The Frenchman tops the timesheets from Viñales and Aleix Espargaro after a flying start – almost literally – on Friday.
Johann Zarco (Esponsorama Racing) is now the owner of the fastest ever two-wheel lap of the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, the Frenchman putting in a 1:39.417 to top Day 1 of the Grande Premio MEO de Portugal. Second went the way of Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) as he ended the day just over a tenth off, with Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) impressing to put the Noale factory in third by the end of play.
The day began with the home hero on top as Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) set the pace in the extended 70-minute FP1 session with the fastest-ever Algarve International Circuit two-wheel lap: a 1:40.122. Portugal’s first premier class winner had close company, however, heading Viñales by 0.040. Aleix Espargaro completed the top three as Aprilia got off to a solid start.
It was Oliveira who led the opening stages, before Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) took over at the summit with the Hondas of Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) and Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) sitting P3 and P4 with 50 minutes to go, before Viñales slotted into P3.
The Yamaha man then took over at the top with a 1:41.427 and with a fitting 36 minutes left on the clock, 2020 World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) showed some early cards to take second. It was close from the off, eight tenths covering the top 14 with just under half an hour left.
Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team) was the next man to take over, before Quartararo then became the first rider to dip into the 1:40s with a 1:40.877. Improvements were being fired in across the board late on though, with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) leapfrogging Aleix Espargaro for third too.
With two minutes to go, the goalposts were moved by Viñales once again, Oliveira and Aleix Espargaro then taking second and third respectively. Lorenzo Savadori, who has experience in Portimão from his superbike days, then made it two Aprilias in the top three as the Italian went P2.
On his final flying lap though, Oliveira returned to the summit and made it a Portuguese number one in Portuguese FP1. Viñales ended the morning in second ahead of Aleix Espargaro and an impressive showing from Savadori, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) completing the top five ahead of Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), Mir, Quartararo, Nakagami and Bradl, the German rider locking out the top 10.
All the times tumbled in the afternoon, although some shuffles were more drastic than others. Before many laps were ridden in anger though, the first MotoGP™ crash of the weekend came courtesy of Rins. The Team Suzuki Ecstar rider was down at Turn 8, the Spaniard perfectly ok but that not an ideal start to the afternoon.
Aleix Espargaro led the early stages with a 1:40.969, less than a second away from Oliveira’s FP1 pace, before Zarco got down to a 1:40.723 to sit top with just under an hour to go thanks to his best time of the weekend. Bradl, as he had in the opening session, then went fastest. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing), Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing), Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) and Iker Lecuona’s replacement Mika Kallio (Red Bull KTM Tech3) were the other riders to have already gone quicker in FP2 with 50 minutes to go, but the shuffle only continued from there on.
By 11 minutes to go, just 0.8 seconds split the leading 18 riders. The final push began as Miller launched himself to P1 with a 1:39.895, Nakagami and Mir making moves as well, with the top four covered by less than a tenth as the clock counted down.
Zarco then struck to take to the top. The Frenchman went a tenth and a half faster than the field before Miller improved again to cut that gap, Bradl got back up to P3, and then Viñales wrestled back top spot with a 1:39.664. That didn’t last long though as Zarco took back over by nearly a quarter of a second, the Frenchman stamping some authority on the timesheets.
It was a scintillating end to the session and by the end of the final charge for the top, Zarco held on and everyone had improved. Viñales and Aleix Espargaro were second and third as they had been in FP1, however, with Quartararo moving up to fourth overall.
Brad Binder jumped up from P20 to complete a top five split by 0.280 seconds, ahead of the reigning World Champion as Mir finished P6 on Day 1. He was just 0.009 seconds ahead of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) though, with Pol Espargaro, Miller and Morbidelli completing the top 10.
Bradl missed out by just 0.021 despite his impressive showing, with Nakagami and Oliveira shuffled down to P11 and P12 respectively by the end of play.
They will be joining Rins – who ended Friday in P17 – as some of the most eager to get back out in FP3 to try and move up the order. More track time will likely mean more shuffles though, so there’s plenty time left yet! Tune in for FP3 at 9:55 local time (GMT) to see who’s heading through, before qualifying will then decide the grid from 14:10.
MotoGP™: the five fastest on Friday
1 Johann Zarco* – Esponsorama Racing – Ducati – 1:39.417
2 Maverick Viñales – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP – Yamaha – +0.119
3 Aleix Espargaro* – Aprilia Racing Team Gresini – Aprilia – +0.228
4 Fabio Quartararo* – Petronas Yamaha SRT – Yamaha – +0.275
5 Brad Binder – Red Bull KTM Factory Racing – KTM – +0.280
*Independent Team rider
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