MotoGP’s first sprint race: ‘It will be like a jungle, everyone will go crazy!’


Who will make MotoGP history at Portimao this afternoon? Probably a Ducati rider but it’s a new world, so no one really knows what will happen at 3pm

MotoGP race start at Portimao in 2022

The start at Portimao last year. One thing’s for sure – a Suzuki won’t get the holeshot in this afternoon’s historic sprint race


Of course, sprint races are nothing new in MotoGP. Way back in 2004 – when anything seemed possible for the world’s greatest motor sport – we went to Mugello, MotoGP’s Valley of the Kings, and it rained, halfway through the main event.

Red flags were waved, the race was annulled and the grid reassembled, on slicks, never mind that half the track was still wet.

The restart was the sprintiest sprint in MotoGP history: just six laps – 12 minutes! – for the riders to sort out their differences and smash each other’s hopes to smithereens.

Valentino Rossi, still pretty much willing to die to prove he’d been right to leave Honda for Yamaha, unleashed hell during the final three laps, slicing through from fifth to first.

“You’ve got to hand it to Valentino, he puts it on the line,” said Ducati’s Troy Bayliss, who had fancied himself for the win. “He must’ve convinced himself that it was dry, because he was going like a maniac!”

Who knows, maybe this afternoon’s first official sprint race (which I’m nicknaming MotoGP’s Dash For No Cash) will entertain us with similar displays of derring-do.

So, who’s going to win it?

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Right now, it’s difficult to see past the Ducatis for a sprint win (or any win, for that matter) because two of the Desmosedici’s strengths loom even larger in shorter races.

First, the bike can magic extra tenths out of nowhere in qualifying like no other machine – and obviously your grid position is even more important for a 12-lap race than a 25-lap race. Second, its holeshot device is probably the best out there.

So not only will Ducatis most likely pack the front of the grid, they will also get the best punch towards Turn 1. And once they’re out front, they’re very difficult to pass.

MotoGP KTM of Jack Miller with both wheels off ground

Miller was Friday’s surprise but he may find the sprint race more difficult


The fastest Ducati riders here are Pecco Bagnaia, Luca Marini, Jorge Martin, Johann Zarco, Marco Bezzecchi, Enea Bastianini and Alex Márquez. Yeah, that’s right, just the seven of them. And depending on their grid positions and starts, any of them could fight for the sprint win.

Bagnaia seems most prepared. The sprint simulation he did at the tests here two weeks ago – when conditions were the same as now – was jaw-dropping. But he thinks he can do even better.

“They say the sprint races are a like a jungle – everyone goes crazy!”

“I pushed too hard at the start of the simulation, so the [soft] rear was a bit finished before 12 laps,” he said after FP2 yesterday. “Anyway, this afternoon we will have to push like a time attack.”

Marini is so ready that he says he has nothing to do in this morning’s FP3 session. If he hits it right in qualifying, he’ll be there too.

“In World Superbike they say the sprint races are a like a jungle – everyone goes crazy!” said Marini “It won’t be easy; we will just give it everything from the first lap.”

New KTM recruit Jack Miller was the big shock of the first day of MotoGP 2023, especially considering KTM’s mostly grim five days of pre-season testing. Twelfth in FP1 he shot up to first at the end of FP2, so surely he will have a shout in the sprint race?

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Maybe but probably not. One reason why KTM was so keen to sign Miller is his ability to get the most out of all kinds of front tyres. And he used a soft front to do his fastest lap yesterday, which most riders found too soft. But the tyre won’t even last the sprint race, so he may struggle to reproduce front-running speed this afternoon.

On the other hand he loves the RC16’s front end. “I had a couple of moments – look at my elbows! – but the bike gives you amazing feeling so you can save these crashes,” he said.

Friday’s top ten was six Ducatis, two Aprilias, one KTM and one Yamaha. That’s nine European bikes versus one Japanese bike, the M1 ridden by Fabio Quartararo, who keeps fighting, even though he knows deep down that the situation is pretty much hopeless.

MotoGP pack races through corner

Deep in the jungle, with all the axe murderers


I asked him what will happen if he finds himself surrounded by a gang of Ducatis later today.

“You know the answer,” he laughed. “I already have a headache…”

Aprilia men Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaró may also have a chance this afternoon, but I’m not sure about Viñales. He has made an art form of selecting reverse gear during the first laps of races and if that’s a disaster in a grand prix it’s a catastrophe in a sprint.

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And let’s see what happens to Marc Márquez when the lights go out. Honda’s RC213V just isn’t up to it at the moment, but show the six-time MotoGP king some red meat and strange things tend to happen.

However, I suspect that the days of riders amazing us in races by finding speed that didn’t seem possible are mostly behind us. The way MotoGP technology has developed – making the bikes better and better, through new and old technology – means that it’s pretty much impossible to override the bikes over race distance. Everyone is already at the limit and that’s that.