Delight for KTM in Portimao this afternoon after Raul Fernandez won on only his third race in Moto2 and teammate Remy Gardner took charge of the championship.
Aron Canet split the Ajo duo thanks to his hard-fought second place finish as the Portuguese GP came to a painfully short conclusion for Sam Lowes at the opening corner.
There were three British riders on the Portuguese grid as Moto2 lined up ahead of their 23-lap battle. Lowes headed the 30-strong pack from his third pole position of 2021 with Jake Dixon sitting 14th and Fraser Rogers starting his debut intermediate class race - as a stand-in for the injured Barry Baltus - in 29th.
Stunning conditions and 25℃ air temperatures heated the 4.6km surface to a toasty 44℃ as the lights went out for the final race of the day. Disaster instantly befalling the pole sitter as Lowes high sided out at turn one after being caught in the melee due a bad start, his Marc VDS machine pinning the championship leader to the deck and unable to remount.
As the first lap played out it was Gardner in charge from Marco Bezzecchi and a hard-charging Joe Roberts, as the American gained five places from his qualifying position. Xavi Vierge was the next on the move as he swept through to fourth with Bezzecchi briefly claiming the lead on lap three. The Australian was back in front as the lap concluded, but the battle continued as the Sky rider once again took the lead half way round the next revolution. Roberts was also preparing to strike on lap five, with multiple attempts before the move finally stuck.
Two dramatic collisions saw both Honda Asia riders Ai Ogura and Somkiat Chantra come together at turn five - the former having clipped the front of Cameron Beaubier before taking out his teammate but Chantra was able to resume - while Stefano Manzi and Yari Montella also tangled at turn 15, a massive highside resulting in a fireball of a wreckage at the side of the track. Jorge Navarro was another early faller with the Speed Up also able to continue, albeit at the back of the pack.
Back at the front and Bezzecchi was still in charge, Canet the new challenger as Roberts battled with Gardner and fellow KTM Fernandez. Vierge now circulating in sixth from Augusto Fernandez and Petronas teammate Dixon with Beaubier recovering from the previous incident to sit ninth after 10 laps on track.
Roberts took the lead, thanks to a twitch from the Sky rider allowing the Italtrans machine through. Canet held fast for second as Bezzecchi dropped to fifth behind the KTM duo but the Italian wouldn’t stay down for long and he instantly returned to fourth after getting the better of the rookie. His teammate Celestino Vietti, however, wasn’t so lucky, as the mid-race witnessed another clash, this time with Nicolò Bulega, resulting in the number 13 hitting the deck at turn one with some animated reactions from the gravel trap.
10 to go and Roberts was still out in front, Canet two-tenths off his wheel with Gardner and Bezzecchi chasing hard. The following lap saw further drama as Dixon was the latest casualty at turn eight, the Brit barrel-rolling through the gravel with questions marks over the impact on his already injured wrist.
Gardner looked to be fading as the race hit seven to go with the hotter temperatures affecting the grip levels and mistakes aplenty from the leading group. Canet took charge as the next lap began despite a track limits warning hovering over the Aspar man, as Augusto Fernandez challenged the back of the second KTM. Raul Fernandez, however, was up to second with a fastest lap, moments later, Bezzecchi dropping back to sixth, as the rookie maintained his momentum to secure the lead as lap 20 kicked in.
The final three laps saw Fernandez setting blistering 1’42.864 pace as he instantly clawed a half-second gap from the challengers behind. Canet and Roberts maintaining their podium positions as Gardner regrouped to mount his late comeback charge.
The final lap saw the Australian close to contention with just two-tenths separating the second to fourth placed riders. Roberts briefly advanced to second before losing out in the closing stages as Canet clapped back at the American, before Gardner collided alongside and the frustrated number 16 was dumped to fourth at the flag.
Raul Fernandez completed another stunning rookie ride to claim the Portuguese victory from Canet and Gardner with Roberts, leading Augusto Fernandez and Bezzecchi for best of the rest. Vierge claimed seventh from Hector Garzo and Beaubier with Marcel Schrotter completing the top-10. Fabio Di Giannantonio concluded a difficult weekend in 11th from Lorenzo Dalla Porta and Albert Arenas, Lorenzo Baldassarri and Marcos Ramirez taking the final points on offer.
Tony Arbolino was the first home outside of the points from Tom Luthi, Hafizh Syahrin and Miquel Pons with Rogers finishing his first Moto2 contest in 20th, Chantra and Navarro the final finishers in 21st and 22nd respectively.