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A lap of the Estoril circuit

A lap of the Estoril circuit

A lap of the Estoril circuit

The Fernada Pires da Silva Circuit or the more commonly known Estoril Circuit was built in 1972 and was modified in 1994 to include the famous "Variante" chicane which is now one of the slowest corners in the MotoGP World Championship.

The most notable aspect of the Estoril Circuit is the difference in speeds between the slowest corner taken at under 60 km/h and the end of the one km straight where speeds of more than 325 km/h are reached. This wide range of speeds makes the task of setting the gear ratios critical because we must avoid having too greater steps in the gears to stop the engine revs falling outside the ideal power delivery zone. As well as the "Variante" corner, first gear is also used in three other corners so it is vital to make the right choice when setting the gear ratios.

Apart from the four corners taken in first gear, there are six other relatively slow corners taken in second. As a result, Estoril is in fact the circuit with the slowest average lap speed of the entire MotoGP Championship. The average speed of 152.981 km/h at Estoril is slower than at Cheste and Jerez which appear at first sight to be much slower circuits.

Estoril is also one of the most difficult circuits to find the right suspension settings. The front suspension is subject to heavy braking at the end of the start/finish straight and also in the straight leading onto the "Parabolica Interior" corner. It is therefore necessary to fit hard springs, although the circuit is quite bumpy and these hard springs do not absorb the bumps so well which often pushes the bike off the racing line. The same problem is apparent in the rear suspension too. On the one hand there is a section of esses and also a corner taken in fifth gear at more than 230 km/h which in normal circumstances would mean fitting hard springs to make the rear more rigid. However, on the other hand, the lack of grip on the track and the bumpy surface means we must choose a softer suspension to reach a compromise.

Another important factor at this circuit are the tyres. The track layout has ten right-hand corners and only four left-handers which means that the tyres used are made of two or possible three different rubber compounds. On the right side there should be a hard compound to withstand the force exerted through the tyre in the right hand corners, including the "Parabolica" corner leading onto the main straight which causes heavy tyre-wear due to its length and the fact that the throttle is opened early in the corner when the bike is still at an angle. For the left side of the tyre the compound used should be softer to ensure good levels of grip even when the tyre is relatively cold, as is the case at this circuit.

This year the Portuguese Grand Prix arrives earlier in the season as only the second race in the calendar. Although the race, which has been run over recent seasons towards the latter part of the championship in September, is often affected by adverse climatic conditions with the presence of rain and wind due to the proximity of the Atlantic coast, this factor may be even more prominent now that the race takes place in April.


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