Marc Marquez

How close do you like it? MotoGP’s tightest racing yet

The fighting at the front has been ferocious this season; is Phillip Island about to serve up another classic encounter?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

We’ve become accustomed to tight tussles in MotoGP in recent times; just look at the Australian Grands Prix of 2015 and 2017, two Phillip Island classics that routinely get mentioned in the ‘best races of all-time’ conversation. But season 2018 is re-writing the definition of ‘close racing’, with three races decided by less than one second, and another seven by less than three seconds. Why, and how?

Of all of the great racing we’ve seen in 2018, it’s the one where the winner (Marc Marquez) had a relatively comfortable margin of 2.269secs that belongs in that ‘best races of all-time’ conversation, when the Spaniard saluted at Assen in the Netherlands in June. Marquez flashed across the line first in a Grand Prix where the top eight made more than 100 overtakes – no mis-print – between them, and where the gap between Marquez in first and the final points-scoring rider (his Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa in 15th) was just 16.043secs, the closest top 15 in nearly 900 premier-class world championship races.

Marquez may be running away with this year’s championship – he’s finished 12 of 14 races on the podium and is one of two riders to have completed every race – but if the title chase hasn’t been close, the races themselves almost always have been.

The season started with a top-shelf stoush in Qatar, where Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso got the better of Marquez in a last-lap battle – again – when he took the chequered flag 0.027secs ahead of his 2017 title rival, with third-placed Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) just seven-tenths of a second behind his compatriot for the race win. The most recent race in Thailand had a top four (Marquez, Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales and Rossi) split by just 1.564secs at the flag, Marquez winning by 0.115secs. In between we’ve had last-lap thrillers in the Czech Republic and Austria, pack battles for the victory in Argentina and Aragon, and very few runaway wins – Jorge Lorenzo’s 6.730-second victory in Italy for Ducati is the year’s biggest margin, and one of only two victories by five seconds or more.

Why? Rossi, when asked after the Assen race that left riders, spectators and pundits breathless through its sheer intensity, told esteemed British publication Motorsport Magazine how the sport has changed since his first Dutch TT in MotoGP, which came back in 2000.

“This [narrow time gaps] is one of the biggest difference to then,” he said after qualifying third in a top 10 covered by half a second.

“Compared to 15 years ago the level of professionalism has increased a lot. Now the teams and especially the riders try to work on all the small details, so you try to learn and you try to understand, corner by corner, braking by braking. Fifteen years ago it was more romantic, you know; you rode your bike and you got your feeling.”

If hours spent trawling through telemetry searching for that extra edge in performance has brought the field closer together, then fans are all the better for it. For every race that’s won (or lost) by managing tyre life in order to be able to fight hard at the finish like Thailand (where track temperatures of 54 degrees would have melted the rubber had the riders gone at 100 per cent for all 26 laps), there’s a counter like Assen, where the front group raced like it was the last lap for every lap of the 41-minute duration.

Do the riders like it? Marquez was on a high after the Assen brawl. “It was a crazy race, full of adrenaline – this feeling is one of the reasons we do this sport,” he beamed. “We were a wild bunch, everyone fighting against everyone; I think all of us made contact with somebody else at some point. We had to attack and defend, attack and defend. We had so many big moments … it was crazy!”

If 2018 has taught us anything, it’s that crazy-close racing has become almost a given in MotoGP. Are the two Phillip Island thrillers of 2015 and 2017 about to become a trilogy at this year’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix? You’d be surprised if it didn’t.

Down to the wire: MotoGP’s closest finishes in 2018

Qatar: top three (Dovizioso, Marquez, Rossi) separated by 0.797secs. Winning margin: 0.027secs.

Argentina: top two (Crutchlow, Zarco) separated by 0.251secs.

Assen: Marquez wins by 2.269secs. Closest top 15 in world championship history: 15th-placed Pedrosa was 16.043secs behind winner. More than 100 overtakes in the top eight.

Czech Republic: top three (Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Marquez) separated by 0.368secs. Winning margin: 0.178secs.

Austria: top three (Lorenzo, Marquez, Dovizioso) separated by 1.656secs. Winning margin: 0.130secs.

Aragon: top three (Marquez, Dovizioso, Iannone) separated by 1.259secs. Winning margin: 0.648secs.

Thailand: top four (Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales, Rossi) separated by 1.564secs. Winning margin: 0.115secs.

This story was originally published on motogp.com.au and has been reproduced with permission.

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Who’s winning the MotoGP teammate battles in 2018?

Which two-wheel teammates rule the roost in their respective garages? We’ve crunched the numbers.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

MotoGP teammates come in all shapes and sizes; some who work well together, some who achieve results despite barely-concealed (or not concealed at all) disdain for the rider on the identical bike in the sister garage (buongiorno, Ducati), and some who know their place as the junior partner of a two-bike effort pairing machinery of varying ages and expectations. All valid, and all can work.

Eleven races into the 2018 season, which teammates have the internal bragging rights over one another? Which are the closest battles, and which would be called off early if they were a title fight? We’ve run the rule over all 12 squads (in teams’ championship order), excluded wildcards who come in for occasional races, and crunched the numbers. Here we go.

