Seventeen down and one to go. Also, two down, one to go. That is the story of Portimão, in a nutshell. But the raw numbers are not what matters. The most interesting part is how we got there, and the stories that we found along the way.
But before we return to the fripperies of motorcycle racing, something that really matters. On Saturday evening, on the road which runs from the circuit to the harbor town of Portimão, a horrific accident happened. On a section of road which had traffic measure in place to control the flow of traffic leaving and coming to the track, a police motorcycle hit a taxi head on.
It was a massive impact. The police officer died as a result of the collision, and the occupants of the taxi, the driver and a journalist, Lucio Lopez of MotoRaceNation, were badly injured. Journalist Simon Patterson, who saw the crash in his van, and photographer David Goldman, who was driving back to his hotel with passengers in his car, both stopped and immediately rushed to the taxi, which had caught fire. They pulled Lucio Lopez and the taxi driver from the car, just before it exploded.
The right stuff
It was a brave and noble thing for both Simon Patterson and David Goldman to do, and to have the presence of mind to stop and act at that point is praiseworthy indeed. Their actions probably saved the lives of both the taxi driver and Lucio. It underlines the importance of having basic first aid training, and a willingness to help your fellow humans when they are in dire need.
As a motorcyclist, and all too aware of the dangers of the mode of transport I love, I am grateful such people exist. And it reminds me that I need to make sure I do another course of first aid training. If you would like to take a course in first aid, then here are starting points for the US, the UK, and Australia, and a Google search which should return results for courses near you.
Both the taxi driver and Lucio Lopez were taken to hospital, with Lucio transferred to a hospital in Lisbon. He is in a serious condition, but not life threatening, and I send him my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery. The taxi driver came away almost unhurt.
Follow the dream
This incident cuts a little close to home, as I know Lucio a little. I had spoken to him regularly, and he was a very good journalist. Like me, he had quit his job to follow his passion for MotoGP, and was doing remarkably well. He quit his job just before Covid-19 hit – another parallel, I quit my job just before Lehman Brothers collapsed, and the start of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. He has a keen intelligence, and asks smart questions of riders. MotoGP needs journalists with that kind of passion, capable of coming at the subject from a different angle and uncovering information more conventional journalists can miss.
The incident affected a lot of people in the paddock as well. Riders, too, a sign of the respect they have for Lucio. After scoring his first podium since Aragon, and after a torrid few races, Joan Mir took the opportunity both in his parc ferme interview with Simon Crafar and in the press conference to send his best wishes to the family of the police officer who died, and to the taxi driver and Lucio Lopez. Pol Espargaro, too, took a moment in his media debrief to do the same. Both Mir and Espargaro are riders who have real empathy, who know that there is much more to the world than just motorcycle racing. Even though racing is the most important thing in their lives.
Support classes shine
And the racing was worth it at Portimão. Not in the premier class, perhaps, where Pecco Bagnaia won a processional MotoGP race in incredible style, causing one Catalan on Twitter to coin the nickname "ImPeccoble", which is absolutely how the factory Ducati rider handled that race. He did not put a wheel wrong.
But the Moto3 and Moto2 races were worth every penny, with the two riders in each class battling for the title all showing exactly why they deserved the title. Both series had surprise outcomes which impacted the championship, though the Moto3 title fight was decided in the most dramatic fashion.
After Saturday, it looked like the juggernaut of momentum Dennis Foggia had picked up over the last few races would take the title down to the wire at Valencia, and even swing the title chase his way eventually. He had been down 97 points to Pedro Acosta after the first race in Austria, but over the next six races, had outscored the Spaniard by 76 points, racking up 127 points to Acosta's 51. Foggia had qualified in fourth for Sunday's Moto3 race, Acosta was down in fourteenth.
Acosta came out fighting. He dominated Sunday morning warm up, leading the session by over three quarters of a second. At the end of warm up, he made sure to get close to Foggia and give him a cheeky little wave, then a bump of the tire as the pair stopped to make a practice start.
If Acosta's plan was to unsettle Foggia, it wasn't successful. After a modest start, the Italian used the speed of the Leopard Honda – that team always seem to manage to find a few more km/h on the straight than their rivals of any manufacturer – to fire through to take the lead at the end of the first lap. He settled in to do what he knew would give him the only chance of taking the title from Acosta: try to lead and win it.
Foggia could not escape from the pack, but he could try to control the race. Pretty successfully, the Italian always at the front of the race. It looked like he was on target to do what was needed: maximize his points haul, and claw back as much ground as possible from Acosta in the title chase.
While Foggia was typically imperious at the front of the race, Pedro Acosta was showing why he was leading the championship in the first place. The Spanish youngster was charging through the field as if the others were not there, and was at the back of the lead group by the end of the second lap. He was taking risks he didn't need to, but was doing it anyway. It was quite the display of ambition.
The race was entertaining throughout its 21 laps, but the championship was decided on the final lap. With Foggia leading, Acosta lost a place to Sergio Garcia into the first corner, but cut back inside to get back past Garcia on the exit of the first corner. He then used that momentum to line up an attack at Turn 3. After all, a win would be enough to take the Moto3 title at Portimão.
