know that on his debut in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup last season in Portimão, he promptly put it on pole and then came second in the first race. That’s a good omen, and he’ll be hoping to arrive in good shape after his crash in Texas left him needing to be passed fit ahead of the Grande Premio Tissot de Portugal.
Scott Ogden (VisionTrack Racing Team) is also putting together a quietly impressive campaign and gaining traction, and he’ll want more on more familiar ground. Daniel Holgado (Red Bull KTM Ajo), meanwhile, has had some serious speed of late – but also a few extra and unwanted adventures. He’ll want to iron that out and make pace pay for points in Portugal.
The schedule is another slightly different one this weekend, but Moto3™ are racing first once again as the European leg of the season begins. The lights go out at 11:20 in GMT +1, which is Lisbon and London time.
Moto3™ CHAMPIONSHIP: TOP 5
1 Dennis Foggia (Leopard Racing) – Honda – 74
2 Sergio Garcia (Valresa GASGAS Aspar Team) – GASGAS – 58
3 Andrea Migno (Rivacold Snipers Team) – Honda – 41
4 Izan Guevara (Valresa GASGAS Aspar Team) – GASGAS – 37
5 Deniz Öncü (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) – KTM – 37