Posted on 24th November 2020
Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) took a stunning pole position on Saturday at the Grande Premio MEO de Portugal, putting him in the perfect position to face down his home race with a clear view to Turn 1. And that clear view was never interrupted again once the lights went out as the Portuguese rider rode the race of his life to disappear at the front and decimate the field. Premier class win number two, Tech 3’s second win, another impressive victory for KTM in 2020… and in the first Portuguese Grand Prix since 2012, and the first ever held at Portimão. Sounds like a good Sunday’s work on home turf.
To complete the podium it was another Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) v Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) duel, with the Aussie coming out on top this time around and with that securing Ducati the contructors’ crown. Morbidelli’s third place gives him second overall in the Championship and the title of top Independent Team rider in 2020.
Oliveira got the dream start and into Turn 1, it was Portugal’s superstar who led the way. Morbidelli and Miller also got very good getaways from the front row and they both held station, before Miller then tried to get past the Yamaha at Turn 5. The Australian was slightly wide, however, and Morbidelli didn’t hesitate to take it straight back.
At the end of the opening lap, Oliveira already had a lead of over half a second, and he was pulling clear. Meanwhile World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) had got himself on the fringes of the top 10 from P20 on the grid, but then was almost down on Lap 2 at Turn 3. The Majorcan hit the back of Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) at the tight right-hander and was lucky to stay on, Mir then dropping back down to 20th with all the work to do again.
Meanwhile, Oliveira was in the zone. On Lap 3 his lead was up to 1.5 seconds and the Portuguese rider was into the 1:39s, Morbidelli and Miller with no answer. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) was sitting P4 ahead of Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team), the KTM rider recovering from a Turn 1 mistake to eventually get the better of Crutchlow on Lap 7.
Oliveira’s lead was now over three seconds. Brilliant, scintillating pace from the Styrian GP winner, and the gap from third place Miller and fourth place Pol Espargaro was 2.7 seconds, with the latter having Crutchlow, Bradl and Zarco right behind him. In the battle for the Constructor crown, it was going the way of Ducati too as Rins was the best-placed Suzuki in P8 – with both Miller and Zarco ahead. On Lap 9, Oliveira struck another fastest lap of the race – a 1:39.855 – and his lead was now creeping up to the four-second mark. But would it last?
Behind him, Pol Espargaro’s podium hopes in his final KTM appearance were slipping away, with Miller gaining in small but important increments to get 3.4 seconds up the road as the Ducati man sat half a second behind Valencia GP nemesis Morbidelli…
The battle for the lower ends of the top 10 was a feisty one too, as Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) were embroiled in an almighty tangle, the Japanese rider eventually getting the better of the Frenchman for P9. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) then also passed Quartararo, the early season favourite slipping backwards.
Pol Espargaro was then wide at Turn 8 after almost losing the front on Lap 12, and Crutchlow was back up to P4 but briefly, as it turned out. The KTM struck back. Behind the duo were a whole host of riders: Bradl, Zarco, Rins, Nakagami and Dovizioso, with the three 2020 Yamahas now occupying P13, P14 and P15 – Quartararo leading Maverick Viñales and Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP teammate Valentino Rossi.
With 12 to go, Oliveira’s lead remained just under the four-second mark. The Portuguese rider was on rails around the rollercoaster and with 11 to go, his advantage did then stretch up to and over four seconds.
Meanwhile, Suzuki’s fading hopes of the Triple Crown took another blow as both Dovizioso and Nakagami slid past Rins, the latter dropping to P10 with Mir still not in the points – P16 for the World Champion at that point. And then, with 10 laps to go, the 2020 World Champion’s race was over. A problem with his GSX-RR saw Mir pull into pitlane and it wasn’t the weekend Mir nor Suzuki would have been planning after an epic season. Rins’ race was also unravelling. The number 42 was fighting to keep all three 2020 YZR-M1s behind him for P12. Rins vs Viñales vs Quartararo vs Rossi for the final points? 2020 has been a crazy year!
Back nearer the front, Miller was still shadowing Morbidelli at just under half a second and there were no such troubles in Ducati’s quest to become Constructor Champions as Miller set his first 1:39 of the race to haunt Morbidelli. With that, the battle for second was now getting properly tasty with eight to go. It was a copy/paste from Valencia between Morbidelli and Miller, but this time it was for P2 as Oliveira had well and truly checked out.
Behind the duo, was nearly seven seconds of clear air ahead of Pol Espargaro. The Spaniard now had breathing space back to a sensational battle for P5 though, with Zarco was leading it from Crutchlow and Dovizioso after his Turn 1 pass on Bradl and Nakagami. Rins was now P14, Triple Crown hopes for Suzuki well and truly out the window and barring a mistake from Morbidelli and an upturn in speed for Rins, P2 in the title was lost as well.
