Last season when Marc Marquez rolled into the Circuit of the Americas, he was still the new kid on the block and just hoping to make an impression.
Sure, he had long been touted as MotoGP’s next great one, but at this time last year, he was all potential and hype but still yet to have won anything in the premier class.
On the Saturday of the inaugural Grand Prix of the Americas, the 20-year-old Spaniard crossed one major GP accomplishment off his to do list, becoming the youngest-ever pole winner in MotoGP history.
The following day, Marquez took the next step toward bona fide superstardom, etching his name down as the youngest-ever race winner in MotoGP history.
And of course, the Repsol Honda rookie rolled through the season and ultimately become the youngest-ever MotoGP World Champion.
Equal parts flash and substance, wide-smiling yet absolutely merciless on track, Marquez proved himself quite the conquistador in 2013, winning all three Stateside Grands Prix. His excellence on American soil also came at the (historical) expense of one of the nation’s all-time greats, as it was the name of U.S. legend Freddie Spencer that had been displaced from the record books in all of the major youth-related categories.
Now 21, Marquez returns to Texas as the acknowledged ‘fastest gun in the West’; he’s the one everyone is shooting for rather than the other way around.
The scary thing is that riders are typically expected to make their biggest strides between their rookie and sophomore seasons. In other words, Marquez should prove to be a whole lot better in 2014 than he was in 2013. And No. 93 marched to the title during his learning year. What’s he going to do for an encore?
He passed his first major test in the season opener under the lights in Qatar. Despite sitting out some preseason testing after suffering a broken leg during a dirt-track testing incident, Marquez overcame his injuries — and the rejiggered rules — that appeared to put him on the back foot and opened his first-career title defense with a thrilling victory.
Despite still being less than 100 percent, Marquez stands as a heavy favorite to further his winning streak this weekend.
“I have great memories from 2013 here with my first pole and first victory in MotoGP,” Marquez said during Thursday’s pre-event press conference. “My fibula is a little bit better, not perfect but it has improved. I rode in Qatar with painkillers and I will try to ride without them here.”
Fortunately for Marquez — and unfortunately for the rest of the field — the left-hand bias of the Austin circuit plays to his favor and should prove less punishing than it otherwise might.
Friday morning’s FP1 served as a warning shot — Marquez was well over a second quicker than his challengers for the bulk of the session and still stood on top of the final order by 0.887 despite a late flurry of (relative) fliers from Aleix Espargaro (who looked like a lethal weapon on his open-spec M1 in Qatar before a pair of QP crashes slowed him), second works Honda runner Dani Pedrosa, and Round 1 runner-up Valentino Rossi.
In FP2 the gap was expanded, not reduced. Marquez ended the day 1.005 seconds ahead of second-ranked Andrea Dovizioso despite the ‘open class’ rider’s access to softer rubber. Furthermore, Marquez’s fast time was not a one-off blinder — the six fastest laps of the day all belonged to the Spaniard.
At the end of the day, Marquez said, “You never ever to be fastest plus one second; you never expect that big of an advantage. We feel good and we have a good base.”
He struggled to explain why he was just so dominant in Texas. “I don’t know. My technician asked me the same question. I don’t know. We tried a couple different things with the setup — a little harder and a little softer — and with both setups I am fast. I don’t know why. This track is one of my favorites and I like it.”
MotoGP’s new world order has quickly taken root. Consider this: if Marquez — only one year removed from his status as a poleless, winless rookie — were to do anything other than stand atop the podium at the conclusion of this weekend, it would be considered an upset. Meanwhile, it would be viewed as something of a hero effort if another rider — even one the caliber of Rossi or Jorge Lorenzo — stepped forward and defeated Marquez in a showdown.
“I don’t know why but there is more pressure for this race,” Marquez admitted. “It looks like if I don’t win on Sunday it would be a disaster. But in the end, it’s another race. Of course, we will try to win and it’s my goal, but if for some reason we cannot win, we will try to stay on the podium.”COTA, Grand Prix of The Americas, Marc Marquez, MotoGP