Magic Marquez takes 64th pole and third in historic sprint race
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) had a magical first Saturday of MotoGP’s 75th season in Portugal today, snatching a remarkable pole position in the morning and securing a brilliant third-place finish in the sport’s first-ever sprint race.
The 30-year-old Spaniard had completed Friday’s first two practice sessions 14th overall, forcing him to take part in the Q1 qualifier, at the end of which the fastest two riders are promoted to the Q2 qualifier, in which they can fight for a better grid position.
Marquez and his Repsol Honda crew managed this complicated situation with amazing intelligence and determination. At the start of Q1 he went out behind new team-mate Joan Mir (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who he chased so hard that he recorded the fastest-ever lap around the Algarve International Circuit, more commonly known as Portimao. After that lap he immediately returned to his garage and didn’t go out again, so he could save an extra rear tyre for Q2. In that session he left it until his final lap to go even faster and take pole, the 64th of his premier-class career.
Marquez was just as box-office in the sprint race, battling for the lead with reigning World Champion Francesco "Pecco" Bagnaia and Jorge Martin. By half distance of the 12-lap race he had been pushed down to fifth place by Miguel Oliveira and Jack Miller, but, as always, he never gave up. And as the trio started the last lap Oliveira and Miller ran wide at Turn One while disputing third. Marquez didn’t need a written invitation and grabbed his chance to sweep past into third place, which he retained until the chequered flag.
Although Marquez knows tomorrow’s 25-lap Grand Prix race will be more of a challenge he will once again be aiming for a top-three result. Once again he will start from pole, thanks to his Q2 performance.
Mir had a promising start to his first weekend with Repsol Honda, ending Friday 12th quickest, less than eight tenths of a second off the pace. In this morning’s Q1 qualifier the 25-year-old Spaniard was just two tenths outside promotion to Q2, which left him on the fifth row of the grid.
When the sprint race started at 15：00 the 2020 MotoGP king did everything in his power to fight his way forward at this serpentine, undulating racetrack. Finally his efforts brought him into contact with 2021 MotoGP World Champion Fabio Quartararo, their collision putting Mir on the ground, unhurt.
Nonetheless Mir was happy that he had shown good speed and given it all in the sprint race. Now he faces tomorrow’s 25-lap Grand Prix, his first full length race with his RC213V, during which he hopes to learn much more about the bike which will help him in the remaining 20 rounds of MotoGP’s longest-ever season.
This weekend is also a period of adaptation for Alex Rins (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V), who rides his first race weekend with Honda since he finished third in the 2014 Moto3 World Championship aboard a Honda NSF250RW.
The 27-year-old Spaniard has done exactly what he planned to do – making steady forward progress and avoiding the mistakes that will hurt his confidence and momentum. In qualifying he was less than a second off pole position, but this left him 16th on the grid and therefore in the thick of the pack when the sprint race started.
The sprint race was frantic to say the least and Rins did well to stay out of trouble and bring his RC213V home in 13th position.
Two places behind Rins came Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V), who is still experiencing some difficulties with the nasty right-hand injury he sustained at last September’s Aragon GP. The 31-year-old from Chiba qualified 18th this morning, so he started the sprint race and he will start tomorrow’s full-length GP from the same row as his team-mate.
After tomorrow’s racing the paddock will pack up in a hurry to head straight to South America, for next weekend’s Argentine Grand Prix at Termas de Rio Hondo. Two weeks later the action moves to the USA, for the Grand Prix of the Americas at COTA, outside Austin, Texas.