Spanish MotoGP rider Marc Márquez is in the process of rewriting the history of the sport. The 20-year-old "rookie" — as hard as it is to believe, this is just his first season in the top category — has the confidence, the daring, the courage and the mastery of a veteran, all combined with the irreverence of a novice. And his commanding win at Laguna Seca, in the California desert on Sunday, saw one of his idols bow down before him after the race.
Márquez is now leading the championship after his victory in the US, but it was the move that he pulled on veteran rider Valentino Rossi that had everyone talking. The Laguna Seca circuit is famous for "the corkscrew," a terrifying downhill left-right double-apex, where Rossi himself pulled a daring move in 2008 on Casey Stoner, running off the track to nip down the inside of the Australian.
Márquez had the audacity and the nerves of steel to pull exactly the same move on Rossi on Sunday, on just lap four of the race, getting the youngster past the Italian into second place and leaving him clear to pursue — and eventually catch — race leader Stefan Bradl.
It seems that the tougher the challenge, the better Márquez responds. Given that just the MotoGP race is run at Laguna Seca — the Moto2 and Moto3 riders have to sit it out — Márquez had never even raced at the circuit before, and yet he still managed to notch up another record-breaking win.
Rookie Márquez had never even raced at the circuit before
Never before has a first-timer won at Laguna Seca; it is a highly physical and hugely challenging circuit that does not allow the riders a moment's let-up, thanks to its blind curves that conceal bumps and depressions, all of which can easily cost a race.
But Márquez is now in the habit of breaking records ever since he made it to the podium on his debut in Qatar, becoming the youngest rider to do so. And as he often says, he works better under pressure and when there is a serious challenge ahead of him — and what greater challenge could there have been than to win at Laguna Seca, and on the way manage to recreate one of the most spectacular overtaking maneuvers the circuit has ever seen?
At the start, polesitter Stefan Bradl managed to take the lead, followed by Rossi and then Márquez. Special mention should, of course, be made of fellow Spaniards Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, both of whom raced despite having suffered broken collarbones in huge accidents in recent weeks during practice sessions. Lorenzo was sniffing at the rear wheel of Márquez for several early laps, but the rhythm of the frontrunners proved to be too much. Pedrosa managed fifth place and Lorenzo sixth — the two riders no doubt well aware that Márquez could run away with the championship were they not to keep up the pressure, injuries or no injuries.
With hindsight it was obvious what Márquez had in mind. The first thing he did on arriving at Laguna Seca was to check out the corkscrew section of the track with his scooter, trying out the shortcut he was later to make use of during the practice sessions. Come the race, after the move on Rossi, he went after Bradl. The German rider was impeccable out front but he could not hold off Márquez, who managed to close in on him. By lap 11, he was just three-tenths of a second behind.
With hindsight it was obvious what Márquez had in mind
With 14 laps to go of the 32-lap race, Márquez made his move and within one lap had already pulled away from the German rider by half a second.
As Márquez approached the checkered flag he allowed himself a sneaky peek behind, just to confirm what he must have already known: that no one could come near him. Not for nothing did Rossi jokingly pretend to strangle Márquez in the paddock after the race — he had, after all, stolen the Italian's move, and used it against him.
After nine races, Márquez has notched up three victories and is starting to carve out a lead in the championship, with 163 points. The recovering Pedrosa is in second, with 147 points, while Lorenzo is in third, on 137. Rossi is a distant fourth, with 117 points.
The MotoGP circus will be taking its summer break now, reconvening at Indianapolis, in the US, on August 18. That will give Lorenzo and Pedrosa some much-needed recovery time. But it will also allow Márquez to study a few more of his competitors' race-winning moves.