As the only Portuguese rider in the championship, Miguel Oliveira is a rare bird. Until his arrival to the World Championship in 2011, Portugal had never been represented by one of its riders in the more than 60 years of the championship’s existence.
As in so many other cases, to Miguel Oliveira was given “the motorcycle drug” by his father. “Yes, he’s always been a big fan of bikes; besides just following them he rode in local races. One day I asked him what else is there apart from the Portuguese championship, because I imagined that there were professional racing people; And that’s how we started to follow the World Championship. This was 2003 when Rossi was with Repsol and finished first in every race, in every practice. I told myself: this is my idol, he always wins!”
“When I started to follow the World Championship in 2003, Rossi was with Repsol and finished first in every race, in every practice. I told myself: this is my idol.”
At that time in Portugal, races were already pay per view so a friend of the family who owned a cafe recorded the races for them. “I would take them home and would watch them there. I watched everything: practice, racing, everything, I missed nothing … And of course, how could it be otherwise, that the day came that I told my father that I wanted to do that? He said yes, we could see.”
Like so many other parents, his father tried to divert his passion from two wheels to four wheels. He made him try karting, and Miguel raced them but “I didn’t like them”. In the end, Mr. Oliveira Sr. had no choice but to buy him a motorcycle, specifically a Metrakit … and that’s where it all began.
He took his first steps as a motorcycle rider in Portugal, until he reached the Pre GP category; He then had no choice but to cross the border to start taking part in the ultra-competitive categories in the Spanish championships. “It was a time when we covered many, many kilometers,” recalls Miguel referring to trips from Portugal to Catalonia or Valencia, the hubs of the sport. Those were years in which he was up against riders like Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins. “It was usually Viñales and I, with Rins a little more behind,” recalls the 22 year old Miguel.
When Miguel confessed his father the wish to try bike racing, Mr Oliveira tried to divert his passion from two wheels to four wheels: he made him try karting.
Up against Viñales and Rins in Spain
As in many similar situations, the funding for his start came from the family budget. “My father sold some things we had, some friends who believed in me also helped, people in the cafe gave me 20 euros for gasoline and things like that. We went to each race through a lot of effort.”
Little by little, and with the kind of effort that new beginnings always demand, some forms of support appeared, like Vodafone Portugal. “To give you an idea, we traveled with a car loaned to us by the motorcycle club in my area and when we went to Spain we drove very slowly to save gasoline.” Many trips were taken with just his father at the wheel.
Oliveira had no choice but to cross the border to start taking part in the ultra-competitive categories in the Spanish championships, in which he was up against riders like Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins. “It was usually Viñales and I, with Rins a little more behind.”
It was a long road to get to where Miguel Oliveira is now. In fact, his first season in the World Championship in 2011 finished six races early because of economic problems with the team. In 2012 he was team-mate to Alex Rins on Team Estrella Galicia; In 2013 and 2014, with Mahindra, he made his first podiums, results that opened the doors for him to join Team Ajo. In 2015 he became the first Portuguese rider to win a World Championship victory—Mugello— and finshed the season second in the Championship.
Oliveira’s sporting achievements have made him popular in his country, something unthinkable for a motorcycle rider in Portugal only a couple of years ago. ? … “The truth is that there are many people who recognize me on the street, in restaurants, in shopping centers … all over the country. ” It is curious how a guy so apparently serious and introverted as Miguel manages that “harassment” of the fans. “From my point of view, if a person recognizes me, it’s because he follows me, because he looks at what I’m doing; there are people who have nothing to do with me directly… I practice a sport in which I wear a helmet, that is, my face can not be seen. If they recognize me it is because they follow me and I believe that there is value to that. When they ask me to take a picture, I do it with pleasure, I doesn’t create any discomfort to me at all, even if they are five or six in a row, I do not care … ”
Thinking too much doesn’t pay
Oliveira as a rider is the same as he is in person. “I’m a very curious person in general and I think this somehow affects me when I race. When I get on the bike I have to understand what is going on and there are moments when that costs me. Because sometimes you have to stop thinking and just give it everything. I think it’s my biggest disadvantage.”
“I practice a sport in which I wear a helmet, that is, my face can not be seen. If they recognize me it is because they follow me and I believe that there is value to that.”
This disadvantage, as Oliveira calls it, was what likely caused him to miss out on his first Moto2 victory at Sachsenring. The Portuguese rider approached the rear wheel of Morbidelli, who led at that time. “If he had passed me I probably wouldn’t have been able to follow him,” said Franco Morbidelli after the race. Instead of continuing his own race, Miguel chose to stay on Morbidelli’s wheel. “Maybe it was not the best strategy…”
A little lack of determination at the end of the race aside, the truth is that the first half of the season of Oliveira and his brand new Moto2 KTM can only be described as exceptional. Third in front of Alex Márquez, he was on the podium four times, with only one let down in France. “It was probably due to an excess of euphoria because of the good results we were getting, we lost in the attempt to find a perfect set-up. We made a lot of very short runs on the track, which meant that I didn’t ever get the pace of the circuit … we learned from it; You have to go step by step without getting too ahead of yourself.”
Ready to win
After the fiasco at Le Mans, the team and their rider recovered their trajectory: 5th in Mugello, 3rd in Montmeló, 5th in Assen, 2nd in Sachsenring …the first victory seems to be at hand. Will it arrive in the second half of the season? “I think so,” he responds with the tranquility that characterizes Oliveira. “I have shown that it’s not impossible. In Assen I led a few laps and when you are in front you have to take risks to win … I will surely try.”
To become the first Portuguese rider to win in Moto2, he will need the “help” of his KTM, a brand new bike in the category. Because of this, nearly every circuit a blank sheet for them, although from what he explained in Germany after his second place, Aki Ajo and his mechanics already have a good starting point from which to work. “Yes, the bike is doing quite well, especially here at Sachsenring. The combination of grippy asphalt and the toughest tire has been a perfect match for our bike, so we had to make very few adjustments over the weekend.”
When the championship is in northern Europe, the weather conditions are not usually the best for grabbing that first victory that is knocking on the door. For the reflective Miguel (there were many times throughout our conversation that he talked about doing things analytically and step by step) Moto2 should be the catapult that allows him to one day return to face those rival such as Viñales, Rins, and the riders to whom he looked up to as a teenager. “Yes, my goal is definitely MotoGP; Now I am in a team that allows me to think about it, so I have to take advantage of the situation.”
The first step in this direction was taken already some weeks ago when Miguel was invited to ride KTM’s RC 16 during a test the MotoGP team did in Aragón. This means that Oliveira knows “the taste” of what he expects to be the last stage of his racing career. But to get there he has first to show in Moto2 that he deserves the opportunity… So far he is on the good pad.