Grand Prix veteran Dani Pedrosa made full use of his trademark precision to throw down a blistering 2:03.062 qualifying lap on Saturday afternoon at the Circuit of The Americas.
Meanwhile, his 21-year-old Repsol Honda teammate, Marc Marquez, was decidedly less untidy in the session; he slid and bucked his way around to an even faster 2:02.773 to secure pole position and further lower his circuit lap record.
2013 was supposed to be Pedrosa’s year. Considering the superb state of his works Honda equipment, the relative difficulties of fierce rival Jorge Lorenzo, and the rookie status of new sensation Marquez, last year’s championship was Pedrosa’s to lose.
And he lost it. That might be a bit harsh but there is some truth to that — he did break his collarbone shortly after Lorenzo had broken his, the Yamaha man’s misfortune appearing to have opened the door for a Pedrosa title run, if only for a fleeting moment. But, there was also the fact that Marquez matured even more rapidly than expected and took the championship from Lorenzo and Pedrosa, along with Dani’s role as HRC lead rider.
As a result, Pedrosa, the winningest rider in premier class history without a championship to his name, is now firmly entrenched as team understudy while Marquez defends his title with aplomb.
Pedrosa has been an excellent Grand Prix motorcycle racer for a very long time — long enough to rack up 25 race wins (equal with Kevin Schwantz and ranked above Wayne Rainey and Kenny Roberts) — and he has ranked in the championship top three on six separate occasions. However, he has never ended the season on top of the MotoGP standings. That fact, combined with his clinical riding style, introverted personality, and flashier rivals, has made for some of the quietest front-row qualifying performances and podium finishes in recent memory.
Pedrosa’s inability to carry the all-powerful Honda squad to the title has been well documented. In case you need reminding, the Spaniard is the only genuine HRC #1 not to win a championship since Freddie Spencer took his first crown in 1983 (who then passed on the baton to ’87 champ Wayne Gardner, who was followed by champions Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Alex Criville, Valentino Rossi, and Nicky Hayden. After Pedrosa failed to win the title while fronting the effort, he had his #1 position seized by Casey Stoner and then Marquez, who both won it all in their first year with the squad.
Now almost completely overshadowed by his direct rivals, Pedrosa may be in position to reinvent himself as the underdog — a dark horse title contender armed with championship-caliber equipment.
Last year, Pedrosa pushed Marquez deep into the race in Austin, but in the end Marquez won. He’ll probably do so again (although there is a very real chance of rain that could make for a considerably less predictable outcome).
“Marc is doing a good job, and he’s always very fast over one lap,” Pedrosa said this afternoon after qualifying. “Yeah, he’s doing good, but I’m happy because I improved a lot today and that’s what matters to me.”
Asked if he thought he could beat his teammate on Sunday, Pedrosa said, “For the race, I’m not really concerned about the others — just going out and doing the maximum every lap and go to the finish line.”
While Marquez garners the lion’s share of the attention for his big personality, thrilling riding style, and undeniable results, Marquez’s edge over Pedrosa is one that could just as easily bite him. During qualifying today, the champ suffered a massive front-end slide (among other near-misses)… which he somehow saved and promptly turned into a P1 lap. However, not every moment like that can possibly be saved.
Should Marquez suffer a big fall during a race at some point this season, it might not only cost him valuable points, it could potentially sideline him for a stretch. And if that happens, Pedrosa’s accumulation of quiet podiums could suddenly speak much more loudly.Austin, Dani Pedrosa, MotoGP