Repsol Honda Team

Qualifying head-to-head: Marc Marquez 9, Dani Pedrosa 2
Races head-to-head: Marquez 8, Pedrosa 0
Best result: Marquez 1st (five times), Pedrosa 5th (twice)
Points: Marquez 201, Pedrosa 66
Podiums: Marquez 9, Pedrosa 0
Average grid position: Marquez 3.2, Pedrosa 9.82
Average race finish: Marquez 4.36, Pedrosa 7.75

Summary: Marc Marquez has had his way with the entire field this season as his 59-point championship lead – more than two races’ worth of points with eight Grands Prix remaining – attests, but the extent of his margin over Dani Pedrosa has been alarming all year. Pedrosa, who is heading into retirement at season’s end, hasn’t beaten his compatriot in a race both have finished yet, while in terms of average race finish, Marquez’s stats are skewed by the fact he remounted after crashing in Argentina and Italy and saw the chequered flag, but outside of the points. Lorenzo really is walking into the lions’ den next season as Pedrosa’s replacement …

Ducati Team

Qualifying head-to-head: Andrea Dovizioso 6, Jorge Lorenzo 5
Races head-to-head: Dovizioso 4, Lorenzo 3
Best result: Dovizioso 1st (twice), Lorenzo 1st (three times)
Points: Dovizioso 129, Lorenzo 130
Podiums: Dovizioso 4, Lorenzo 4
Average grid position: Dovizioso 5.09, Lorenzo 5.64
Average race finish: Dovizioso 3.63, Lorenzo 5.55

Summary: Four races into the season, this was shaping up the same way as 2017 ended, with Andrea Dovizioso the undisputed top dog at Ducati while Jorge Lorenzo flailed around looking for answers. Remarkably, Dovizioso had a 40-point lead over Lorenzo after Spain; following the last race in Austria, Lorenzo’s third victory in the past six Grands Prix, the Spaniard now just leads his Italian teammate amid an atmosphere of simmering tension. Whatever happens here until Lorenzo leaves, it’ll be compelling.

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP

Qualifying head-to-head: Valentino Rossi 5, Maverick Vinales 6
Races head-to-head (where both riders finished): Rossi 7, Vinales 3
Best result: Rossi 2nd, Vinales 2nd
Points: Rossi 142, Vinales 113
Podiums: Rossi 5, Vinales 3
Average grid position: Rossi 6.91, Vinales 7.36
Average race finish: Rossi 5.18, Vinales 5.9

Summary: It’s been a difficult year for Yamaha, without a race win and with Valentino Rossi (second) and Maverick Vinales (fifth) only in the top five in the championship by virtue of their consistency. Rossi keeps pulling rabbits out of hats (a horrible 14th on the grid in Austria became a respectable sixth at the flag) in races, while Vinales keeps suffering from poor starts after middling qualifying efforts. Frustration is mounting, but at least Rossi’s comes from a position of internal superiority.

Alma Pramac Racing

Qualifying head-to-head: Danilo Petrucci 10, Jack Miller 1
Races head-to-head: Petrucci 6, Miller 2
Best result: Petrucci 2nd, Miller 4th (twice)
Points: Petrucci 105, Miller 61
Podiums: Petrucci 1, Miller 0
Average grid position: Petrucci 7, Miller 12.36
Average race finish: Petrucci 6.3, Miller 9.67

Summary: The 2018 iteration of the Ducati is a far superior beast than its predecessor, which goes some way towards explaining the gap between Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, each rider enjoying their best seasons yet while riding totally different bikes. It took a remarkable pole in Argentina for Miller to deny Petrucci a Saturday clean-sweep, while the Italian can always be counted upon to bring the bike home in races, with the occasional outlier podium. Miller’s season has been one of two inconsistent halves; after 49 points in the first five races, he’s managed just 12 in the six since.

Team Suzuki Ecstar

Qualifying head-to-head: Andrea Iannone 7, Alex Rins 4
Races head-to-head: Iannone 2, Rins 3
Best result: Rins 2nd, Iannone 3rd (twice)
Points: Iannone 84, Rins 66
Podiums: Iannone 2, Rins 2
Average grid position: Iannone 7.09, Rins 9.36
Average race finish: Rins 6.5, Iannone 8.3

Summary: With Andrea Iannone off to Aprilia next year, Suzuki will be buoyed by the fact teammate Alex Rins has been the faster of the pair this season … when he can actually stay on the bike. No rider has as many non-finishes as Rins’ five, meaning a strike rate of two podiums in six finishes isn’t too shabby. Iannone can blow hot and cold – as is his custom – and this will be one to watch for the rest of the year before Joan Mir comes in from Moto2 to partner Rins.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

Qualifying head-to-head: Johann Zarco 11, Hafizh Syahrin 0
Races head-to-head: Zarco 8, Syahrin 0
Best result: Zarco 2nd (twice), Syahrin 9th
Points: Zarco 104, Syahrin 24
Podiums: Zarco 2, Syahrin 0
Average grid position: Zarco 5.6, Syahrin 16.73
Average race finish: Zarco 6.8, Syahrin 13.56

Summary: Jonas Folger’s illness-induced late withdrawal from the 2018 grid saw Hafizh Syahrin drafted in hastily as the German’s replacement, and Johann Zarco has predictably ruled this garage as the Malaysian gets his MotoGP feet wet. Zarco was electrifying early in the season before his results flattened following a fall at home in France, while Syahrin has been making gradual and commendable improvement, strides that saw him rewarded with a contract for next year in June as Tech 3 prepares to switch to KTM machinery.

