The Aprilia man was quickest in a crucial Portimao familiarisation test for the MotoGP™ riders, Yamaha emerge as early favourites
Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro set the fastest-ever two-wheel lap around the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve during Wednesday’s Portimao Test action. The Spaniard was able to lay down a 1:40.170 to lead teammate Bradley Smith by nearly a second on the timesheets as most of the MotoGP™ competitors completed a very important day of track familiarisation in Portugal, ahead of the upcoming French GP.
It was a warm, sunny day on the Algarve coast and Aleix Espargaro’s fastest time was under Jonathan Rea’s fastest WorldSBK Superpole time around Portimao. The Kawasaki star’s record is a 1:40.372 set in 2019, meaning the elder Espargaro wasted no time in getting down to very respectable lap times on the opening day as he and teammate Smith were the only current full-time MotoGP™ riders lapping on their premier class machines – concession rules allowing Aprilia to do so.
The general feeling from most of the riders is that the track is very difficult and on their MotoGP™ bikes, it’s going to be very tough here. However, it’s a great circuit. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) said the circuit was “sweet” but “scary”, with teammate Maverick Viñales particularly liking the fast, flowing final corner. The Spaniard and second in the Championship Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) said the wheelies could be a problem with the MotoGP™ bikes, with the general consensus being that Yamaha will start the weekend as favourites – the track seemingly suiting the YZR-M1’s characteristics.
On the other hand, the Ducati riders suggested that they could struggle with their Desmosedicis in Portimao after Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Jack Miller (Pramac Racing), Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team), Pecco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing), Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) and Tito Rabat (Esponsorama Racing) attacked the layout on superbikes, alongside test rider Michele Pirro on the GP20. Pirro’s fastest time on Wednesday was a 1:41.654.
Overall, the riders were impressed with how good the asphalt is. It provided plenty of grip, but it’s hard to tell how grippy it will be in November on the MotoGP™ bikes for the season finale. Either way, great early indications that we’re set for a cracking final round of 2020.
Joining Viñales and Rossi on circuit was Petronas Yamaha SRT’s Franco Morbidelli, meaning Championship leader Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) was the only Yamaha absentee on Wednesday. Viñales’ R1 superbike was fitted with a transponder and the Spaniard completed 41 laps in the afternoon session, setting a best time of a 1:43.699. Of the three riders who had transponders fitted to their bikes, Viñales was over a second quicker than Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing).
Jorge Lorenzo enjoyed his first time on a MotoGP™ bike for the first time since February’s Sepang Test, the five-time World Champion set a best time of a 1:44.910 as he got reacquainted with the Yamaha. ‘The Spartan’ will be back on track throughout Thursday to continue his and Yamaha’s work on tyres, the gearbox and general base settings that Viñales, Rossi, Morbidelli and Quartararo can work from at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
The day was mainly focused on getting used to the new circuit for both the riders and teams. It was vital for the factories to gather information about the layout so they have a decent base to work from when they hit the track on Friday at the Grand Prix, with data on tyres, gearing and electronics ahead of the competitive weekend very important.
KTM’s Dani Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Pirro, Suzuki’s Sylvain Guintoli and Aprilia’s Lorenzo Savadori will be lapping Portimao on Thursday as the respective factory test riders continue to gather useful data, with everyone else heading to Le Mans for the French GP. Quartararo, Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech3) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) were the only full-time riders not in attendance at the Algarve layout, but we’ll see them all in action this weekend at Le Mans. – www.motogp.com