While the MotoGP world championship might have been decided last weekend at the Valencian Grand Prix in favour of Joan Mir, there’s still plenty left to be sorted out at this weekend’s final round of the season at Portugal’s stunning Portimao circuit, a new addition to the calendar.
From personal honour to signing off in style, the teams and riders still have plenty to play for come Sunday afternoon at the undulating and unfamiliar venue.
Suzuki’s triple crown
Suzuki went into this season as a complete underdog, so the fact that it’s lifted the riders’ crown with Mir is nothing short of remarkable.
But while that was almost unimaginable, being on the verge of a triple crown of riders’, teams’, and manufacturers’ titles is basically miraculous.
Already victorious in two of those awards and thanks to Yamaha’s points penalty for the saga surrounding its illegal engine valves tied with Ducati in the constructors’ championship, Suzuki is on the brink of a huge achievement if it can secure the coveted clean sweep – something that is seen as incredibly prestigious by MotoGP’s Japanese manufacturers.
Suzuki doesn’t need to do much more than what it’s already been doing to take the title, either.
Tied with Ducati on 201 points and 13 ahead of Yamaha, another weekend for Mir and Alex Rins where they’re faster than Yamaha should be enough to take it over the line.
Pramac’s first win
Robbed on the last lap for the second time this season at Valencia, Jack Miller’s chances of being the man to give the Pramac Ducati squad its first ever MotoGP win is a case of now or never this weekend.
But there’s every chance that he might just be able to do it at Portimao.
An undulating rollercoaster of a circuit that requires a lot of physical effort from a rider, it’s exactly the sort of place that will play to his strengths, both figuratively and literally.
He’s an ex-motocross racer well used to throwing a bike around under him, and he’s going to be one of the guys with the biggest smile on his face on lap one of Friday practice.
Crutchlow signing off in style
With Algarve marking Cal Crutchlow’s last ever race as a full-time MotoGP rider as he steps back to a Yamaha testing role for 2021, the LCR Honda rider will undoubtedly be looking to sign out in style at a track where he has an advantage over the rest of the grid.
While most of the riders lining up on Sunday’s MotoGP grid haven’t even raced at Portimao before, Crutchlow is already a world championship podium-finisher there.
He came home in third in only his fourth race as a full-time World Superbike rider back in 2010 (pictured above).
Admittedly that was a long time ago and on a vastly different motorcycle and tyres, but it’s nonetheless a small edge in a year where we’ve seen even the tiniest advantage sometimes make a huge difference.
Finally over the worst of his myriad 2020 injuries, he’s probably fitter than he has been at any point since qualifying at Jerez at the opening round.
It would be just like Crutchlow to pull off an unexpected farewell surprise.
Espargaro’s last shot at a KTM win
It must have been a tough year for factory KTM rider Pol Espargaro, as he watched both Miguel Oliveira and Brad Binder harvest the fruits of his four years of hard work by taking KTM’s maiden premier class victories.
Espargaro’s been with the Austrian manufacturer since it joined MotoGP in 2017, and he’s been the key driver behind its success, as he’s pushed bike development forwards at a staggering rate.
Those wins for satellite rider Oliveira and rookie Binder must have smarted for Espargaro, who’s now a podium regular and has been on the verge of victory on numerous occasions for KTM without ever managing to pull it off.
And, like Miller and Crutchlow, he’s against the clock, with only one chance remaining to do it before he makes the move to Honda for 2021.
On paper the odds are stacked against him this weekend, with any advantage KTM might have at Portimao likely to favour local hero Oliveira more than Espargaro, given his extensive knowledge of his home track.
But if there’s one thing that the topsy-turvy 2020 MotoGP championship has shown us, it’s that anything can happen.
Aprilia’s chance to show its promise
It’s been a disappointing year for Aprilia. It showed so much potential in pre-season testing with a completely redesigned engine at the heart of a bike that finally delivered what its riders have been asking for – but it just hasn’t worked out for the team since action finally got underway.
Mechanical issues, musical chairs with its second rider and a lack of development time with the new bike has all conspired against Aprilia.
But it goes to Portimao with an ace up its sleeves by being the only team able to have tested there properly.
As Aprilia is the only remaining concession-status team in MotoGP, when the rest of the grid headed to Portimao for track familiarisation on street bikes, Aleix Espargaro was allowed to ride the full-spec RS-GP MotoGP bike at a circuit he’s already familiar with after using it for winter training 12 months ago.
How much of an advantage that is for Aprilia – and how long it can retain it – remains to be seen, but it might just be what it needs to show off some of that pre-season potential at last.
The Moto2 and Moto3 titles
While the big prize might have already gone to Mir, there are still two ferocious battles for the Moto2 and Moto3 championships to be decided.
In the middleweight class it’s advantage to Enea Bastianini with his 14-point lead over the injured Sam Lowes, but after a bulldog ride last weekend for the Brit, it’s still wide open.
In Moto3 the battle is even closer, with just 11 points separating Albert Arenas, Ai Ogura and Tony Arbolino.
With Moto3 always the most unpredictable championship of the three, Arenas’ eight-point lead to Ogura is minuscule given there’s still 25 points left to play for.