The intermediate class closed the show in a beautifully sunny Portimão and while much of the 23 laps was the calm before the storm and then the storm was in a teacup, the result proved pretty significant for the title battle. It will come as no surprise that the two Red Bull KTM Ajo boys were the main protagonists once more, with Raul Fernandez dominating the first half of the race but the tables turning for the latter half, when Remy Gardner took control and extended his advantage in the world championship to a comfortable 23 points. The Australian’s victory and the Spaniard’s runner up position secured another impressive – albeit incredibly tense – one-two for Aki Ajo, with Sam Lowes finding speed in the closing laps to complete the podium positions.
Fernandez had made a solid start from pole position to lead the way ahead of Gardner, while a rocket start from Marco Bezzecchi promoted him to third, ahead of Aron Canet, Lowes and Cameron Beaubier. Keen to make the most of the softer rear tyre, Fernandez pushed to get an early advantage over his teammate and was half a second ahead at the end of the opening lap, only Gardner and Bezzecchi keeping close, while a big pack led by Canet dropped almost a second behind the leading trio.
While Fernandez attempted an escape, Gardner was kept busy by Bezzecchi, the Italian getting past by lap 3 and trying to reduce the leader’s 8-tenth advantage. If Gardner hoped that Bezzecchi would do his dirty work and reel in his teammate, things didn’t seem to go to plan early on, the gap to Fernandez yoyo-ing from one second to six tenths and back. Meanwhile, Beaubier picked up the chase from Canet and Lowes and had two seconds to find over 20 laps in order to join the podium battle. However, that gap continued to increase and both Lowes and Canet retaliated by lap 8.
With Fernandez stringing together red hot sector times at the front of race, Gardner decided to reclaim second by slipstreaming past Bezzecchi into turn 1 at the beginning of lap 9. That left him with a one second gap to bridge to Fernandez, while immediately ditching Bezzecchi over one second back. Despite a mistake at turn 14, the Italian still had a healthy three second advantage over Lowes, who was starting to stretch a gap over the pursuers led by Canet.
Back at the front though, Gardner immediately closed the gap to Fernandez and was setting up another Red Bull KTM Ajo spectacular for the remaining 12 laps. The Australian’s harder rear tyre looked in much better shape by the halfway point of the race and he promptly found the inside of Fernandez at turn 1, but the rookie kept close for the next few laps. While the Ajo boys were settling in for a tense final half of the race, Lowes was quickly catching up with Bezzecchi to make it a fight for third, but it was a fairly short battle, the British rider getting ahead with 7 laps to go. To make matters worse for the Italian, Beaubier – the fastest man on track at that stage – was catching up with him and aiming to improve his career best result. The American’s job was made a lot easier by a mistake from Bezzecchi at turn 5, which also allowed Canet past for the final five laps.
With a handful of laps left on the board, Gardner extended his advantage to half a second for the first time and that quickly became one second over the next couple of laps, then continuing to increase as Fernandez’s rear tyre was shedding like a cat in high heat. Gardner entered the final lap with nearly three seconds of advantage and the chequered flag came at the right time for Fernandez, with Lowes closing in to 8 tenths of a second. Canet got the better of Beaubier on the final lap to claim fourth, with the American equalling his best result in the class with 5th position, while Celestino Vietti and Jorge Navarro snuck ahead of a fading Bezzecchi. After a poor start that dropped him to 10th, Augusto Fernandez struggled to recover and settled for ninth, with Marcel Schrotter joining the top 10 late on.
|11||21||Fabio Di Giannantonio||Kalex||+14.614|
|17||24||Simone Corsi||MV Agusta||+32.282|
|7||Lorenzo Baldassarri||MV Agusta||9 Laps|
|97||Xavi Vierge||Kalex||13 Laps|
|96||Jake Dixon||Kalex||14 Laps|
|79||Ai Ogura||Kalex||21 Laps|
|75||Albert Arenas||Boscoscuro||22 Laps|
|35||Somkiat Chantra||Kalex||0 Lap|