Aprilia’s Spanish rider Maverick Vinales celebrates after winning the sprint race of the Portuguese MotoGP at the Algarve International Circuit on Saturday.—AFP
Aprilia’s Spanish rider Maverick Vinales celebrates after winning the sprint race of the Portuguese MotoGP at the Algarve International Circuit on Saturday.—AFP

PORTIMAO: Aprilia’s Mav­­erick Vinales claimed the first sprint victory of his career at the Portuguese Grand Prix, taking the cheq­­uered flag ahead of Marc Marquez and Jorge Martin at the Algarve Inter­n­ational Circuit on Saturday.

Championship leader and Francesco Bagnaia looked well set for a comfortable victory when he was in the lead but the Italian went wide with four laps left, allowing the three Spaniards behind him to move ahead.

Marquez had started eighth on the grid but rode his Gresini Racing bike with purpose to claim his first podium on a Ducati machine, overtaking Mar­tin on the final lap with a well-timed lunge to take second place in an all-Spanish podium.

“Honestly, I’m happy to be back on the top. We ne­ed to concentrate for [the race] tomorrow, but we will enjoy today. My first win for Apr­ilia,” said Vinales, who has now won in MotoGP on thr­ee different bikes — Apri­lia, Suzuki and Yamaha.

Red Bull KTM’s Jack Miller had qualified fifth fastest but he shot off the line when the lights went out to take the lead on the opening lap. However, he was quickly reeled in by the chasing pack, with Bagnaia moving into lead with 10 laps to go.

Behind them, Marquez was fired up as well after starting eighth on the grid following a crash in qualifying and the six-times champion set the fastest lap, quickly cutting his way through the pack before slotting in behind Bagnaia.

But Vinales, who had ove­r­come a bout of illness on Friday, had qualified second-fastest and the Apr­ilia rider moved up and sandwiched himself in between the two Ducati mac­h­ines, pushing Marquez down to third.

Marquez lost one more position when sprint king Martin slipped through with seven laps left as the Pramac Racing rider set his sights on Vinales.

But all their eyes lit up when Bagnaia went wide allowing Vinales, Martin and Marquez to move into the top three.

Vinales had free air in front of him and raced into the lead without anyone to challenge him while Marq­uez waited for the perfect opportunity to pounce on the final lap as he overtook Martin and finished second.

Bagnaia finished fourth, which allowed him to hold on to a slim lead in the cha­m­pionship, two points ahe­ad of last year’s title challenger and runner-up Martin.

Earlier, Enea Bastianini took his first pole position for Ducati with a blistering display, clocking the best time of one minute, 37.706 seconds to pip Vinales and Martin.

Bagnaia had looked set to join Bastianini and Martin on the front row, but was bumped out of the top three by Vinales’ late effort.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2024

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