Marc Márquez: "He's playing"

by Mat Oxley on 16th April 2014

If you are a MotoGP rider, may I suggest you don’t read the following, but if you insist on putting yourself through the pain, might I suggest cracking open a beer and then afterwards you can arrange an appointment with your doctor who may be able to subscribe a course of anti-depressants; say 60mg of Prozac or 20mg of Citalopram, just to keep your pecker up, that’s all.

If you are a MotoGP rider who doesn’t go by the name of Marc Márquez, the deeply depressing reality is that whatever you are doing out there is no longer enough. It’s like someone has changed the rules of the game and no one bothered to tell you and now it’s too late to catch up.

Márquez has moved the game on and is now doing things on his Repsol Honda RC213V at every other corner that most riders can only dream off doing once every other race.

What we saw at Austin was a new Márquez, a MM93 1.2, an updated version, upgraded with hitherto unseen levels of confidence. He spent the entire weekend playing with his motorcycle, getting into some frankly ridiculous situations: riding sideways over the inside kerb, front wheel two inches in the air, or rear tyre six inches in the air as he braked and cranked into a corner, front tyre tucking as the rear regained the asphalt, transferring potentially disastrous forces through the rest of the motorcycle.

He even did it at the very last corner of the race, while luxuriating in a five second lead, “just to put some rpm in my mechanics’ hearts”. As usual, he found the whole thing hilarious.

How does he do it?

Those corner entries… Márquez was already doing it last season, but with a full year’s experience behind him he can dive into a corner, brakes fully on, rear tyre in the air and carry on as if nothing else has happened. No doubt, the set-up of his RC213V helps, but even so, his rivals must be weeping. No wonder Jorge Lorenzo has yet to complete a full race lap this year without making a cock-up: was it really a mosquito in his helmet that blinded him at Austin, or a river of tears of anguish?

We have all done a stoppie or two; some of us have done rolling stoppies, which require delicately maintained pressure on the front brake lever; just enough to get the front slowing to encourage the rear end to rotate over the front of the machine, but not so much as to stop the bike.

Like many racers, Márquez does rolling stoppies all the time, but so far he is the only rider to have discovered hitherto unknown capabilities of Bridgestone’s astonishingly good front slick. Instead of merely lifting the rear wheel as he brakes at the end of a straight, he actually uses the same braking force that others use in a straight like while he is already leaning into the turn with maybe 20 degrees of lean.

This allows him to maintain maximum braking force while his rivals are already off the brakes, peeling into the corner; which is why he can achieve apparently impossible overtaking manoeuvres. Apparently, physics dictate that the rear lifts less when the bike is leaning into the corner than when it’s in a straight line. (Please don’t ask me to explain, because I can’t.)

I don’t know how other riders are going to learn to imitate this trick, but that’s what they need to do if they want to stand a chance of beating the kid. Difficult to achieve, hence my suggestion for some friendly assistance from the pharmaceutical industry.

Like most observers, Márquez’s Bridgestone technician Klaus Nӧhles – himself a former 250 GP rider of some note – can’t stop grinning when he’s talking about Márquez’s on-track antics.

“Marc adapted his riding pretty quickly to the character of our tyres,” says Nöhles, who scored two top-five finishes during the 2000 250 GP season. “He is super-confident on the bike – to me it looks like he’s playing. Sometimes he pushes for a few corners, playing with the limit and learning things.”

It’s all very well lifting the rear as you tip into a corner, it’s dealing with the consequences of what happens next that takes real talent. You will notice that whenever Márquez drops the rear tyre back onto the track, the bike shudders and the front tyre momentarily tucks under as both wheels try to get themselves aligned (I don’t know about you, but this exact moment always makes my stomach do a somersault or two).

For anyone else, this would be the moment when the sudden weight transfer overpowers the front tyre, tipping the machine onto its side, to the crash, bang, wallop of carbon-fibre and metal on tarmac and a gale of four-letter curses from the rider. Not so for Márquez – keeping everything 0.0001 per cent on the right side of disaster is just what he does for a living.

“Marc is very loose on the bike,” continues Nöhles. “When the rear tyre lifts off the ground, other riders are really afraid to put the bike into the corner, but he isn’t. He just goes for it and at this point he is still moving his body a lot. He’s not static on the bike, whereas most other riders look stiff and go: ‘Aagh, I cannot make the corner!’ They get disturbed or nervous, but it’s no problem for him and now he is doing this consistently, so that gives him more and more confidence to ride in this way.”

If you’re a MotoGP rider, that’s why I told you not to read this. The kid is only getting started!

“So long as the other riders don’t change their riding styles, so long as they keep their comfortable styles, they will find it difficult to beat him,” explains Nöhles. “He is the new young guy, setting new limits. I know that Dani [Pedrosa] has suffered a lot of injuries, Jorge also, and as a former rider I know that every injury you suffer affects your confidence, even if you tell yourself it doesn’t. In my experience, younger guys take more risks.”

In my mind, there are only two ways to stop Márquez: either derail his talent with wine, women and song or put Maverick Viñales and Jack Miller on MotoGP bikes.

More from Mat Oxley
MotoGP's young guns and old dogs
Moving MotoGP's goal posts
Why the door was left Open for Ducati

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