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MotoGP 2024: Portugal – A Lot Of Firsts

Image source: KTM

That was a lot of firsts! Maverick Viñales’ first victory on an Aprilia (although, sadly, it won’t be counted as a MotoGP victory as it occurred in a Sprint race, so he missed out on being the first rider to win for three different manufacturers even though, technically, he has done just that), Marc Marquez’ first podium on a Ducati, Pedro Acosta’s first podium (that happened a little sooner than we thought, no matter how inevitable a podium this year seemed) and the first time Jorge Martin will lead the championship for more than 24 hours!

The Portimao circuit has to be one of the best circuits on the calendar, thanks to the sharp elevation changes and the nature of the track with some real balls-out corners. In a way, it’s a little like Texas’ Circuit of the Americas, to which track we’ll be heading in three weeks, and the Sachsenring in Germany, both of which feature elevation changes.

Image source: KTM

It was a weekend of real upsets, involving many of the riders, from qualifying right through the Sprint and Main races. No one predicted Bastianini taking pole, nor Viñales joining him on the front row, especially when Aleix Espargaro on the second factory Aprilia couldn’t make it out of Q1. With Martin and Bagnaia lining up third and fourth, it seemed as if it would be business as usual come lights out. Jack Miller burst through to take the lead on the first lap but there was the nagging doubt that he would be there come the end of the race and so it panned out, although he was spared the indignity of dropping like a stone through the field, ending the Sprint race in fifth, repeating the result in the Main race.

Image source: KTM

Binder, starting only tenth after a qualifying tumble, was obviously looking forward to a strong showing but that was not to be as he slid ingloriously out on lap five: Sunday would be another day for the South African.

Meanwhile, Bagnaia was looking ominously comfortable at the front but Viñales, Martin and Marquez weren’t letting him get too far ahead and, it has to be said, it was great to see both Viñales and Marquez fighting at the sharp end. It was a fight that was worth having as, with one mistake under braking by Bagnaia, he was wide at turn one and Viñales, Martin and Marquez swept by. It’s those mistakes that have made both of Bagnaia’s titles a real fight to the very end as he loses points unnecessarily. If he thought that was bad, however, worse was to come in the Main race.

Image source: MotoGP

Normally, in this situation, Martin would be past Viñales and away but, for whatever reason, he simply did not have the confidence in the tyres to attack although, ironically, Marquez did, or else it was just sheer balls, and he dived through to take second, which he held to the finish, Martin rounding out the podium. Bagnaia salvaged fourth, which kept him on top of the championship table, but not by much, while Wunderkind Acosta was seventh; neither result could have prepared us for Sunday’s action.

Image source: MotoGP

Sunday’s Main race could have been a procession, with Martin leading from start to finish and never looking as if he would be seriously challenged from behind. It was behind, however, that all the drama was unfolding.

Once again, Viñales ran a strong second, keeping Bastianini at bay but little did we know that the Aprilia rider was nursing a gearbox problem, which finally did for him as they crossed the line to start the last lap. Bastianini swept past before the first corner, while Viñales ran wide before the gearbox seemed to seize and throw him off. That was really poor reward for a brilliant ride and it wasn’t entirely out of the question that the Aprilia could have snatched the lead, no matter how comfortable Martin was looking up front.

But that wasn’t it! That pesky kid Acosta was making a real nuisance of himself. He despatched Binder for sixth on lap seven and made quick work of getting past Marquez, with Bagnaia next in his sights. He found the reigning World Champion a harder nut to crack and had a couple of attempts to pass thrown back in his face but, as if any reminder was needed, Acosta is no respecter of reputations.

Image source: MotoGP

Eventually, he made the move stick, taking fourth, but a podium was surely out of the question, as Bastianini in third was a couple of seconds up the road. Viñales’ misfortune, however, was just the luck that potential champions have handed to them on a plate, and the podium was his.

Image source: MotoGP

Still, we weren’t done. Marquez was really hounding Bagnaia coming into the final laps and then, almost inevitably, it happened. Marquez dived down the inside and was past, but he was a little wide having carried too much speed into the corner. Bagnaia saw an opportunity and went to dive back inside before they had even reached the apex of the corner but he too was carrying a little too much speed and rode into the side of a recovering Marquez, taking them both out.

Image source: MotoGP

They both remounted but the chance of any points was gone. Quite rightly, the race stewards ruled it a racing incident. It’s far too early for this to be a disaster for Bagnaia’s hopes of retaining the championship but this certainly wasn’t the weekend he was wanting this early in the season.

The incident and, indeed, the whole weekend, was a warning that Bagnaia is really going to have his work cut out in 2024; Marquez remains as dangerous as ever now that he is on a competitive bike; Acosta has the ability to really upset the apple cart; Martin has lost none of his speed; the factory KTMs are giving very little away to the Ducatis and Aprilia will be right up there, although perhaps more susceptible to suiting some circuits more than others. Binder needs to find a bit of consistency in qualifying but he too will be a threat over the course of a full season.

Image source: KTM

If anything, 2024 is shaping up to be the most unpredictable season for a while, even if Yamaha and Honda have taken themselves out of the picture. It hardly matters: Ducati, KTM and Aprilia are providing more than enough entertainment and, if the smart money would be on Martin or Bagnaia to take the title, there’s nothing to say that any of the other riders on those bikes can’t mount a challenge through consistent points-scoring finishes. What a tantalising prospect.

For the second race weekend in a row, there was little or nothing said about tyre pressures, which is a relief for anyone who thought that it was going to ruin the racing.

Image source: KTM

Also, for the second time, Yamaha and Honda had nothing to write home about. Quartararo at least managed to finish the Sprint race in seventh, “only” eight seconds off the winner and took points, while he was ninth in the Main race, albeit 20 seconds behind the winner. At least that was better than Honda, the best-placed being Joan Mir in 12th in the Main race and 14th in the Sprint. Oh dear!

There’s an interminable three-week wait to the next round in Austin, Texas, the Argentinian round having been cancelled, apparently due to political issues in that country. At least it gives us time to catch our breath!

Image source: KTM
Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
Harry has been obsessing about motorbikes for over 45 years, riding them for 38 years and writing and talking about them for 13 years. In that time, he has ridden everything from an Aprilia to a Zundapp, from the 1920s to the 2020s. His favourites are the ones that didn’t break down and leave him stranded. While he loves the convenience of modern bikes, he likes nothing better than getting his hands dirty keeping old bikes running, just as long as it’s not by the roadside! Old enough to know better and young enough not to care, he knows you don’t stop riding when you get old, you get old when you stop riding.
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