Leandro Mercado has been a bit of a revelation recently and was back in the top eight at Portimao
Whilst there’s a great battle raging at the front of the 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, there were plenty of brilliant performances a little further behind. One of those stand-out rides came from Argentina’s Leandro Mercado (MIE Racing Honda Team), who took his first top eight finish since San Juan in 2019, his first for Honda too. After a difficult start to the 2021 campaign, Mercado has made gains in recent rounds and heads to Argentina in good form.
It was a positive weekend all-round for ‘Tati’ as he was knocking on the door of the top ten during Friday’s Free Practice sessions. Come Saturday, he took his second fourth-row grid slot on the bounce after a season’s best 11th at Jerez was backed up with 12th at Portimao. The fourth-best Independent on the grid for Race 1, Mercado rode a solid race, finishing eighth and getting his biggest points-haul in nearly two years.
Speaking about Saturday at Portimao, Mercado said: “I'm very happy as Saturday was a good day for us. With the changes we made for FP3, I immediately had a good feeling and felt very comfortable on the bike. So, we had a good Superpole session, even though I was expecting a bit more. For the race, the conditions then changed and it was a little windy. I made a good start but then got stuck in traffic. After passing a few riders, I tried to maintain a consistent pace. I passed Laverty and thought I could catch Bassani but that wasn’t possible in the end. I ultimately won a nice duel with Laverty who had passed me again in the final laps.
“I'm happy because we’ve found what we were lacking in other races, namely better rear grip, and now I can be more on the attack. Before I had to defend myself, but now I can attack, and this is how I like to race. I have to thank the whole team, as we are working well and have come a long way since we started this project. We will continue to work to improve because we want more.”
Turning his attention to Sunday, the wet weather Tissot Superpole Race didn’t play into Mercado’s hands and with riders on the front three rows of the grid crashing out in front of him, he was shuffled back to the fifth row of the grid, starting 13th after finishing 11th in the Superpole Race. However, the 11th place would be repeated in Race 2, taking home another five points.
“On Sunday, we suffered a little bit in the rain, but it went better than in Barcelona and we also gathered a lot of useful information,” said Mercado, now on 25 points for the season. “Then for Race 2 we made a small modification to the set-up, and I made a good start. I really liked my first half of the race because I was right there in the group with Bassani and Laverty.
“Then, with the drop in tyre performance, I struggled a little to keep up with them and had to slow my pace because I wanted to finish the race. We made a great step in terms of grip, but we are still missing something for the second half of the race. But I'm very happy anyway, and it's nice to be heading to Argentina with this positive feeling.”
Although Mercado is 21st in the standings, he missed Estoril and Aragon so that the team could carry out development work to make the package more competitive. Now, with Mercado and the team working well in the last couple of rounds, he’ll be eyeing up a return to the top ten at his home round at the Circuito San Juan Villicum. The World Superbike paddock heads back to Argentina for the first time since 2019 and it is the first overseas round since Phillip Island kickstarted 2020.
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