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The ‘real’ race debate sparked by Vinales’ historic MotoGP sprint win

Aprilia’s Maverick Vinales notched up a historic milestone when he won the sprint race at the MotoGP Portuguese Grand Prix.

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia Racing Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Coming into the 2024 MotoGP season, three riders stood on the edge of making history: Vinales was one with Aprilia, Alex Rins with Yamaha and Jack Miller with KTM are the others.

All grand prix winners already with two manufacturers (Vinales with Suzuki and Yamaha; Rins with Suzuki and Honda; Miller with Honda and Ducati), a victory in 2024 would make them the first riders in the MotoGP era to have won with three different marques.

Vinales’ first win on the Aprilia in the Portugal sprint effectively made him the record holder, but officially he isn’t.

When the sprint format was introduced last year, it was always billed as being counted separate to a grand prix win in the record books. And, understandably, this was bound to cause headaches.

Something all the more complicated about the sprint format is the reticence by many – including the championship – to even refer to it as a ‘race’.

Speaking to numerous paddock journalists last year, the consensus was that most in their weekend written content dedicate very few column inches to what happened in the sprint unless it had a major bearing on the grand prix and the championship at large.

Read over Autosport’s magazine reports for each grand prix and you’ll see how little the sprint is mentioned.

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia Racing Team

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia Racing Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Vinales’ sprint win in Portugal, which marked several milestones – the aforementioned third win on different bikes, as well as his first for Aprilia and first since Qatar 2021 before his acrimonious Yamaha split – forced a change of tune in how the sprints are viewed by some.

For Vinales, he and his Aprilia team celebrated it as if it was a grand prix victory. As far as the Spaniard was concerned, the effort expended in a sprint is more than a grand prix, and the statistical standing of his victory means little.

“For me, no [it doesn’t make a difference] because at the end we race harder on the sprint than in the race,” he said. “Normally the sprint is where I struggle the most so to make a victory in the sprint is amazing.”

Other riders have taken different approaches to their sprint wins. Alex Marquez, who won the Saturday contests at Silverstone and in Malaysia, told Autosport last year that his British GP sprint success “was a nice one, but it was a sprint race in the wet. I’m always realistic on that point, not [saying] ‘I won the race, I’m the best one’. No, I know it was a special situation.”

So, is a sprint win a real win?

Comparing a sprint race win to the countless grand prix victories that have come before it may seem somewhat disrespectful. Being the best over half a race surely can’t stack up to Valentino Rossi’s iconic victory over Jorge Lorenzo at Barcelona in 2009?

But what of the grands prix that have been decided on shortened distances? Is Jorge Martin’s Japanese Grand Prix victory last year in a race that was red-flagged after 13 laps less impressive than Francesco Bagnaia’s over a full distance two weeks later in Indonesia, when he inherited the lead after Martin crashed out?

Jorge Martin, Pramac Racing

Jorge Martin, Pramac Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Grand prix racing is much safer nowadays than it was in the 1990s, for example, so should that sway opinion? What about the British GP wins between 1949 and 1976, when the event was staged at the Isle of Man TT?

Ultimately, the statistics define what is and isn’t a real race, but that does somewhat belie the effort that has gone into winning a sprint.

Toprak Razgatlioglu took a stunning World Superbike win in Barcelona last month in a sprint race, recreating Rossi’s last corner overtake on Lorenzo from 2009 on Ducati’s Nicolo Bulega. It was a stunning way to mark the Turkish rider’s first win on the BMW having moved from Yamaha for 2024, and will go down in history as one of the finest WSBK contests ever.

Does it matter that it was a race of only 10 laps?

When WSBK introduced its sprint race – known as the Superpole Race, as it partially decides the grid for Race 2, the second feature contest - for the 2019 season, it initially set out to count Superpole Race wins and feature race wins separately. That was abandoned after the opening round, with the 10-lap sprints official WSBK wins in the record books.

Perhaps, then, it’s time for MotoGP to embrace this and for the world to accept that whether a race is five laps or 50, the riders involved are pouring everything they have into both as if they counted just the same.

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia Racing Team

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia Racing Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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