Plunging down the hill with five laps to go, the fight for fifth saw Crutchlow run very wide. The British rider was almost in Lisbon and dropped to P9, just ahead of Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini). It was more Moto3™ than MotoGP™…
7.6 seconds up the road though, Miller was back on the tailpipes of Morbidelli. Three laps remained; Miller following Morbidelli for two races and probably able to write a book on the Italian’s riding style by that point. But still, the number 43 couldn’t get close enough to pounce.
So, onto the last lap of the season we went. Out front, Oliveira had an easy – relatively speaking – run to victory, or at least made it look that way after undoubtedly one of the rides of the season. Behind him, Miller was close, very close, to Morbidelli and, finally, the Austrlian struck.
The move came at Turn 13, Miller through and holding it into Turn 14, turning the tables this time around to get some sweet revenge on the Italian. The podium was decided: Oliveira made more history, Miller secured the Constructors’ crown for Ducati (for the first time since 2007 no less), and Morbidelli took second in the Championship and top Independent Team rider after five podiums… three of them wins.
P4 for Pol Espargaro isn’t the podium or victory that he would have wanted in his KTM swan song, but another great ride sees the number 44 finish 5th in the World Championship. An amazing achievement from Pol, KTM and the whole team in 2020 as the Spaniard now says his goodbyes and heads for Honda. Nakagami bounced back from two crashes this weekend to finish the season on a high with his fourth top five, a strong campaign for the Japanese rider.
Dovizioso had a sterling final half of the race to earn P6 in his final race for Ducati. The Italian ends 2020 P4 in the standings before his 2021 sabbatical, it’s not the podium he’ll have been hoping for but a positive way to end his season. Bradl’s weekend in Portimao was insanely good, a crash in Warm Up was the only mistake he made across the three days. P7 for the HRC test rider beats his Le Mans P8 from this year as the Repsol Honda call-up flew the flag high in the finale.
Aleix Espargaro was another who had awesome late-race pace, the Aprilia man secures his third top 10 of the year with a great effort on the Algarve. Alex Marquez’ impressive rookie year ends with a P9 in Portimao, not quite enough to beat Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) to the Rookie of the Year crown but nevertheless, the number 73 was an impressive contender in 2020. Binder crashed out of the finale, rider ok. Zarco crossed the line in P10 ahead of his switch from Esponsorama Ducati to Pramac Ducati, the Frenchman getting the better of factory Yamaha duo Viñales and Rossi.
Unfortunately for the Iwata factory, 2020 wasn’t the year they’d have hoped for after their Jerez success. Viñales finishes sixth in the standings, with Rossi’s final factory Yamaha race ending with a P12 in Portimao. The pair edged out Crutchlow as the British rider bows out of full-time racing with a 13th place, a fantastic career coming to an end for the number 35 as he gets ready for a Yamaha test rider role in 2021.
Quartararo was icing his arm at the end of another difficult race, the Frenchman finishing P14 in Portimao and that’s a result that sees El Diablo settle for P8 in the overall standings. Rins slipped right back in the latter stages and takes the final point of 2020, a disappointing end to a great season for the Spaniard who takes the 2020 bronze medal.
Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) waves goodbye to Ducati with a P16, Mika Kallio (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and Tito Rabat (Esponsorama Racing) were the two other finishers in Portimao as Rabat also – potentially – wraps up his MotoGP™ career. Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) crashed out, Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) was forced to retire on Lap 1. Contact with Mir at Turn 3 saw the Italian in considerable pain back in the garage.
And so, the curtains are drawn on an incredible 2020 MotoGP™ World Championship. Thank you to the fans watching from home, the partners and broadcasters and promoters and everyone worked to make it possible. We did it, #RacingTogether. Congratulations to Joan Mir on becoming 2020 World Champion, it’s time now to get some well-earned rest and reflect on a challenging year off track… made better by the wonderful spectacle on it.
1 Miguel Oliveira* – Red Bull KTM Tech 3 – KTM 41:48.163
2 Jack Miller* -Pramac Racing – Ducati +3.193
3 Franco Morbidelli* – Petronas Yamaha SRT – Yamaha +3.298 *Independent Team riders
Miguel Oliveira: “It’s unreal. You know you dream about these kind of races and to finally be able to do it, it’s incredible. I have no words to describe my gratitude to all the people, the crowd watching at home who couldn’t be here today. Thank you! And to my team, this is my farewell to Tech 3 but it’s a great day, that I could give them this victory again, for Tech 3 and and KTM, it’s a huge accomplishment for me. It’s extra special because my family didn’t get to see my first win live and now they get to see it, they’re here and it’s an incredible day for me. Very emotional, and just glad to finish the season on a high and with a strong performance like today.”
Photos courtesy of motogp.com