Maverick Vinales: “Unbelievable” race despite gearbox glitch, “I was praying it would go in, then…”

Maverick Vinales was battling for victory in the Portimao MotoGP despite suffering a gear selection issue for most of the grand prix, which eventually spat him off on the final lap.

Maverick Vinales, MotoGP race, Portuguese MotoGP, 24 March
Maverick Vinales, MotoGP race, Portuguese MotoGP, 24 March

With just over a lap to go, Maverick Vinales was confident he could still fight Jorge Martin for victory in Sunday’s Portimao MotoGP - despite struggling to engage sixth gear on the main straight for much of the race.

The Aprilia star was chasing a dream victory double after winning the Sprint, but his Sunday hopes fell apart when he pulled onto the main straight for the penultimate time.

As he frantically stamped on the gear lever again to try to engage sixth, Vinales lost second place to Enea Bastianini.

Worse was to follow at Turn 1 when, after running wide as he searched desperately for any gear, he was spat into a highside when second suddenly engaged.

“I tried to put 6th, but it didn't go in. So the bike went into neutral and I hit the RPM limiter. I put my leg out to let Bastianini understand that I had a problem.

“I kept trying to put 6th but it didn't go in. So I went back to 2nd [at Turn 1] and when I touched the gas [the gear] entered into 2nd and then I had a highside. [The bike] didn't lock up.

“I will not say it’s a disappointment, but I will say that this can maybe be a call of attention to improve a little bit more the reliability.

“I really encourage all the Aprilia technicians to improve in that area. I think it's important if you want to fight each weekend, especially for victories.”

Given such gear issues, Vinales’ race pace was, in his words, “amazing”.

The Spaniard set the second fastest lap of the race, behind only Enea Bastianini, on lap 20 of 24 even though his top speed varied from 334.3 to 345.0km/h on the main straight.

“It's amazing how when I get the correct balance, I can go very fast with this bike,” said Vinales, who had struggled with the 2024 RS-GP throughout winter testing and the Qatar opener.

“From lap 6, [shifting] from 5th to 6th gear, sometimes it didn't go in. So I was hitting the RPMs for so long and losing a lot on top speed and losing some tenths.

“But despite that, I was able to do ‘38s and that was amazing.

“All the race I thought I could fight for victory. The problem is that every time the gearbox got worse and worse.

“I was just praying it would go [into gear during the race] because I pressed like five times and then it would go in.

“So every time I was losing 0.2s on the main straight and then I would recover all the gap again. Even with all these problems I would stay ‘38.8, ‘38.8... It was unbelievable because it could have been ‘38.6.

“I don't know what to say. Sometimes these things can happen. I prefer that it happens when you are in the front.”

Vinales seemed to have a similar issue at Jerez last year.

“It felt similar on the bike, but I don't know if it's exactly the same [problem],” he said.

“Anyway, I finished this weekend with a [Sprint] victory. So, happy.

“I will just say that I'm really motivated and I see myself winning another race again.

“I want to really say to Aprilia that this must be an encouragement for the next races. And the upcoming events are fantastic, especially for me.

“So we need to be happy and we need to be really proud of what we did this weekend.”

Vinales, a Grand Prix winner with Suzuki and Yamaha, will continue his pursuit of an Aprilia GP victory at COTA next month.

Team-mate Aleix Espargaro, who led the Aprilia challenge in Qatar, was eighth in the Portuguese grand prix.

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