MotoGP Portimao: Crocked Lowes pushing for ‘maximum’ in final race

| | British Superbikes
Picture: GeeBee Images

Sam Lowes heads to the final Moto2 race of 2020 excited to return to a track he thoroughly enjoys but apprehensive about how his injured right hand will hold up against the demanding rollercoaster layout of Portimao.

Nestled within the undulating mountains set above Portugal’s south-western coastline, the 4.6km Portimão Circuit is loved by riders and spectators alike - although it will be a closed track to end the season this year - with only a handful of the MotoGP paddock having experienced it ahead of this weekend’s Portuguese GP.

Already being one of the lucky few, thanks to his World SuperSport crown in 2013, Lowes also has brother Alex on-hand again to impart any necessary knowledge gleaned from the past seven years of WorldSBK competition.

14 points now separates the Marc VDS rider from Moto2 leader Enea Bastianini, with Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi trailing narrowly behind by four and nine points respectively, however, the Brit’s most troubling issue heading into Sunday’s 23-lap finale remains the hand injury picked up during the aftermath of last Saturday’s FP3 fall.

“Obviously I’m doing all the treatment that I’ve been advised to do with the hand and the swelling has gone down. It was quite big on Monday after the race so it was quite sore but it’s getting a little bit better,” said Lowes, speaking to bikesportnews.com this afternoon.

“I’ve just been icing it, resting it and doing all the things you can do to get the swelling down so I can understand more about the movement and the strength but it will be what it is!

“It was quite late out of the corner actually. I was spinning a little bit, as you do in that part of the track. I’d just made the gears shift and that time I was spinning maybe a little too much and didn’t quite get the shift clean and it caused the bike to jump out of gear and that’s not ideal at that point of the track.

So, not a strange one, it can happen there, you’ve seen it happen before there but a little bit of a small mistake really - not a massive mistake - causing the crash.

“It was alright until I got caught up with the bike, until then I think I would have got away with it but then it got a bit ugly and it was a rough one.

“I’m looking forward to all of it. I like the fast bits, I like the undulation, it reminds me a little bit of a British track. I’m keen to see the difference between the Supersport and the Moto2 bike, see how it handles, how the bike feels, [with the hand] the only biggest difference for me is that this track is a lot more physical than Valencia.

“It’s a shame, it’s a track that I really love, I really enjoyed it in SuperSport, it’s always great watching Superbike here, so I’m looking forward to riding the track but, of course, waiting to see how it is tomorrow.”

Alex Lowes’ last outing at the Algarve venue - aboard his Kawasaki WorldSBK - was in August of this year so will his recent experience be useful to this weekend’s preparation and planning?

“Yeah definitely, also for me for a little bit of a refresh of the mind. I rode here before in 2011/12/13 but the last time was 2013, it’s a bit of time ago now. I know I look quite young but it was a few years ago,” the Brit joked.

“So it’s good for me just to take some references from him. Also to pick up on a few things because this track - in Valencia it was so tight, I think I finished 15 seconds from victory and you’re getting two points - I think this track, with the way it is, the layout, it could be more spread out which could play to my advantage a little bit so it’s really good to have him here, pick up a few points and key areas where I can make the difference.”

While prior knowledge is an obvious advantage heading out for Friday’s practice sessions is there much benefit to knowing the track beforehand, come the actual race?

“Maybe, maybe a little bit. I know that some guys have already ridden here, I know the Sky guys did a test here on the R1 only a few weeks ago, so in the end they’ve rode the track a lot closer to this weekend than I have so it’s not massively different to some of the title rivals - I’m not sure if Bastianini has, I don’t think so but possibly?

“What’s good is normally on a race weekend - now, with our schedule this weekend we’ve got a bit more time - by Friday evening when you go to bed if you’re not on the pace it is difficult because you have one session, FP3, in the morning and then just 15 minute qualifying and then it’s race time. So for that, yes you can get a bit in front and then if you continue to make more improvements it’s hard for people to catch up. So I think, definitely, it can help, this weekend hopefully it will help enough.”

With that in mind, and with the condition of his hand, will he go easy on Friday and rest the injury or will it be business as usual?

“No, I’ll give the hand a good rest in December and January so I’m not planning on giving it a rest this weekend! If I want to try and do well in this championship, or at least try and take the race on Sunday then I need to do the laps because, it’s true that I’ve rode here before but never with the Moto2 bike and even the gearing, the balance of the bike.

“I know personally how difficult this track is so I don’t really want to miss out on track time. I’ll gauge how my hand is tomorrow, obviously if I’m struggling in the session I might need a longer break, I don’t know but I’ll be out there when the green light goes trying to understand how the hand feels, seeing if we can adapt the bike a bit, and also to do the gearing just to get the bike more ready for the race. I’m lucky to have a great team around me, the bike’s been very good all year so the base setting is very good but I’ll be out there putting the laps in and seeing how we can get on.”

The Marc VDS team structure has been another bonus in Lowes’ strong performance this season. He works closely with teammate Augusto Fernandez, with the pair having similar set-ups and sharing data, to allow smoother transitions between the different tracks each weekend. Lowes elaborates:

“We are normally quite similar, maybe me something a little bit longer but normally quite similar so that’s a good thing. As a team we can get twice as much information and I’ve not had that in other teams over the last few years. What works for him will generally be quite close for me so I think after the first session tomorrow, it could be great straight away but if not, we will both try a couple of options and by FP2 we should have it quite dialled in so that will save us some time.”

The Moto2 Championship has come right down to the wire for 2020, with 23 points now separating four contenders going into Sunday’s race so will the permutations be playing on Lowes’ mind as the race unfolds and will his pitboard be relaying the maths as each lap counts down?

Obviously we are behind, we’re in second at the minute, and the guys are close to me behind as well. I’m obviously going to try to do everything to win so I’m not too worried about what’s going to happen behind. If I go for the win, it doesn’t happen and I end up finishing fourth, then I’ll be disappointed but I’m not really going to be able to get information about that.

“If Bastianini, for some reason, doesn’t get any points then I need to finish on the podium and then still look at the other guys around. We’ve talked a bit about it, I’m smart enough to understand what I need to do but honestly, I think the race for me, I don’t think I’ll be able to think too much. In Valencia I didn’t look at my pitboard once and I think it’s going to be another one of them.

“It’s more of a battle about me against myself, trying to block some things out, with the pain etc. and just get to the end. Whatever that position is, it will be my maximum regardless of where the other guys are. I think in some ways, it’s not taken my focus but I’m not going to be looking at the championship I’m going to be just getting as many points as I can and then I’ll look at it after the flag. That said, if for some reason I feel quite good and I can ride the bike normally and I’m at the front of the race then I guess I’ll have a look.”