LCR Honda

Qualifying head-to-head: Cal Crutchlow 11, Takaaki Nakagami 0
Races head-to-head: Crutchlow 7, Nakagami 1
Best result: Crutchlow 1st, Nakagami 12th
Points: Crutchlow 103, Nakagami 11
Podiums: Crutchlow 1, Nakagami 0
Average grid position: Crutchlow 6.77, Nakagami 17.09
Average race finish: Crutchlow 6.33, Nakagami 15.56

Summary: Armed with a factory Honda, Cal Crutchlow is well on track for his best MotoGP season in five years, and a win at a chaotic race in Argentina was fitting reward for the searing speed he’s shown in most races. Takaaki Nakagami was never supposed to match his teammate on inferior machinery and hasn’t, but Crutchlow has said the Japanese rider’s rookie season has been more impressive than his own debut campaign back in 2011.

Angel Nieto Team

Qualifying head-to-head: Alvaro Bautista 8, Karel Abraham 3
Races head-to-head: Bautista 7, Abraham 0
Best result: Bautista 5th, Abraham 13th
Points: Bautista 57, Abraham 4
Average grid position: Bautista 16.91, Abraham 21.18
Average race finish: Bautista 10.3, Abraham 17.5

Summary: As the Spanish team prepares to step back to Moto2 for next year and vacate its grid spot in the premier class, Alvaro Bautista’s future remains murky, while Karel Abraham and his significant funding looks like heading to the Reale Avintia Ducati effort further down the grid. Bautista has conjured six-straight top-10 results from Italy to Austria, but it appears the 33-year-old’s ninth MotoGP season will be his last, irrespective of the thrashing he’s administering to his teammate.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Qualifying head-to-head: Pol Espargaro 5, Bradley Smith 5
Races head-to-head: Espargaro 5, Smith 0
Best result: Espargaro 11th (five times), Smith 10th
Points: Espargaro 32, Smith 15
Average grid position: Espargaro 17.6, Smith 17.36
Average race finish: Espargaro 11.43, Smith 14.5

Summary: It’s been an injury-ravaged campaign for KTM’s factory outfit, with Pol Espargaro’s nasty crash in Sunday warm-up at Brno ruling him out of the Czech Republic and Austrian GPs with a fractured left collarbone and other injuries besides. When he’s been upright, Espargaro has been consistent – so much so that he’s finished 11th five times in nine races. Bradley Smith has the best individual finish of the pair (10th in Germany), but in the races, Espargaro has generally held sway.

Reale Avintia Racing

Qualifying head-to-head: Tito Rabat 11, Xavier Simeon 0
Races head-to-head: Rabat 6, Simeon 0
Best result: Rabat 7th, Simeon 17th (twice)
Points: Rabat 35, Simeon 0
Average grid position: Rabat 12.1, Simeon 23.1
Average race finish: Rabat 11.63, Simeon 19.13

Summary: It took eight world championship seasons in his 28 years for Xavier Simeon to make it to the premier class, but the Belgian’s stay looks set to be a short one with Abraham likely to take his ride for 2019, and with Tito Rabat beating him in every on-track session that has mattered. The gap between these two in qualifying is the biggest on the grid.

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Qualifying head-to-head: Aleix Espargaro 11, Scott Redding 0
Races head-to-head: Espargaro 4, Redding 0
Best result: Espargaro 9th, Redding 12th (twice)
Points: Espargaro 17, Redding 12
Average grid position: Espargaro 15.1, Redding 20.55
Average race finish: Espargaro 13.83, Redding 15.63

Summary: Scott Redding’s season-long frustration with the Aprilia exploded in Austria, the Briton commenting that “you cannot make a piece of s**t shine” after starting and finishing in 20th place. Redding is on the outer for next year as Aprilia brings in Iannone from Suzuki, while the man who’ll be retained, Aleix Espargaro, has comfortably been the best rider for a team that has endured more non-finishes (seven) than any other.

EG 0,0 Marc VDS

Qualifying head-to-head: Franco Morbidelli 8, Thomas Luthi 1
Races head-to-head: Morbidelli 6, Luthi 1
Best result: Morbidelli 9th, Luthi 16th (three times)
Points: Morbidelli 22, Luthi 0
Average grid position: Morbidelli 16.22, Luthi 20.55
Average race finish: Morbidelli 14.44, Luthi 17.75

Summary: Franco Morbidelli is off to the new Malaysia-sponsored SIC Yamaha outfit for next year, while Marc VDS teammate Thomas Luthi will step back to Moto2 with the Dynavolt Intact squad. What will become of their team for this year in 2019? That’s still uncertain, but in their time together on the big bikes, it’s been all Morbidelli, even accounting for the two races he missed after fracturing his left hand in an Assen practice fall. Luthi has come agonisingly close to the points, but only he and Simeon haven’t cracked the top 15 so far.

The MotoGP 2018 mid-term report

Which MotoGP rider is dux of this year’s class? Who gets extra detention or has to write lines? Who deserves a gold star for encouragement? It’s time to name names …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Disclaimer, before we start: it’s hard to come up with a MotoGP mid-season review that lands smack-bang in the middle of the 2018 season, with the 50 per cent point coming halfway around the 11th racing lap of the Brno circuit in the Czech Republic on Sunday August 5. So you’ll have to forgive us as we go a few laps early on what has become an annual tradition – the half-term grades for the good and great of two wheels this season. And in a season like 2018, there’s plenty of material to pore through.

