For the first time ever, Portugal has a MotoGP polesitter. Of course, the man to do it was Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3) as the home hero produced an outstanding final lap in Q2 at the Grande Premio MEO de Portugal to secure a memorable maiden premier class Saturday P1. His 1:38.892 lap record was enough to see him beat Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) by 0.044 seconds in a rip-roaring final qualifying session of the season. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) is on the front row in P3 but Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) starts from P20, a disaster from the newly-crowned World Champion.
After a slight delay to proceedings following Johann Zarco’s (Esponsorama Racing) GP19 encountered an issue in the final sector, the final Q1 of the season got underway and in it was the top two in the World Championship: Champion Mir and Morbidelli. And it was those two riders who topped the early stages of Q1, before Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) slotted into P2.
Morbidelli’s lap time was the cancelled due to exceeding track limits, leaving Aleix Espargaro and Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) as the two men occupying P1 and P2 as the riders headed out for their second runs. Mir, with six minutes to go, was sixth – Morbidelli was seventh. Morbidelli was then up into P1 but Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) – in his final qualifying appearance as a full-time rider – then stood tallest in Q1 with a cracking 1:39.250 lap time. Binder was on a charge as Morbidelli pitted, the South African was 0.040 under at Sector 3 as Mir crossed the line.
There was no improvement for Mir though and after winning the World Championship less than seven days ago, Mir will start 20th – his equal-worst premier class qualifying position. Binder improved his time but missed out on a Q2 place by just over a tenth, Morbidelli scraped through to join Crutchlow in the Portimao pole position shootout.
So then, the stage was set. The majestic Algarve International Circuit was the perfect host to MotoGP™’s last qualifying dance of 2020, but who would come out on top? Zarco was the first man into the 1:39s, but there would be plenty more where that came from. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) exchanged P1 in quick succession before Morbidelli – on a medium-rear tyre – shot to P1 with a 1:39.245. Miller went P2 as he chased home favourite Oliveira on track, the latter was P5 behind Zarco and Viñales.
After the first runs, Morbidelli was fired up and sitting provisional pole position. Miller and Zarco were on the front row with Viñales, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Oliveira on Row 2. With six minutes to go, most of the riders left pitlane for their final time attack of 2020 and Quartararo was up in Sector 1, so was Crutchlow and so was Zarco. Morbidelli was under his own time in Sector 2 and coming over the line, Quartararo moved himself up to P5 from P9 as Zarco went down at Turn 8 – crucially, bringing out the yellow flags.
Morbidelli improved his time once more as Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) shot into an amazing P2. Crutchlow then demoted his fellow HRC rider to third as Quartararo moved onto the front row, but Morbidelli – now on the soft tyre – and Miller were flying. The first 1:38 was slammed in and it was Morbidelli, a stunning time from the Italian but could Miller snatch it away? Not quite, but the Aussie did go P2.
Then, eyes turned to the local hero. Oliveira was giving it his all on home soil and rising over the brow of the hill, the number 88 crossed the line to set a new all-time lap record. A phenomenal lap from Oliveira, but the celebrations couldn’t be too vigorous just yet. Fellow KTM rider Pol Espargaro was faster in Sector 1 and 2 but by the end of the lap, the time faded away for the Spaniard. None of the other riders were going to challenge and the dream was realised for Oliveira, Tech3 and Portugal. Oliveira is on pole position in Portgual for his maiden MotoGP™ pole, Portugal’s first MotoGP™ pole and Tech3’s first pole of the year. If Sagres did Saturdays…
Morbidelli’s qualifying was outstanding. The Italian came through Q1 – just – to stick it on the front row, 0.044 seconds away from Oliveira and just over a tenth ahead of Miller. That’s Miller’s fifth front row start of the season and he’ll be starting just ahead of his great mate Crutchlow. P4 is the British rider’s best qualifying result since his Aragon front row, can Crutchlow fight for a dream goodbye podium from there? Of course he can. Also hoping to end the season on a high will be Quartararo from P5 on the grid, this hands the Frenchman the BMW Qualifying Award for 2020. In addition, the top five in qualifying are all Independent Team machines.
Hats off to sixth place Bradl. The German HRC test rider has been properly quick all weekend and he was less than two tenths away from the front row. A stellar ride from Marc Marquez’ replacement rider who beats Zarco by 0.034 seconds, Viñales will line-up in P8 as both he and ninth place Pol Espargaro finish just three tenths away from pole. Once again, that’s how mightly close the margins are in MotoGP™. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) is going in search of P2 in the overall standings and the Constructor title for Suzuki, but he’s got a bit of work to do from P10. However, we’ve seen Rins reach the podium from further back in recent times.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemtisu) looked in some discomfort after his FP4 crash and will line-up 11th on tomorrow’s grid, Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) finished Q2 in P12 – 0.695 away from pole position.
What a way for MotoGP™ qualifying to end in 2020. After seeing their man grab a first win in Styria, Portuguese fans now have a premier class pole position to celebrate thanks to the superb efforts of Oliveira. The job isn’t done yet though, can the Portuguese superstar end the season in fairy tale fashion with a race win?
(All the action from Grande Prémio MEO de Portugal of MotoGP™ World Championship 2020 will be LIVE on Eurosport and Eurosport HD with the main race on Sunday, November 22, 2020 from 4:15 PM IST onward. The same will also be streamed LIVE on Discovery Plus application on Sunday, November 22, 2020 from 5:35 PM IST.)
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