MotoGP riders and teams commence the championship’s major European sector in Portugal this weekend, with 12 Grands Prix over five months following season-opening races in Qatar, Indonesia, Argentina and the USA.
Team-mates Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) arrive at the Algarve International Circuit (commonly known as Portimao) aiming to continue building their challenge for the 2022 MotoGP World Championship.
The Spanish pair have had an up-and-down start to 2022, with Espargaro taking a superb podium at the first race in Qatar and Marquez showing race-winning pace last time out in the US.
Marquez finished a close fifth in Qatar, then missed the next two races, after a fall during the Indonesian Grand Prix’s Sunday morning warm-up session. The 29-year-old eight-times World Champion returned to action a fortnight ago at the Grand Prix of the Americas and would most likely have won the race but for an electronics issue at the start. Instead he went from 24th and last to sixth, showing magnificent pace, despite the need to overtake so many riders.
Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix will be the fourth to be staged at Portimao but will only be Marquez’s second race at the circuit, because he missed the first and third races there due to injury. He finished his only race at the track, last April’s Portuguese GP, in an impressive seventh place, after a nine-month layoff.
Marquez currently stands 13th in the title chase, 40 points behind the leader, with 17 races remaining and therefore a maximum of 425 points available.
Espargaro has finished three of this year’s first four races. Following his stellar start in Qatar he only managed 12th in the rain-soaked Indonesian GP because he could hardly see, due to issues with his helmet visor. In Argentina he was fighting for another podium when he slid off and in the USA he was laid low by illness and did well to complete the race in 13th. On his return home the 30-year-old former Moto2 World Champion focused on getting better before resuming training. He stands 11th overall.
Espargaro has a good record at Portimao, with a fourth place in the 2020 Portuguese GP and a sixth place in last November’s Algarve GP.
Both Repsol Honda riders have every reason to expect better in the coming races, as they build speed and continue development of the all-new 2022 RC213V. This year’s pre-season testing schedule was the shortest in many decades, with just five days of track time, so it’s inevitable that riders and engineers are still working to extract maximum performance from the new bike.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) and Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) are also looking forward to making progress in the coming weeks, with the Portuguese round immediately followed by the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, which is followed by a one-day test at the track, which will be vital for all four RC213V men.
Nakagami scored points at three of the first four races. The 30-year-old from Chiba is working hard to increase front-end performance, so he can enter corners more aggressively and fight for better finishing positions. He also has a good record at Portimao, with a fifth, tenth and an 11th from his three races there.
The younger Marquez brother hopes that Portimao will help him turn the corner after a challenging start to the season. Last November at the venue, in Portugal’s Algarve region, he had one of his best-ever rides in the premier class. He battled hard for a podium finish, missing out by just 0.051 seconds. Previously the former Moto2 and Moto3 World Champion, who celebrates his 26th birthday on Saturday, scored an eighth and a ninth at the track.
Portimao was constructed in 2008 and hosted rounds of the World Superbike championship from that year on. It staged its first MotoGP race in November 2020.
The 4.6km/2.85-mile circuit is a huge challenge for riders and engineers alike, largely because it is so undulating, with many steep up-and-down sections which complicate riding technique and machine set-up. For this reason the riders nickname Portimao “The Rollercoaster”.
Portugal hosted its first rounds of the motorcycling Grand Prix World Championships in the late 1980s. The first Portuguese GPs – in 1987 and 1988 – were staged at Jarama and Jerez in Spain, because safety upgrades to Portugal’s Estoril circuit hadn’t been completed. Estoril, near the capital Lisbon, became a full-time part of the MotoGP series in 2000, staging a race every year until 2012.
The Portuguese and Spanish GPs are followed by the French GP at Le Mans, on May 15, and the Italian GP at Mugello, on May 29.