Unlike ancient classic circuits such as Spa or Monza, Estoril in Portugal is one of the modern “compact” circuits, crowding 13 turns, a 3240-foot straight and a 130-mph last turn into today’s bullring form that can be seen from the grandstands.
Estoril is located about two-thirds of the way down the Iberian Peninsula’s Atlantic coast, just four miles from the sea, giving gives it some of its salient characteristics. It is often windy at Estoril, the weather changes rapidly, and when the weather is dry, the track may be dusty, offering reduced grip until practice sessions blow the dust out of the texture.
This is a clockwise course, with nine right-handers and only four lefts, requiring a dual-compound tire hard enough on its right side to withstand the prolonged high-speed turning of the final fast fourth-gear parabolica” turn, yet soft enough on the left to retain grip for the less-frequent lefts.
A particular problem is the large difference between the highest and lowest speeds, which forces teams to employ larger-than-usual separations between gear ratios. This creates a potential for the rider at certain points on the track being just below his engine’s best pulling range. The highest speed is reached at the end of the main straight, where 202 mph has been recorded, and the lowest is in the cramped chicane on the circuit’s far side, where 40 mph is fast.
Despite those high top speeds, Estoril has been called the slowest circuit on the MotoGP calendar. The average speed for its current 1:36.937-second lap record is 99.505 mph (Dani Pedrosa, 2009). Twenty-eight laps of this 2.6-mile circuit add up to 72.8 miles, which, with the MotoGP fuel allowance of 21 liters or 5.5 gallons, requires that the high-powered prototype bikes get at least 13.2 mpg. For the new-this-year CRT bikes with their 1000cc production-based engines, the fuel allowance is 24 liters or 6.3 gal., for a minimum mileage of 11.6 mpg.
Current points leader Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha M1) has won three times at Estoril, which he has proclaimed as “Lorenzo’s Land.” Last year’s champion, Casey Stoner (RC213V), has not won here but, in the words of the old radio detective shows, “May be armed and should be considered extremely dangerous.”
Because of the long main and interior straightaways, followed by slow first- or second-gear corners, Estoril calls for heavy braking. To keep the front suspension from bottoming during that hard braking, stiffer springs must be used, which tend to reduce side-grip in the track’s bumpy corners, making bikes stutter sideways, off-line. Getting a best compromise on suspension is a challenge.
A year ago, the Estoril finish order was:
- Rossi (sadly, 16 seconds back on the not-up-to-speed Ducati)
Partisans of American rider Nicky Hayden will recall that during close running at Estoril in 2006, when Hayden and Pedrosa were teammates on Honda, Pedrosa brought both men down.