Portuguese GP: The Rollercoaster Awaits

Image: WorldSBK.com

The 2021 MotoGP world championship arrives in Europe this weekend, at the stunning Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, on the southern coast of Portugal.

If ever there was a circuit specifically designed to put grand prix motorcycles through the ultimate test, this is undoubtedly it. With its 15 corners (9 right, 6 left), and constant changes of elevation, the circuit is affectionately known by the locals as “A montanha roussa” – The Rollercoaster.

World Superbikes were the first to arrive at the venue back in 2008. Amazingly, it took until the Covid-affected 2020 season before the grand prix paddock arrived – but boy was it worth it, with local hero Miguel Oliveira taking a thrilling victory aboard the Tech3 KTM. Now with the factory Red Bull KTM team for 2021, there is not just hope but expectation to deliver, from the home fans.   

Speaking of expectation, the unknown quantity for this weekend is undoubtedly the returning Marc Marquez. Having been given the green light by his doctor, the eight-time world champion will return to the premier class. The news would have been a morale boost for the Repsol Honda team, as new rider Pol Espargaro and HRC test rider Stefan Bradl endured torrid back-to-back weekends. 

Of course, we do not know what version of Marquez we will have back. Will it be the all conquering, all dominating rider who held an exclusive stranglehold on the championship from 2016-19? Only three riders: Giacomo Agostini, Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi have won more successive premier class titles. Or will we see an initially more reserved Marquez, allowing his body time to adjust back to the extreme rigors of racing at the highest level? Or will injuries have taken a terminal toll to any aspirations of equaling and surpassing Rossi’s haul of 9 world titles? Certainly all and sundry of the MotoGP fan base have been very vocal in their opinions. 

One thing though is certain – Marquez backs himself to the hilt. He has returned because he feels ready to fight for wins – not merely to make up the numbers on the grid. Love him or loathe him, we all await with bated breath for Sunday’s race. Only then will we truly know which Marquez has returned.   

Marc Marquez pole sitter in the 2019 , Aragón,MotoGP race. Image courtesy of Jaime Olivares/Box Repsol

With the emphasis of this circuit very much on cornering stability and speed, the likes of Monster Yamaha and Team Ecstar Suzuki will be licking their lips in anticipation. For Suzuki, they will be eager to put a difficult opening two rounds behind them and send a statement to the field that 2020 was no flash in the pan. Whilst the factory Yamaha outfit will be hoping to continue their stellar early season form, having taken the spoils in both Qatar outings with Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo.

The general consensus this week is that Ducati may well find the going tough here. Whilst the main straight does play to the strength of the V4 engine, and the bike has improved again on corner turn-in – the alarming rate (and indeed suddenness) with which their tyres wore out will be cause for serious concern. Jack Miller at least will now have full use of both his arms for this weekend. The Australian had been struggling with the dreaded ‘arm pump’ in Qatar, which prompted corrective surgery immediately afterwards.

Ducati’s main hope for success may well lie this week with Johann Zarco on the satellite Pramac Racing Ducati. The Frenchman found success in Qatar due to his very smooth riding style, eking out as much life from the Michelin tyres as possible. With tyre wear levels again expected to be high this weekend, Zarco’s ability to nurse the rubber home may yet ensure that Ducati Corse add another rostrum trophy to their collection. 

The team to watch out for this weekend is Aprilia. The Noale-based outfit have made serious improvements since last season. The new ‘slimmed-down’ V4 engine has brought a vast increase in torque for the lower gears, which has seriously improved cornering speed and stability. The trade off has been a loss of power top end. Aleix Espargaro claimed that he was losing as much as 20kph (12.5mph) down the main straight at Losail. Nevertheless, the team managed to finish round two in P10, but only 5.38 seconds behind race winner Quartararo. Both team and rider will be quietly confident that a maiden podium finish is not far away. 

Aprilia have wasted no time to ensure they keep up in the development race. 3-time premier class runner-up Andrea Dovizioso made his much anticipated debut for the team earlier this week, testing at the Jerez circuit. Whilst the team were understandably tight lipped regarding any data, the strongest rumour doing the rounds suggests that the Italian is closing in on a permanent race deal with the team. 

Credit: Suzuki MotoGP

So the King has returned, but the young pretenders are hungry. In his absence Joan Mir (Team Ecstar Suzuki) has shown he is one who can wear the crown. There are no slow riders in MotoGP, and nobody is given quarter on track for past reputation. Come 1 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, all eyes will be fixed on the 22 gladiators as the next chapter in the 2021 championship is written.

As the great Nick Harris used to say: “Let battle commence!”

Racing Legends: Marc Marquez

There are talented racers in Moto GP and then there are those who seem to be born to race. Ones that stand out from the crowd. Marc Marquez is one of those riders. With his natural ability, his intelligence, understanding of racing and his wonderful family support behind him, culminate to an unstoppable force.

