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Late-race incident denies Joe Roberts MotoGP Moto2 podium, says ‘rubbing is racing’

Raul Fernandez grabbed his first career Moto2 win at the Portuguese Grand Prix after outlasting a mad dash with Joe Roberts and Remy Gardner.

American motorcyclist Joe Roberts was moments away from a career-best MotoGP Moto2 finish and his second career podium in the series when he was bumped out of the way by Remy Gardner. But that did not keep Roberts from enjoying his fourth-place finish or deter from his feeling that this is going to be his best season yet.

“The last lap, I had an idea of where I wanted to pass Aron (Canet),” Roberts said after the race. “All weekend I’ve been really strong in the uphill right hand corner. I took a little bit of a chance on that corner, but I felt confident. The next corner: I didn’t have the confidence in the front (tire) to brake super late and I felt Aron was going to come up there.

“I didn’t realize Remy was there. I felt I had the line for the next corner. Then I felt a bike hit from the side, which is questionable, but I grew up racing in America Flat Track and ‘rubbing is racing’ is the term that we use a lot back home, so if that’s the way you want to ride that’s okay by me. I don’t mind that kind of racing.”

The hint of menace in his words were offset by the wide grin on his face.

After a sixth-place finish in the season-opening Grand Prix of Qatar and an early retirement in the Grand Prix of Doha on that same circuit, Roberts was encouraged by his performance in Round 3.

Before the season started, Roberts told NBC’s Leigh Diffey: “The main thing is figuring out the structure of the race, when to push, what the pace is like. ... I didn’t know how quick everyone was going to be at the end of the race. Because when you’re at the back, you’re just working your way forward and doing what you’re doing. You’re not managing a race.”

Last Sunday, he showed incredible pace from the start, leading the first and second practice sessions. He was third in Practice 3.

As the front tire wore during race conditions, Roberts and the rest of the field were forced to manage their grip level.

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On the final lap, Raul Fernandez held a comfortable lead while Canet, Roberts and Gardner were nose to tail.

Roberts passed Canet for second. Canet quickly passed him back, bringing Gardner alongside.

Gardner and Roberts touched. Roberts almost wrecked with just a couple of turns remaining. The loss of momentum took him out of contention for the runner-up finish and sent him back to fourth. After the race, Roberts enthusiastically displayed the tire mark on his right shoulder and arm from Gardner’s front tire.

MotoGP of Portugal - Race

PORTIMAO, PORTUGAL - APRIL 18: Joe Roberts of USA and Italtrans Racing Team leads the field during the Moto2 race during the MotoGP of Portugal - Race at Autodromo Internacional Do Algarve on April 18, 2021 in Portimao, Portugal. (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

Getty Images

“I’m really happy honestly,” Roberts said in the post-race conference. “It’s great for the team. I led the most laps I’ve ever led in a world championship race. There are a lot of positives to take away from this race.

“I didn’t have the pace to pull away. I had my rhythm; couldn’t really give much more than I was giving, especially with the limits of the front tire. It was really slippery out there. ... I gave my best on the last lap to try and get to second.

“The key for me is to be consistent everywhere. Fight for wins when we can fight for wins - and fight for top-fives if that’s what we can get.”

Gardner is the points’ leader over Fernandez. Canet and Roberts are tied for sixth in the points.

“I honestly thought that these guys were going to go wide, both of them, and I could have taken second, but they managed to keep it online,” Gardner said of the incident. “Joe kind of block-passed me there, so I just stopped it and just shoved it up inside. I think we had a little bit of a touch, but I had the line and there’s nothing he could do.”

“Race P4!,” Roberts posted later on Instagram. “Stoked to have led the laps we did and be in the fight. Last lap got a bit hairy but that’s how it goes sometimes. Step by step we are getting there!”

Fellow American Cameron Beaubier scored his first top-10 in his third Moto2 start.

He worked his to eighth by Lap 4, but was slowed when two rider crashed in front of him. After falling to 11th, he charged forward again and was running ninth at the checkers.