Foggia was surprised to find Acosta on his inside, the Italian out wide on entry to get drive out of the corner. But he had left the door wide open, and Acosta charged through. Foggia couldn't quite get the line he wanted, and was slower as they approached the corner.
Unfortunately for Foggia, his battle with Acosta was not the only fight going on in the front group. Darryn Binder, desperate to get back on the podium for the first time since the Doha GP, saw an opening to attack Sergio Garcia. He went in hot and dived through the gap, making it past Garcia. But where there would otherwise have been clear track, he found Foggia. He clipped Foggia's back wheel, taking the Italian down, and causing Garcia to crash at the same time. With Foggia out, Acosta went on to seal his title with a victory.
Binder's move caused a huge amount of controversy, from all sides. The South African would be disqualified from the results, after crossing the line in fourth. The Stewards punished him for irresponsible riding, and causing other riders to crash.
This is a case where the Stewards have judged based on outcome rather than intent, but that is something they have explicitly said they would do. Race Direction has repeatedly said that punishments would be made more severe if riders caused others to crash, as Binder did in this case. The philosophy behind this is that it will encourage riders to be a fraction more careful in their overtaking, though that is a forlorn hope in grand prix motorcycling's most bonkers category. Whether it makes an impact is open to question.
Was Binder's move worthy of disqualification on its own merits? Looked at in the cold light of day, that seems excessive. His move was overly ambitious, but not exceptionally dangerous. His biggest miscalculation is that he did not take into account the battle between Acosta and Foggia up ahead. If Foggia hadn't been where he was, then Binder would have run Garcia wide, and they both would have lost ground. It was not a smart move, but it was not Loris Capirossi on Tetsuya Harada in Argentina in 1998. Binder attempted a pass, and failed. The decision to try was unwise, perhaps. But it was not attempted manslaughter, as some sections of the media and public insist.
Franco Morbidelli put it most succinctly. "An unfortunate incident for Foggia. He didn't deserve that for sure, he deserved to fight for the championship until the end of the race," the Italian said after the MotoGP race. "But Moto3 is a crazy category, there are some riders more crazy than others, and sometimes these silly things happen."
Binder's pass wasn't exceptionally outrageous, in Morbidelli's opinion. At least not in Moto3. "I mean, last lap, normal Moto3 craziness. Which is not normal, but normal for Moto3." The problem, Morbidelli pointed out, was the way Moto3 encouraged dangerous behavior.
In the post-race press conference, Joan Mir pointed out that there was so much more attention being paid to this because it affected the outcome of the championship. It was not comparable to the two-race ban imposed on Deniz Öncü for what happened in Austin. "In a normal situation, this action, I think that doesn’t deserve two races out because it’s a mistake that the rider can do, what happened today. But I don’t think that Darryn deserves this. Also, we are making it bigger because it was deciding the championship in that moment, so we are making it a bit bigger than what happened that was a mistake."
Making an example
That didn't excuse Binder, however. "For sure, if we talk about safety that this is for sure, this action, Darryn must be the model for the other riders so that it don’t happen again," Mir said. "So, I think that he has to be some penalized to him because if we are being more strict talking about safety, it’s the first step to make the change, I think."
One reason Binder's move was criticized so severely is because he has gained a reputation for doing this sort of thing. As one of the taller (1.75m), heavier (63kg) riders in Moto3, he has had to take more risk on the brakes to make up for a lack of acceleration. By way of comparison, Dennis Foggia is 1.64m and 57kg, Pedro Acosta is 1.60m and 60kg, Sergio Garcia is 1.65m and 56kg. A quick scroll through the MotoGP.com website shows most Moto3 riders are in the same height and weight range, between 1.60 and 1.65m, and between 55 and 60kg. (For an in depth look at the issue of height and weight, read Adam Wheeler's article in the latest issue of On Track Off Road). Binder is well outside that norm.
As a result of record, his reputation precedes him. "Today what we saw is the normality I think because we have seen a lot of crashes like this from him," Pecco Bagnaia said of Binder. "I know that it’s not correct to say it about another rider, but this rider next year will be with us and with MotoGP we are faster and I hope that will not happen."
Valentino Rossi echoed that perception. "What happened in the race I think is not fair for Foggia, because to finish the championship like this is difficult. I don’t know for the super license but I think have some riders like for example Binder that are always very, very, very aggressive and sometimes they make some mistakes like this and it's not fair for the others."
A "Super License" is an idea from Formula 1. To prevent teams from putting in inexperienced drivers who just happen to bring in a lot of money, F1 has a Super License which sees drivers accrue points by racking up strong results in the lower classes. Only once they have proved themselves are they allowed to move into the four-wheeled premier class.
Bagnaia was in favor of such an idea. "I think that like in the car championship we need a super license, only if you are doing something in your championship you can move to the next level," he said. Rossi was less convinced, believing that riders should be looked at on their own merits on a case-by-case basis. "For me it's rider by rider more than a super license. For the super license I don’t know sincerely."
Franco Morbidelli had a more nuanced view of the idea. "It might be a good thing, for sure, to step up to MotoGP you should have at least some kind of results or some kind of pedigree. That's for sure a good thought and a good point of view that I agree with."
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