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Third in the Championship Luca Marini (SKY Racing Team VR46) set the pace on Day 1 of the Grande Premio MEO de Portugal as we witnessed the Moto2™ riders get to grips with Portimao’s rollercoaster for the first time. The Italian left it late to beat title rival Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) by 0.182 in FP2 as Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) completed the top three on Friday.
As FP2 revved into life, Jorge Martin’s (Red Bull KTM Ajo) session was brought to an abrupt end. His bike was spitting smoke on his out-lap and it was a disastrous start for the Spaniard who ended up missing the whole session. On track, it wasn’t long before a change occurred at the top. Injured Lowes set the fastest lap of the weekend to go 0.012 seconds ahead of FP1 pacesetter Marcos Ramirez (Tennor American Racing), the British rider continuing to grit his teeth as he goes in search of his first Grand Prix title. Teammate Augusto Fernandez, Aron Canet (Pull&Bear Aspar Team Moto2) and Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) were the other riders in the top 10 to go faster than they did in FP1 almost straight away.
Chantra, just as Marcel Schrötter (Liqui Moly Intact GP) did in FP4, crashed at Turn 2. The Thai rider was up and ok thankfully, but it was a dent in his confidence at the beginning of FP2. Another rider going in search of a maiden GP title this weekend is Marini and soon, the Italian beat Lowes’ time by nearly three tenths.
Fernandez and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Beta Tools Speed Up) were then P2 and P3 behind Marini as the leader’s gap was cut to just 0.004 seconds with 15 minutes of FP2 to go. At this stage, after finishing P14 in FP1, Championship leader Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) was P15 and 0.671 seconds off one of his rivals. Meanwhile, Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) was now up into the top five ahead of Lowes, with teammate Marini then conceding P1 to Fernandez. 0.020 seconds was the Spaniard’s advantage on the combined times as everyone bar Nicolo Bulega (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) and Martin had improved from FP1.
Valencia GP podium finisher Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP 40) found plenty of pace to rise up to P1. Now, the top four were split by 0.036 but it was all about to change in the final seven minutes – red sectors were popping up everywhere. In the meantime, Bastianini had gathered some momentum and grabbed P6, just behind Lowes and just a tenth away from P1. As always, it was almightily close in the Moto2™ class.
A herculean effort from Lowes then saw the British rider return to P1 with a 1:43.197, the best lap of the weekend by over two tenths. Marini improved his time to briefly go P1 but just behind him on circuit, Lowes beat Marini by 0.038 seconds and sure enough, Bastianini then earned P3. With three minutes left, the top four in the Championship sat 1-2-3-4. The cream rising to the top on Portimao’s rollercoaster.
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Round 15: Moto2™ FP1 at the Portuguese Grand Prix
Di Giannantonio and Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) then demoted Bezzecchi to P6 as Lowes pulled into pitlane visibly in pain with his right hand. Remy Gardner (Onexox TKKR SAG Team) was now within a tenth of Lowes in P3 and on his final flying lap, Marini got the business done and laid down the gauntlet – P1 for Marini, nearly two tenths faster than Lowes.
So after finishing third in the opening Portimao Free Practice session, title contender Marini rises two places to snatch Day 1 P1 from Lowes. The latter finished 11th in FP1 but dug deep to earn a fantastic P2 on Friday, just 0.016 seconds ahead of Baldassarri who rose to P3 on his last flying lap of the day. Gardner was 4th in FP1 and finishes 4th overall on a very good opening day for the Australian, he finishes just ahead of Bastianini. A solid end to FP2 sees the Championship favourite go from P15 to P5, important work done for the Italian in his biggest career weekend.
Vierge climbs three places to P6 from his FP1 position to lead Beta Tools Speed Up pairing Jorge Navarro and Di Giannantonio. Navarro ended the opening session down in P23, a great afternoon for the Spaniard. Valencia podium finishers Bezzecchi and Garzo round out the top 10 on Friday, both are less than half a second shy of Marini’s time.
Day 1 at the phenomenal Portimao layout is done and dusted for the Moto2™ riders and three of the title contenders are inside the top five, the fourth isn’t far behind. Day 2 is a must-watch, kick off for the intermediate class is going ahead at 10:55 local time (GMT+0).
Top 10 combined:
1. Luca Marini (SKY Racing Team VR46) – 1:42.941
2. Sam Lowes (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) + 0.182
3. Lorenzo Baldassarri (Flexbox HP 40) + 0.198
4. Remy Gardner (Onexox TKKR SAG Team) + 0281
5. Enea Bastianini (Italtrans Racing Team) + 0.316
6. Xavi Vierge (Petronas Sprinta Racing) + 0.373
7. Jorge Navarro (Beta Tools Speed Up) + 0.417
8. Fabio Di Giannantonio (Beta Tools Speed Up) + 0.440
9. Marco Bezzecchi (SKY Racing Team VR46) + 0.461
10. Hector Garzo (Flexbox HP 40) + 0.473