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MotoGP Portimao: Miller maintains KTM Friday dominance on debut

Red Bull KTM’s Jack Miller emerged from the opening day of practice for the 2023 MotoGP World Championship opener at Portimao as the surprise pacesetter after powering to the top of the timesheets in the final moments of P2, maintaining a perfect Friday run for the Austrian manufacturer across all three classes.

The Australian stunned to spring from the latter half of the timesheets with a lap record-breaking effort of 1’37.709 towards the end of a P2 session that concluded almost two hours after it started following two lengthy red flag interruptions.

While one of these was due to technical issues at the venue, the second involved a big crash for GasGas Tech3 rider Pol Espargaro at Turn 10.


The Spaniard, who is returning to the KTM Group fold after two seasons with Repsol Honda, suffered a high-side early on in the corner before being pushed along the gravel trap by his skittled bike. Though it is unclear whether Espargaro was shoved as far as the barriers, it would take some 25mins for him to be transferred to the medical centre. It has been communicated though that he is conscious but suffering back and chest trauma and on his way to Faro hospital.

With that incident coming with just 13mins remaining on the clock, the restart sparked a flurry of time attack activity up and down the order, the riders desperate to secure a spot inside the top ten so as to guarantee their place in Q2, the result of format changes being introduced to accommodate the new Sprint Race on Saturday.

At the time of the stoppage it was Pol’s brother Aleix Espargaro atop the timesheets, the Aprilia rider having just crossed the line as the red flags were deployed. However, once action was underway again, he was quickly threatened by rivals before Prima Pramac’s Jorge Martin leapfrogged him with the first ever official lap time under 1’38s at Portimao.

He was then swiftly dethroned by defending champion Pecco Bagnaia moving top, though the Italian’s afternoon ended soon after having seemingly drained his Ducati of its fuel to achieve the time.

While that was good enough for him to make it into Q2, it wasn’t enough to top the session with Aprilia’s Maverick Vinales popping in front before Miller took the paddock by surprise with his summit reaching effort.

Making his debut with KTM this weekend, not only had many expected Miller to take time getting to grips with the RC16 following his switch from Ducati but his effort - spurred on by scintillating final sector - came on a day that had seen the Austrian firm’s bikes (including GasGas) well outside the top ten for much of it.

Nevertheless, it was Miller that would christen the revised format with a direct passage to Q2, followed up by Vinales and Bagnaia, while Luca Marini shrugged off a crash with ten minutes remaining to get back to the VR46 garage, return to the track and reel off the fourth best lap.

Martin settled for fifth, ahead of Monster Energy Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo, who showed some calmness en route to sixth fastest despite being closely harassed by Marc Marquez on both of his time attacks. Alas for the Spaniard, his determination to use his rival as a reference point was humbled when he low-sided the Repsol Honda off track at Turn 2.

As anticipated, the Ducati stronghold held firm with Johann Zarco, Marco Bezzecchi and Enea Bastianini ensuring six GP23/22s will contest Q2 in seventh, eighth and tenth respectively, with Espargaro - likely distracted by the events surrounding his brother - interloping on the Aprilia in ninth.


Outside the top ten, P1 pacesetters Alex Marquez and Joan Mir - who crashed early on - found themselves squeezed out when it mattered in 11th and 12th, meaning they will need to go again in Q1, while Alex Rins enjoyed a strong end to an otherwise sobering first day with LCR Honda by popping up to 13th, ahead of a frustrated Marquez and another RC213V contender in Takaaki Nakagami.

The only rider to be making his MotoGP debut this weekend, Augusto Fernandez kept a cool head to turn in a solid 16th fastest on the GasGas, ahead of KTM stablemate Brad Binder in 18th.

Home hope Miguel Oliveira was another to take a tumble following a vicious high-side at Turn 10, the Portuguese rider falling at exactly the same corner and moment as Espargaro, albeit in a separate incident further round Turn 10. It was a crash that came moments after RNF Aprilia teammate Raul Fernandez also slid off further up the road at Turn 13, prompting Oliveira to complain about the late hour on a cool March day for the prolonged session in what is MotoGP’s first European-based opening round since 2006.

Bringing up the rear was Yamaha’s Franco Morbidelli and Gresini’s Fabio di Giannantonio - the two fallers from P1 - in 20th and 21st, with the stricken Espargaro last of all.

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