A journey into the unknown: "It'll be good fun"

Portimao: a new track for most and a fitting venue for a 2020 season finale

For most of the MotoGP™ riders, Portimao’s Algarve International Circuit presents a brand-new challenge this weekend. Previewing the final three days of a thrilling 2020 season in the pre-event Press Conference was World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar), home hero Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech3), Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Jack Miller (Pramac Racing), Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and two riders getting ready for what could be their last appearances in MotoGP™: Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol).

The British rider is one of few who have raced at the incredible Portimao layout. It’s the venue he won his World Supersport title at in 2009. The three-time Grand Prix winner will hang up his full-time leathers after the Portugal GP before a testing role with Yamaha awaits in 2021, but Crutchlow was full of admiration for the circuit that is a fitting venue to host – potentially – his final race.

“I feel happy and content to come to such a good circuit. Portimao, I’ve got great memories here, I won the Supersport title at this track and I’ve got some good results on the superbike here as well,” began the number 35. “I didn’t come to the test here a couple of months back but I know the circuit, it’s not like you’re going into the circuit blind and it’s a fantastic event to be able to come to. It’s nice to have this as my last one.

“It’s a new track for most of the riders where I’m sure everyone will be giving 100%, it’ll suit some bikes and maybe not others. It’ll be good fun because I think it will be a good race. Different parts of the track will suit different riders and bikes and yeah, I feel good. Feel good coming into the weekend with it being the last competitive race.”

It’s a shame we won’t have any Portuguese fans cheering the riders on from the grandstands this weekend, but their superstar will be aiming to put on a show. Oliveira, Portugal’s first premier class winner, was also buzzing to get going at the Algarve International Circuit as one of the other riders who know the place well.

“Very happy and excited to the race at home after seven years that we had the last Portuguese GP in Estoril back then and now to have the chance, still it is a different kind of season but to have a home GP is great, especially because it is the last race where I think everyone is a bit more relaxed and we can enjoy racing here. I think the fans can expect the great show because this track is very, very different from what we see around the world so I hope just to get a good performance so that the fans have an extra reason to enjoy the show,” commented Oliveira, who will don the Tech3 colours for the last time before stepping into Pol Espargaro’s shoes.

And talking of the Spaniard, after his fifth podium of the season, a top four place in the Championship standings is very much on. Who would have been saying that about a KTM rider at the start of the season? Not even the number 44. But it’s on the cards, and the younger Espargaro brother is eager to get going as he aims to end his KTM career on a high.

“Yeah, obviously as all say it’s a special track, a different one,” said Pol Espargaro. “As Miguel said it’s the last race of the season so most of us are playing for something interesting in the Championship but as it’s the last race, we can enjoy a bit of racing here. Also the weather is fantastic here, at this stage of the year, to have this weather, it’s nice. Especially after struggling in the morning in the last races with the cold.

“Also we have Miguel here, he’s used to riding in Portimao and for sure his knowledge will be important for the KTM riders. Hopefully we can have a good weekend, jump a little in the Championship because we are close enough to do something interesting.”

Dovizioso sits just ahead of Pol Espargaro in the overall standings as the Italian gets set to compete in his last race for Ducati, ahead of his 2021 sabbatical. His aim? End things on a high.

“Yes for sure this is our target we really want to finish in a good way with a good result because we are fighting for the Championship, second/third will be quite hard because Franco is a bit too far but everything is open because we are at a new track and nobody knows a lot of details. Everything is possible, anything can happen. I am happy to be on a new track for the last round and enjoy the last race with Ducati.”

A certain Franco is now second in the title race after his third victory of the season last time out, and staying there would be some achievement. The ever-relaxed Morbidelli echoed his competitors’ thoughts about Portimao: a fantastic circuit that he can’t wait to try on his YZR-M1.

“I’m very excited and curious to see how this track is going to look like on a MotoGP bike. I raced here in 2013 and rode here a couple of months ago and yeah, I remember that it’s a very high adrenaline track and yeah, it’ll be interesting. I feel good and ok with the overall package.”

The man Morbidelli beat to victory in Valencia was Miller and after enjoying his time here a couple of months ago on a superbike, the Australian is looking forward to taking off on some of Portimao’s awesome undulations this weekend.

“I was fortunate enough to have the test here with the Superbike prior to Le Mans in quite different circumstances,” discussed Miller, chatting about the one-day test where most of the premier class riders attacked and learned the Algarve layout on superbikes.

“It was a lot of fun, enjoying a lot with the stand-up bike, you know, making a little race simulation with Dovi and Petrucci there for a bit it was a whole heap of fun but, no, different circumstances this weekend a bit more serious but, yeah, coming in with the confidence from last weekend and a good feeling with the bike so looking forward to taking off on some jumps around the circuit.”

And finally, we come to the World Champion. Mir arrives in Portugal having achieved his ultimate goal, but the work isn’t done yet: Suzuki have a Triple Crown to try and earn. Despite winning the MotoGP™ crown four days ago, Mir was focused on the job at hand in Portugal as an already scintillating season can become that even more sweeter.

“Well yeah, we celebrated with my family and on Sunday we went to dinner, but you know not many things because we have this weekend, the last race. We had a lot of interviews, messages, difficult one but enjoying the moment. I’m happy and now we have a mission to do here. Getting the Triple Crown, it would be a very good season if we don’t get it but it would be super good if we could. I’m fully focused on that, motivated also and let’s see if I can have the package to fight for victory here.”

In addition, Suzuki can finish 1-2 in the rider standings. Has Team Manager Davide Brivio asked Mir to try and help teammate Alex Rins, who is currently four points behind Morbidelli, to achieve that?

“We didn’t have this discussion already but if they ask me, I will not have any problems helping Alex get second. I think if they would ask Alex to help me get first he would do it, so it would be good from my part to do it. But it has to be the situation to help him, if not it’s not relevant.”

This weekend is a journey into the unknown for every rider on a MotoGP™ bike. Portimao is a special place and the perfect way to end the craziest of MotoGP™ seasons. Now, it’s time for the riders to do the talking on track and aim to end the year on a high. For us fans, it’s time to sit back and enjoy the riders attacking this brilliant ribbon of asphalt ahead of a well-earned winter off.

MotoGP™ FP1 kicks off at 10:10 local time (GMT+0) for an extended session. You really don’t want to miss it!

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