We’ve had insanely close races (Qatar and Assen, the latter instantly – and appropriately – hailed as one of the greatest Grands Prix of all time), the customary annual Marc Marquez masterclasses in Austin and Germany, the absurdity of the start of the race in Argentina (hello to all Jack Miller fans), and the frankly bizarre sight of Jorge Lorenzo, who was nowhere early in the season, winning back-to-back races on a Ducati at Mugello and Catalunya, the latter reprising memories of his most dominant Yamaha days where he broke the spirit of his rivals with one devastatingly metronomic lap after another.

Nine races down, 10 to go – so near-enough to halfway. Who has stood out, for the right and wrong reasons? Who has exceeded expectations, and who has fallen short? Who needs to finish the second semester of the year strongly? And who might be getting extra detention if the travelling MotoGP paddock was a school classroom?

Here’s our take on who has earned what so far.

Dux of the class

He’s become a regular in this spot, so perhaps the better way to make a case for Marc Marquez is to give you time to think who should be here in his place. (Waiting). See, told you. His wins have gone from utterly dominant (COTA) to calculatingly brilliant (when he broke up the pursuing pack with two spectacular laps to end one of the bigger brawls for a win the sport has ever seen at Assen), but it’s two races he hasn’t won that show why, barring something unforeseen, he’s likely to become a five-time MotoGP champion in his first six seasons by the time November rolls around. One was his controversial ride in Argentina, where he was in a different league in practice before a sketchy track caught him out in qualifying, and then his race … well, that, and the contact with several riders (particularly Valentino Rossi) that sparked a war of words wasn’t his finest moment, but one that showed the pace he has over the rest when he’s pushing as hard as he can. The other was Barcelona, when he realised he couldn’t safely keep up with a blistering Lorenzo and settled for second when Andrea Dovizioso, who looked to be his primary title rival at the time, crashed out early in the race. There’ll be the odd race like Mugello, when he fell (and didn’t manage to save a slide for once) and couldn’t get back into the points, but his rivals are going to need a lot more of those if they’re to deny the Spaniard a high five at (or perhaps before) Valencia.

Honourable mentions: One for Lorenzo, for his Mugello/Catalunya double after being basically invisible on a red bike for a year and a bit beforehand. Watching such consistent excellence in a sport with so many variables lap by lap is mesmerising when it happens. And another for Johann Zarco, who (before his home GP in France) looked the Yamaha rider most likely to snap the manufacturer’s losing run (more of which later) with a series of searing performances.

Others have had flashes in a year where 10 different riders have already made the podium, but nobody has been as fast for as long as Marquez has this year, and it isn’t close.

Encouragement award

Rossi deserves a reward ribbon here for his persistence, hauling a bike that isn’t at race-winning pace into podium contention time and time again with (typically) canny racecraft and decisive overtaking that overcomes his (alas, also typically) underwhelming qualifying efforts; he had a dramatic pole at home at Mugello and was on the front row at Assen, but he’s often having to fight recovery missions from the third row or further back.

Danilo Petrucci is worthy of a mention here as well, the Italian nabbing a podium at Le Mans and nabbing a factory Ducati seat for next year after Lorenzo’s shock defection to Honda to be Marquez’s teammate in 2018.

His Alma Pramac Ducati teammate Miller gets kudos too, finishing the first five Grands Prix of the year in the top 10, taking a big-balls pole with the lap of his life in Argentina, and riding an immaculate race in France, where fourth was arguably his most convincing big-bike result yet (even more so than his win at Assen 2016, as he conceded himself).

Elsewhere, Alex Rins has been fast when he’s stayed on the bike long enough; in the first nine GPs of the year, the Spaniard had two podiums (second at Assen and third in Argentina) and a fifth place in Italy, but five race-ending crashes. And Rins’ compatriot Tito Rabat has nearly scored as many points already (30) as he has in his best MotoGP full season (35 last year), turning his career trajectory around on a satellite Ducati after leaving Marc VDS Honda behind at the end of ‘17.

Could do better

Maverick Vinales was expected, along with Dovizioso, to be Marquez’s main roadblock to the title this season, but the Spaniard has been up and down in temperament as well as results, a pole in Austin (after Marquez was penalised) and just three podiums in the first nine races seeing him sit third in the title chase through persistence more than any real pace, and with his frustration mounting by the race. Rossi has done marginally better on the same equipment, but perception is everything – and the sight of Vinales getting swamped in the early laps of races on cold tyres and with a full fuel tank has been depressingly common in 2018.

Dovizioso winds up here too, if only for the strange way his season has shaken out – so, so consistent when he challenged Marquez for the title all the way to the line last year, he’s already crashed out three times in 2018 to make his chance of the crown the longest of long shots by the halfway mark.

