A two-wheel interlude: Marquez vs time

Note: this story originally appeared here.

INDIANAPOLIS, August 6: Marc Marquez is coming, but does he have time to get there? ‘There’ is a third straight MotoGP world championship in as many premier-class seasons; should Marquez mow down a 65-point deficit to Valentino Rossi with half of the 2015 campaign remaining, it will go down as the landmark achievement in a CV already heaving with them.

It says much for Marquez’s talent that overcoming such a substantial deficit is thought to be realistic; the final two races before MotoGP’s mid-season break in Assen (where he came second to Rossi) and the Sachsenring in Germany (where he won at a canter) showed that the Spaniard’s early-season swoon is well and truly over.

As the world’s best riders gathered for the pre-event press conference at the Indianapolis Grand Prix on Thursday, the eyes of the assembled press were focused on just two; Marquez, the reigning champion, and Rossi, who has used an astonishing run of consistency to build a 13-point championship lead at the mid-point of the season over Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo. And for Marquez, the return of MotoGP to the United States has come at the perfect time.

Quite remarkably, Marquez has won every MotoGP race he’s started in America – victories at Austin (his maiden MotoGP win), Laguna Seca and Indianapolis were part of his title-winning rookie campaign in 2013, while last year, with Laguna Seca absent from the calendar, he had to make do with backing up in Austin and Indy. Already this year he made it a hat-trick at the Circuit of the Americas, while at Indianapolis, Marquez has won his last four races at ‘The Brickyard’, two in Moto2 in 2011-12 preceding his run of premier-class dominance.

It’s little wonder the 22-year-old is confident of continuing his eight-race American rampage this weekend.

“These last two races were much better, and the break in the middle of the season arrived on the point where I wanted more and more races,” he said.

“Of course 65 points are a lot, but I lose on the first part of the season, and maybe they (Yamaha) can lose on the second part. It’s not easy and I know it’s a big distance, but we will try to focus like the last two races and try to push at the limit.”

Anyone familiar with Marquez’s all-action cornering style knows that he pushes the limits like few others, and it’s an approach that he’s employed to devastating effect ever since he set foot in MotoGP. While that signature style remains, what’s unfamiliar for Marquez this year is facing a deficit – in 2013, he led the championship standings after 13 of the 18 races to become the youngest world champion in premier-class history, while last year, he won the first 10 races of the year to turn the championship into a cakewalk. The chance to be the hunter rather than the hunted is a novelty, but not one he’s relishing.

“Of course, last year’s situation was much better,” he said.

“But this year is like that, and I know that they are really far away. But the most important thing is that I’m enjoying again on the bike, and since pre-season in Valencia it had been difficult to find this feeling. In these last two races I enjoyed it a lot, so I hope it continues.”

If Marquez is MotoGP’s irresistible force, Rossi is its immovable object. In his 20th world championship season and six years after his most recent title, ‘The Doctor’ has ridden a wave of consistency to a championship lead few saw coming; the 36-year-old has been on the podium for 13 straight Grands Prix, and 17 of the past 18 races dating back to Japan last year. The winner of the inaugural race at Indianapolis in 2008, Rossi leads the championship at the halfway stage of the season for the first time since 2009, but is well aware of Marquez’s ability to string wins together and up the pressure.

“At the start of the season Marc had some problems with the feeling of the bike, and he lost some points in the first part,” Rossi said.

“But from Assen he came back very strong, so the distance is still quite a lot, but we are still in the middle (of the season). Nine races to the end is a long way, so we have to stay concentrated.”

For all of the attention focused on the reigning champion and the man best placed to take his crown at Indianapolis on Thursday, the most telling insight into the state of play came from Lorenzo. The Spaniard knows that the best chance to make hay while compatriot Marquez struggled is over, and while the statistics suggest otherwise, he’s expecting the fight for the title to rumble all the way to Phillip Island and beyond to the season finale in Valencia.

“We didn’t put him away in the fight for the championship,” Lorenzo said

“I think he’s able to win a lot of races like he demonstrated last year in a row, so for sure with nine races to go there is a lot of points still in play, and he can recover those points if he does not make mistakes.

“For sure, he is one of the favourites for the championship.”

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