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Zarco bags early Algarve advantage with Friday P1

The Frenchman finishes top of the pile after a brilliant Day 1 in Portimao, under half a second covers top 11 riders

At the end of the first-ever Free Practice Friday at the Algarve International Circuit, Esponsorama Racing’s Johann Zarco set a 1:39.417 in MotoGP™ FP2 to lead the field into qualifying day. The Frenchman finished 0.119 ahead of Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) on Day 1 at the Grande Premio MEO de Portugal, with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) completing the top three as every rider improves their time in the second 70-minute stint.

FREE! Simon Crafar guides you through a lap of Portimao

Six minutes into the session saw the first MotoGP™ crash of the weekend though. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was down at Turn 8 after the front end of his GSX-RR folded away, the Spaniard was perfectly ok. Not an ideal start to the afternoon for the Suzuki rider, with Aleix Espargaro leading the early stages with a 1:40.969, less than a second away from Oliveira’s FP1 pace.

Zarco was down to a 1:40.723 to then sit top with just under an hour to go, that was the Frenchman’s best time of the weekend. Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team), as he did in the opening Free Practice session, then sat fastest. It was time good enough to hold a provisional Q2 place too as the German really hit the ground running in Portimao. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Zarco joined Bradl in the top three and it was those riders who had improved their times inside the overall top 10. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing), Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) and Iker Lecuona replacement Mika Kallio (Red Bull KTM Tech3) were the other riders to have already gone quicker in FP2 with 50 minutes to go.

Round 15: MotoGP™ FP1 at the Portuguese Grand Prix

With track temperatures up nearly 10 degrees from this morning, a lot of the riders were experimenting with the hard-rear tyre. If they weren’t doing so then running on used tyres, trying to find a solid race set-up was the name of the game while also trying to learn the tricks and trades of the Algarve International Circuit. One rider who wasn’t having to learn the track was Oliveira and having led the way in FP1, the home hero went 0.3 seconds clear in FP2 to go just a tenth off his FP1 time. The Portuguese rider was enjoying himself.

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Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) jumped ahead of Bradl in FP2 to slot themselves behind Oliveira, then Morbidelli went faster to go P2 with 35 minutes of the session to go. That was good enough for P5 overall for the Italian, the top four of Oliveira, Viñales, Aleix Espargaro and his teammate Lorenzo Savadori hadn’t yet gone quicker in FP2.

With 33 minutes to go, Nakagami lost the front very early at Turn 4 and thankfully the Japanese rider was ok. Elsewhere, after two consecutive quick laps, it was a KTM 1-2 at the top after Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) placed himself into P2, less than a tenth away from Oliveira. Still though, apart from 12th place Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), only the top four riders hadn’t gone quicker in the afternoon. But there was still over 20 minutes to go, and the time attacks hadn’t yet come in.

Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) then crashed at Turn 4, rider ok, as Bradl returned to P1. Marc Marquez’ replacement and fellow HRC rider Crutchlow were now inside the top four overall, the British rider setting his best lap of the weekend just before Bradl’s lap. Red sectors were now popping up all over the place. Morbidelli posted the best time of the weekend – a 1:40.079 – to displace Oliveira from overall P1, the latter soon shot up to P2 in the session ahead of Bradl.

Viñales was then ahead of Bradl in FP2 as the Spaniard lapped on fresh hard rubber on the front and rear of his YZR-M1. And then, the first sub-1:40 lap of the weekend was posted. Viñales set a 1:39.931 to go top of the pile with under 15 minutes left, Oliveira responded immediately to get within a tenth of Viñales. Now, it was just the Aprilias who hadn’t improved but as things stood, Aleix Espargaro and Savadori were still occupying top 10 positions in P4 and P8.

With 11 minutes left on the FP2 stopwatch, 0.8 seconds split the leading 18 riders. Fresh Michelin rubber was now being fitted into the fire breathing thoroughbred machines as Miller then launched himself to P1 with a 1:39.895 on the soft-soft combination, Nakagami and World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) moved into the top four as the leading quartet were covered by less than a tenth with five to go.

Zarco was then the rider at the top. The Frenchman went a tenth and a half faster before Miller improved again to cut that gap to less than a tenth again. FP2 was kicking off and Bradl was back up to P3, before Viñales wrestled back top spot with a 1:39.664. That didn’t last long though, Zarco went nearly a quarter of a second clear of Viñales and all of a sudden, Oliveira was down to P10.

Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro then improved their times, Binder was now P4 and it was all change in FP2 – a scintillating end to the session in Portimao. Oliveira improved his time but couldn’t penetrate the top 10 on his penultimate lap and Mir was also outside the provisional Q2 places. Viñales went quicker and grabbed P2 on his final lap, the World Champion moved up to P6 on his last charge and Quartararo was able to better his time too.

Round 15: MotoGP™ FP2 at the Portugal Gran Prix

A barnstorming end to the opening day at the Algarve International Circuit and coming out on top was Zarco. The Ducati man was 14th in FP1 but heads Viñales and Aleix Espargaro, Quartararo and Binder – the South African jumping up from P20 – completed a top five split by 0.280 seconds. Mir finished P6 on Day 1 just 0.009 seconds ahead of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Pol Espargaro, Miller and Morbidelli completed the top 10, Bradl misses out by 0.021 seconds.

Plenty of reshuffling sees Nakagami and Oliveira lose out on top 10s on Friday, despite being just half a second down on Zarco. The home favourite and FP1 pacesetter wouldn’t have been expecting that. Savadori was P4 in FP1 and finishes just six tenths shy of Zarco, but ends up P16 at the end of play. Rins and Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) are 17th and 18th but are also less than a second away, work to do on Saturday morning for the Spanish duo. 

What an opening day in Portimao for the MotoGP™ riders. A stunning venue produced a stunning end to proceedings, setting us up very nicely for a furiously good qualifying say on the Algarve. Tune in for FP3 at 09:55 local time (GMT+0) to see who will head straight into Q2. 

Top 10:
1. Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) – 1:39.417
2. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) + 0.119
3. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) + 0.228
4. Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 0.275
5. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 0.280
6. Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) + 0.315
7. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) + 0.324
8. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) + 0.366
9. Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) + 0.403
10. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) + 0.471

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