Dovi’s compatriot, Andrea Iannone, completes our trio here, the Suzuki man showing why he should be pictured under ‘mercurial’ in the dictionary given how hot (back-to-back podiums in Austin and Jerez) and cold he can blow. In his sixth season (and his last one with Ducati before moving to Aprilia for next year), he’s nothing if not consistently inconsistent …

Needs a strong second semester

Vinales, for his own state of mind and Yamaha’s future given Rossi, 40 next February, won’t be (dare we contemplate) around forever. Dovizioso, who simply can’t afford to be out-scored by Lorenzo before the Spaniard splits for Honda, particularly as he had a 40-point lead over his teammate after four races. Miller, who will be hoping to rekindle the form from his first five races as he prepares to step up to become his team’s leader next year when Petrucci moves up and Moto2 front-runner Pecco Bagnaia moves in. And Alvaro Bautista, the Spanish veteran who sits 13th in the championship, who must prove his worth if he’s to be picked up by anyone for 2019 after the Angel Nieto Ducati satellite entry sold its grid slots to the Petronas Yamaha MotoGP team, to be run by the Sepang International Circuit. Which brings us to …

Extra detention

Dani Pedrosa’s body of work over a 13-year stint in the premier class didn’t deserve to end up like this, nor in this category. The Spaniard announced ahead of the German GP that 2018 would be his last lap, finally putting an end to persistent rumours that he’d switch to the aforementioned Malaysian-backed Yamaha project after spending his entire career riding for Honda. Once he puts a full stop on his career in Valencia, he’ll surely be remembered as the best rider never to have won a premier-class world title, and you wouldn’t bet against him riding with more freedom than he’s had so far this year and snaring another win before he leaves, extending his remarkable run of at least one victory in all of his MotoGP campaigns.

It’s testament to the esteem Pedrosa is held in that we’d even contemplate another victory after how underwhelming 2018 has been to date; on the same bike as the championship leader, remember, Pedrosa has a best result of fifth, has missed Q2 twice and is 116 points behind Marquez. Ten different riders have made the podium this season, yet nine races in, the 32-year-old isn’t one of them. Pedrosa’s legacy remains intact no matter what happens from here, but this isn’t the end we envisaged for one of the sport’s front-runners for over a decade.

Loyalty to Honda could have been one reason for Pedrosa not finishing his career on a Yamaha, but Yamaha’s wretched recent record could have been another, which is why they’ve also ended up in our mid-season naughty corner. Yamaha’s last win came when Rossi saluted at Assen last year, 19 races ago, and the most recent round at the Sachsenring represented an unwanted record for the manufacturer, as the drought became its biggest ever (Yamaha previously went 18 races without a win between Malaysia 2002 and South Africa 2004, Rossi’s first race with the marque). Three riders in the top five of the standings is one thing, but entirely another when they have zero wins between them …

Bigger in America: How Marquez mastered the USA

Nine races, never beaten – here’s how the reigning MotoGP champ has laid the foundations for a perfect 10 in Austin this weekend.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

If the answer is Nicolas Terol, then what’s the question? The date: August 29, 2010 – the last time Marc Marquez raced in the world motorcycle championship in the United States and wasn’t the winner of the race. No, really.

It was the Indianapolis 125cc Grand Prix of that year, and Marquez, from pole, was leading on lap nine before crashing, re-mounting and crossing the line fifth, 19 seconds behind compatriot and race-winner Terol. But it didn’t end there – Marquez was penalised 20 seconds after the race for performing an “illegal manoeuvre” by cutting Turns 3 and 4 of the track on the penultimate lap and gaining ground. He was eventually classified 10th. Even back then, the 17-year-old had a penchant for drama …

The reason we’re bringing this up? There’s nine of them, actually. For the four-time MotoGP world champion comes into this weekend’s Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on a remarkable nine-race winning streak in MotoGP in the US – yes, every race he’s ridden under a fluttering Stars and Stripes on a flaming orange Repsol Honda. He’s started all but one of those races on pole too, Stefan Bradl denying Marquez by 0.017secs in qualifying at Laguna Seca in 2013 to spoil his clean sheet.

Scouring through the archives, it appears the only way to slow down Marquez’s rate of victories in America is to reduce the number of races held there. There were three in his rookie season of 2013, which coincided with Laguna Seca’s final year and the first race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. For the following two years, there were two races in the US until Indianapolis dropped off the schedule after 2015. Since, he’s had to content himself with a single annual trophy collection ‘Stateside at COTA.

Marquez isn’t just prolific in MotoGP races in the US, either. Even in Moto2 he was victorious there: he won at Indianapolis in 2011 and 2012 in his only two seasons in the intermediate class, meaning he’s actually on an 11-race winning streak across seven years in America ahead of this weekend.

As we wonder who to put our hard-earned cash on for this weekend at COTA (tip: number 93 will do quite nicely, even after the dramas and controversy of Argentina last time out), here’s how Marquez put the building blocks in place to score a perfect 10 this Sunday.

2013, Grand Prix of the Americas
Qualifying:
2mins 03.021secs (2nd: Dani Pedrosa, +0.254secs)
Winning margin:
1.534secs (2nd: Pedrosa)
Recap:
A weekend of breakthroughs at the Circuit of the Americas for Marquez; his first MotoGP pole and win in just his second MotoGP start, and one where he became the sport’s youngest premier-class winner (20 years, two months, four days). Marquez took the lead from teammate Pedrosa just after half-distance in Austin’s maiden 21-lap race, and never allowed his senior compatriot a look-in as he got on the board in MotoGP.

