Wonder Kid

Miguel Oliveira, aka The Hawk, has won his first ever Moto GP race. And he did it in supreme style, on the last corner of the last lap.

Well, this is different. There is not a car in sight on this page this week. The reason is a good one: Miguel Oliveira has just become the first Portuguese rider to win a race of the Moto GP World Championship, the most important motorcycle race series in the world.

Although it suffers from the same malaise as F1 in the fact that the same guy always wins – that is Lewis Hamilton in the car and Marc Marquez on the bike – races are nothing short of spectacular and, for the audience, there is a gladiator-like aura to the riders, something long gone in the esoteric world of F1 snobbery.

The thing is, Marquez fell on the first race of the year and will only be back in two months, at best, leaving the world championship wide open. Marquez rides for Honda, but there are five other big names involved: Ducati, KTM, Yamaha, Suzuki and Aprilia. The first three, and Honda as well, also have the so-called satellite teams.

But this text is about Miguel. When he was three years old, his dad bought him a Moto 4. He soon learned how to make the most of it and rode along with his father around some sandy roads at Charneca da Caparica, where they lived. Knowing no fear, Miguel crashed quite a lot and his Moto 4 was soon sold. But the seed had been planted.

His father did some races at a national level and at home Miguel was always surrounded by motorbikes. The writing was on the wall. However, it was not an easy path to glory and took a lot of faith from Oliveira Sr., who could clearly see something special in his son.

Results started coming at the age of 10 when he won the Portuguese Mini GP. Over the next decade, he built a name for himself with victories in different categories and was picked up by KTM Ajo Motorsport in 2015. It took him but four years to get to the biggest motorcycle series on Earth.

Last year, Miguel stepped from Moto 2 to Moto GP, where he joined the biggest names in the world: Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, among others. Red Bull has been a major supporter of Miguel’s career and the drinks company was pivotal in landing him a seat in the Red Bull KTM Tech 3, the satellite team of KTM.

Moto GP bikes are a mechanical marvel. V4 or inline-4 engines with 1000cc produce something in the region of 300 horsepower through a six-speed gearbox. ECU control units are supplied and policed by the organisers and tyres are the same for everyone. Word on the street is that satellite teams pay around €2 million a year to lease a bike to the works constructors.

It’s hard to wrap your head around the performance of these things. 0-100km/h? Doesn’t really matter. Why? Get this number: 0-300km/h takes 9.7 seconds. A Bugatti Chiron takes 13.5 seconds. At the Mugello circuit in 2018, the Ducati of Dovizioso reached 356km/h, a world record for a Moto GP bike. Lean angles are bigger than ever and can go up to 60 degrees, with riders finding the limits of grip right on the raggedy edge.

And that is exactly how Miguel Oliveira won the race on Sunday. The Styrian GP was black flagged with 12 laps to go and, at the restart, Oliveira quickly got up to fourth. He then overtook Joan Mir’s Suzuki and rode behind Jack Miller’s Ducati and Pol Espargaró’s KTM for the last laps of the race, always sensing an opportunity that seemed like it wasn’t going to come.

Even if it didn’t, third would be Miguel’s best result ever and his first podium in Moto GP. But on the last corner of the last lap Miller and Espargaró both made a mistake and ran wide. In a split second, the Portuguese wonder kid was in front. He led for a mere 100m, but it was enough to make history, vindicate the hard work of a lifetime and make a whole country proud.

Watch the adrenalin fuelled final 21 seconds of the race on YouTube: ‘Miguel Oliveira – MotoGP FIRST WIN! Dramatic Finishing’.

The victory lap was taken with the Portuguese flag in hand and for the first time the national anthem, A Portuguesa, was played on a Moto GP podium.

The 2020 World Championship is still in its early stages and more wins can come. In 2021, Miguel Oliveira will join KTM’s official works team. Next goal: world champion.

By Guilherme Marques

Oliveira, Qatar MotoGP test Feb 2019