Courtesy of: MichelinMotorsport.com

Born February 1993, in Cerevera, Spain. Marquez has always gravitated towards a career in Motorcycle racing. Thriving from his family’s love and encouragement, Marc has gone on to be a phenomenon in his own right. He has shown audiences worldwide that he has the passion, courage and correct character that all great champions need.

Starting off racing competitively in the Catalan and Spanish National Championships Marquez went on to race in the 125’s. Only six races into his first season he scored his first podium. Learning how to use the bike to his full advantage, he carried on this momentum into his second season in 2009. Finishing in the top 10.

2010 became the first actual taste of Marquez’s true talent. Winning the 125 championship, just 17 years and 263 days old. The second youngest 125 champion after Loris Capirossi, who was just 17 years and 165 days old.

Progressing into the Moto 2 class in 2011, Marquez only took one season to learn, conquering in 2012, becoming the new world champion.

Not wishing to carry on in Moto 2, Marquez then progressed again, this time to the Premier Class. Showing his determination to be a Moto GP champion, he won his first race on the Honda, in only the second race of the season in Texas, a new track for Moto GP. It was here that he also became the youngest ever pole setter, the youngest ever race winner of the top class at just 20 years and 62 days and he completed the full set with the fastest lap, a superb achievement.

He was soon breaking all the youngest ever records and setting new ones. In only his first year he managed the impossible – winning the entire championship, by only 4 points, over Jorge Lorenzo. The first time a rookie had won since 1978 (Kenny Roberts Snr). Becoming the youngest ever World Champion at 20 years and 266 days and the youngest rider to win back-to-back Grand Prix races in the Premier Class at Laguna Seca and Sachsenring.

Putting any doubters to rest, saying that he would only be a one-time champion, he won back-to-back seasons in 2014, securing victory with three races to spare. Setting new records for the most wins in a season as well as most pole positions in a year and beating Mick Doohan’s record of twelve race wins in one season. The same year saw his younger brother Alex also win a title, in Moto 3.

Winning five races and retiring in six, Marquez found himself finishing third overall in 2015, having not been able to match the consistency of Yamaha team-mates Rossi and Lorenzo. Having three collisions on-track with Rossi, controversy about his “aggressive riding style” drew criticism, yet again, from his fellow riders, namely Rossi with whom he had battled numerous times for the championship. Some racing fans turned against Marquez, even booing him on the podium, but things soon settled down again when Rossi and Marquez embraced in parc ferme after the race which followed the tragic death of Moto 2 rider Luis Salom.

Despite not winning the 2015 title, Marquez was still putting himself firmly in the history books. Becoming the first rider to win six consecutive races at one track – Sachsenring – his most successful track.

Courtesy of: Motorsport.com. A seemingly impossible save

However, having this set back in 2015 spurred him on to win in 2016 and once again be crowned Moto GP World Champion, in Japan. The culmination of new Michelin tyres and new bike restriction rules saw audiences witness nine race winners during this season.

Struggling at the start of the 2017 championship, Honda decided they needed to find a suitable set-up for Marc’s personal riding style. They soon found it and he went on to win the races at Germany, Czech Republic, Misano and Australia. Dovizioso, who was his closest rival that year, kept the championship alive up to the final round, but ultimately Marquez held onto his title.

Courtesy of: Asphalt & rubber.com. Soaking up the championship win.

With history repeating itself the following year, Dovizioso seemed to be Marquez’s main on-track rival in 2018, but several crashes ruled out his contention to be Moto GP Champion and Marquez once again won the title. This same year Dani Pedrosa, Marc’s team mate decided to retire, he was replaced by fellow countryman Jorge Lorenzo.

Marquez won eleven races in 2019, sealing victory with an impressive four rounds left until the end of the season. This was now his sixth Premier Class Championship title, having only been in the top-class for the past seven years. He has become the youngest rider in the history of Moto GP to win seven World Championships and the youngest rider to have won five premier-class titles. At the end of 2019 Lorenzo also retired, leading the way for Marquez’s younger brother Alex to partner up with him at Honda.

Courtesy of: Motorsport.com. Celebrating the 2019 win with brother Alex.

This team looked to be the perfect match, with the brothers being so close, they would share everything and hopefully bring both sides of the Honda garage together.

However, this was not to be. Having done so many impossible saves, Marc was unable to save his bike and had a very heavy crash in just the first race of the new season, in Qatar on lap 20 and broke a bone in his arm. This resulted in him having to miss the entire year. Having gone under numerous surgeries since the accident, he is determined to come back strong and fighting again in 2021.

Hopefully we will witness the same Marc Marquez we have grown to admire. With his unique racing style and positive attitude, there surely will be more records set and broken.