2013, US Grand Prix
Qualifying:
1:21.193 (2nd, +0.017secs behind Stefan Bradl)
Winning margin:
2.298secs (2nd: Bradl)
Recap:
It was Marquez’s first (and only) experience of the undulating Californian circuit, remembering that the junior classes didn’t race at Laguna Seca when it was on the schedule. His inexperience mattered not: Marquez bounced back from a qualifying crash that enabled Bradl to pip him for pole to beat the German 24 hours later, recovering from a tardy start and passing Valentino Rossi in a memorable move at The Corkscrew that saw both riders briefly in the dirt. Ah, things were so friendly between Marquez and Rossi back then …

2013, Indianapolis Grand Prix
Qualifying:
1:37.958 (2nd: Pedrosa, +0.513secs)
Winning margin:
3.495secs (2nd: Pedrosa)
Recap:
Marquez had winning form at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Moto2, but rose to a new level on his first visit to ‘The Brickyard’ on the bigger bike, setting a new circuit record in qualifying, breaking the lap record in the race and keeping both teammate Pedrosa and countryman Jorge Lorenzo at bay after assuming the lead for good at the halfway stage.

2014, Grand Prix of the Americas
Qualifying:
2:02.773 (2nd: Pedrosa, +0.289secs)
Winning margin:
4.124secs (2nd: Pedrosa)
Recap:
Marquez was on a different planet in qualifying, repeatedly shattering his own circuit record, and was only headed briefly in the race after a bizarre jump start from Lorenzo, whose Yamaha was nearly halfway up the hill to COTA’s signature first corner before the lights went out. Once Lorenzo pitted to serve a ride-through penalty, Marquez stretched his lead to over five seconds before a wobble on the final corner of the final lap gave his pit crew a scare. It was the one moment all weekend he didn’t look completely in control.

2014, Indianapolis Grand Prix
Qualifying:
1:31.619 (2nd: Andrea Dovizioso, +0.225secs)
Winning margin:
1.803secs (2nd: Lorenzo)
Recap:
Marquez came to Indy in a season where his title defence from 2013 couldn’t have been going much better – he’d won all nine of the previous races, and took his eighth pole for 2014 on Saturday despite running wide on his first attempt. He made if a perfect 10 on Sunday, but this was a hard-fought win – embroiled in a scrap with Rossi and Lorenzo for the first half of the race, he escaped as the factory Yamaha teammates fought one another to ease to victory.

2015, Grand Prix of the Americas
Qualifying:
2:02.135 (2nd: Dovizioso, +0.339secs)
Winning margin:
2.354secs (2nd: Dovizioso)
Recap:
COTA in 2015 may have produced the best single lap of Marquez’s career in qualifying, after his bike shut down on the pit straight as he was about to start his final lap. He abandoned his Honda, sprinted down the pit lane to board his spare bike, and then rode it like a man possessed, seemingly within millimetres of crashing on every corner to jump from seventh place to pole in 122 seconds of white-knuckle genius. The race was, by comparison, a more tame affair, Marquez passing Dovizioso on lap five for a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.

2015, Indianapolis Grand Prix
Qualifying:
1:31.884 (2nd: Pedrosa, +0.171secs)
Winning margin:
0.688secs (2nd: Lorenzo)
Recap:
Marquez was a long shot for the title by the time the series hit Indianapolis for its final visit, but that didn’t stop him winning in the US for a seventh straight time. He was made to earn this one, though; Lorenzo got the holeshot from the outside of the front row and set the pace, Marquez sitting behind him for lap after lap without attempting to pass. Marquez then struck at the first corner with three laps to go, and held firm for the closest victory of his nine on the bounce in the US.

2016, Grand Prix of the Americas
Qualifying:
2:03.188 (2nd: Lorenzo, +0.069secs)
Winning margin:
6.107secs (2nd: Lorenzo)
Recap:
Having barely kept his unblemished pole record at Austin alive – Lorenzo was just six-hundredths of a second slower – Marquez appeared vulnerable to Yamaha’s world champion on race day, but only if Lorenzo could produce a flawless race. Note the use of ‘could’: two first-lap mistakes by the Yamaha rider saw him drop behind Dovizioso, and by the time Lorenzo got back to second place on lap five, Marquez had checked out. His margin ballooned to eight seconds before easing off as the chequered flag loomed.

2017, Grand Prix of the Americas
Qualifying:
2:02.741 (2nd: Maverick Vinales, +0.130secs)
Winning margin:
3.069secs (2nd: Rossi)
Recap:
COTA came at a good time for Marquez, Yamaha’s new signing Vinales having won the opening two races of the year in Qatar and Argentina to skip to a decisive series lead, helped by Marquez crashing out in round two. Pole put the pressure on Vinales, who then fell at Turn 18 chasing Marquez on lap two. With a chance to get right back into the title fight, Marquez scurried past teammate Pedrosa on lap nine. You know what happened next …

10 fearless predictions for the MotoGP season

Want to know what will happen on two wheels in 2018? We’ve peered into the crystal ball …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Testing? Done. Takeaways from testing? On record. The season start in Qatar? Merely days away. Which means it’s time. Time to stick our neck out and come up with 10 fearless predictions for the coming MotoGP season.

Who wins the title? Who has no chance? Who will spring a surprise for the right or wrong reasons? Which rookie will shine brightest? And is there anyone who can unseat Marc Marquez from his throne as the king of MotoGP?

We’ve dusted off the crystal ball and peered into the future to come up with our cast-iron guarantees (or, if you like, best educated guesses) for 2018. Deep breath, here goes.

1. Pedrosa is a title contender

Yes, we know he’s been in the premier class for 12 years and hasn’t finished third or better for five seasons. Yes, we’re aware three of his teammates (Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marquez – four times) have won the championship where he hasn’t managed it once. And yes, he’s 33 years old in September. But Dani Pedrosa’s pre-season pace has been eye-catching, and if you were going to choose someone to give Marquez a run to the title, what about the rider on the same bike on the other side of the same garage? Any Pedrosa predictions have to come, history tells us, with an asterisk for injury, but we’re backing him in.

2. More wins for Jorge, more points for Dovi

Jorge Lorenzo’s first year in Ducati red was underwhelming in the extreme, particularly when compared to that of teammate Andrea Dovizioso, who snared six victories to the Mallorcan’s zero to become Marquez’s major (and unlikely) rival for the title. The metronomic ‘Dovi’ crashes rarely and makes very few mistakes, and we’re predicting it’ll be that rather than outrageous speed that keeps the Italian in the title fight again. Can we see Lorenzo picking up a win or two more than his teammate? Absolutely. Will that be enough to be the highest-scoring Ducati rider over 19 races? We’re saying no.

3. Jack Miller will make podiums, plural

He’s stood on a MotoGP podium before, of course (who can forget Assen 2016 when the Aussie surveyed the view from the top step?), but that was a crazy race in crazy weather that owed itself to opportunism, sublime skill, a smattering of luck and a ‘what the hell’ approach. This year? Jack Miller’s pace in pre-season testing on a Ducati has been fierce and not at all fleeting – he’s been a top-10 constant in Malaysia, Thailand and Qatar – and you sense he can make the top three in races (plural) this year with or without inclement weather aiding his cause.

4. Johann Zarco will lead Yamaha’s charge

This is bold, but the Frenchman who adopts a ‘better the devil you know’ approach to his racing might just fly while the factory Yamaha squad flap about with aerodynamic tweaks, wondering which chassis to use and managing the expectations of Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, who often want very different things from the same motorcycle. One thing we know: Zarco won’t want for wondering. What effect, we wonder, will Yamaha’s end-of-year divorce with Tech 3 have on his chances as the season progresses? (We’ll be using that as our asterisk, incidentally, if this one doesn’t come true).

5. Rossi will ride on

OK, so this one isn’t so bold. Indications suggest ‘The Doctor’ will keep making house calls on the MotoGP calendar for the next two seasons, which will take him into his 40s. For anyone else, signing a multi-year deal at that age and stage of a career would seem unlikely and lucky in equal measure – but the biggest drawcard in the sport (still) will be competitive for as long as he’s around. Let’s hope it’s for a good while yet.

6. The silly season won’t be very silly

Rossi likely to re-sign with Yamaha’s factory squad, Marquez already locked in at Repsol Honda, Vinales staying at Yamaha until 2020 … will there be much intrigue over this season as to who rides where next year? Other than what happens to Zarco when the Tech 3/Yamaha alliance ends, we might know more about next season before this one really gets underway, especially at the pointy end of the field.

7. Rins will rise

We never got to see the best of Suzuki rookie Alex Rins last year, one injury after another scuppering his chances of playing himself into the top flight alongside experienced Italian Andrea Iannone. But there were signs the 22-year-old was learning fast towards the end of the season, top 10 results in Japan, Australia and Valencia (where he finished a career-best fourth) giving cause for optimism, and he’s been the pick of Suzuki’s riders in testing, save for Iannone’s first two days at one of his strongest circuits in Qatar. Iannone can blow hot and cold, but the more consistent Rins will end up as the team’s primary charger.

8. Taka takes a turn in the top three

Ten of the riders on this year’s grid have never stood on a MotoGP podium, and based on the above, Rins looks best placed to get there first. But keep an eye on Takaaki Nagakami, the Japanese rookie who has stepped up from Moto2 to partner Cal Crutchlow at LCR Honda this season. A surprise in the top 10 at the Thailand test, the 26-year-old has impressed the battle-hardened Crutchlow already, the Briton telling reporters in Buriram that “he’s a good kid and he’s got a big future ahead in MotoGP”. If you’re looking for a smoky to make a top three this year, Taka’s top of the list.

9. Thailand will be the GP of the year

Argentina will be manic, Mugello magic. Assen will be, well, Assen, and Phillip Island will probably produce the race of the year, if recent Australian Grands Prix are any indication. But the event of 2018? Let’s give the ‘trophy’ to Thailand now, shall we? A nation obsessed by bikes, desperate to see the world’s best riders ply their trade and a debut world championship race in Buriram? If the crowds at pre-season testing were any indication, look out in October when MotoGP returns for real.

10. The Marquez masterclass will roll on

Can four titles in five years become five in six? Let’s answer one question with another: who or what stops him?

What do we know about the 2018 MotoGP season?

Testing is over – and with the countdown on to the Qatar season-opener, here’s five pointers about the year to come.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

We’ve reached the finish of the start – the end of pre-season testing for MotoGP before the 2018 season roars into life in Qatar on March 18. Over nine days of testing between Sepang in Malaysia, a first look at the Buriram circuit in Thailand and Losail in Qatar, riders and teams have fine-tuned machines, tried and tested (and discarded) new aerodynamic directions, and blown the cobwebs away from the post-season ahead of this year’s 19-race campaign.

So what do we know as the build-up starts to Qatar in less than a fortnight’s time? Do we trust the timesheets? Do we place more stock on history and pedigree than form and momentum? And will the real story only start to emerge after a handful of races on more traditional tracks back in Europe, given Losail counts as neither?

Here’s some of what we can deduce from testing – and a few pointers of what to look out for when the lights go out for real on the season proper.

Qatar won’t tell us everything

Qatar pays a lot (really, a LOT) of money to host MotoGP’s season-opener, held in a desert at night with very few people watching trackside. If you’re looking for atmosphere, this isn’t the race. And if you’re looking for a pointer of what’s to follow, Qatar probably isn’t the race either.

We saw some of that in pre-season testing, where a rider like Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone, nowhere in the preceding tests in Malaysia and Thailand, suddenly vaulted to the top three on the timesheets on the first two days at Losail before missing the final day with illness. Is there a world in which Iannone challenges for the podium in Qatar in two weeks’ time? Absolutely. Are there a majority who’ll guarantee he’ll finish ahead of fast-rising teammate Alex Rins in the standings over the course of the season? Not really.

The location, circuit layout, time of day and other peculiarities of the Losail track making drawing conclusions from one race difficult and unwise at the same time. It’s just one chapter in a 19-race story.

Yamaha found more questions than answers

If you’ve made any sense of Yamaha’s pre-season, you’re smarter than us – and possibly Yamaha, after the comments of their riders in Qatar. Consider this sequence of numbers: 14-1-18-11-4-12-1-7-5 – they’re the finishing positions of Maverick Vinales on the timesheets on the nine days of testing across three very different tracks, a steep rollercoaster that left the Spaniard perplexed.

On the final day of the Qatar test, with Vinales commenting that he was riding at “50 per cent” before the last hour because he had no confidence the bike would stay on the track, Yamaha elected to revert back the base setting of the bike he’d tried three days prior – and he immediately leapt into the top five.

“We finished with the same bike that I started with on the first day … (and) I did the lap time without trusting the front,” he told the assembled media afterwards.

“It’s quite strange for me,” he said. “Now it looks like we lost one day, one-and-a-half days to try other things. We have to pay a lot of attention to the things we changed. Because nothing changed on the bike, it’s just the same bike as the first day. The second day we tried other things and we lost the way. So my feeling was that I could not push. Even now I feel like I can push more, I still can’t give my best.”

Vinales’ teammate Valentino Rossi, who finished the Qatar test strongly, wasn’t getting carried away with his second-fastest time, either.

“There have been too many ups and downs this winter,” Rossi told the Italian press. “This means that from one track to another, the difference between the bikes will change a lot, and we have to avoid that we suffer too much at our worst tracks.”

Johann Zarco, the Tech3 Yamaha rider who narrowly missed shattering Jorge Lorenzo’s decade-old pole record with a 1min 54.029sec lap on the final day, is running Yamaha’s 2016 chassis this year, and his single-lap pace was a massive quarter of a second faster than anyone else. Which is all very well until you consider his race pace, given the Qatar GP is held over 22 laps, was nowhere near as strong. “When I tried to find the race pace, I was a bit slow,” he admitted.

Could we see a Yamaha or two on the podium for the season-opener? Yes. But it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Rossi, Vinales and Zarco didn’t make the top five in a fortnight’s time. Their guess is only slightly better than yours.

Jack is legit

Jack Miller has almost been counting the days down until the first race in Qatar from the moment he stepped onto a Ducati Desmosedici GP17 for the first time in Valencia last November, and comes into the 2018 campaign in great shape, his confidence sky-high and his expectations for the season needing to be recalibrated.

Remarkably, the first day in Qatar (when he was 12th overall) was the only day he didn’t feature inside the top 10 across nine days of testing, while his long-run pace came relatively easily, leaving him in no doubt that there’s more to come. He’s been right on the pace (and sometimes faster than) Alma Pramac Racing teammate Danilo Petrucci too, remembering that the Italian is on the updated Ducati GP18 that will be campaigned by Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso in the factory squad.

Miller’s best qualifying and race results at Losail came last year (started 16th, finished eighth) – and it’ll be a huge disappointment and something of a surprise if he’s not able to eclipse that in two weeks.

‘Dovi’ knows he can do it

There’s a big difference between thinking you can do something big and knowing you can, and that’s why Dovizioso’s pre-season makes for such interesting analysis. After his belated breakout season in 2017, when the 31-year-old won six races in one season where the previous nine years had yielded just two victories, there’s a sense of calm around the Italian these days, and he approaches his craft with a minimum of fuss – no headline times in testing (he never led a day across the nine), few crashes or runs wide into gravel traps or onto tarmac escape roads, and no big proclamations of what’s to follow. Consistent and methodical lap times while understanding why he’s fast (as opposed to just being fast) was the aim, and those boxes were ticked.

After day two in Qatar, ‘Dovi’ pulled back the curtain – ever so slightly – to reveal the inner confidence that will surely see him stay a title contender this year. “My best time I set in a mini long-run of 12 laps which I did this evening, and I have to admit that the times came quite easily …,” he said.

“We are in a better situation then we had last year, so I’m really happy about that.”

Marquez is favourite, but …

Miller gave the media a first-hand insight into Marquez’s brilliance at Qatar, after he followed the reigning world champion on track during the second day of running and watched the Repsol Honda rider push to – and beyond – the limits reserved for mere mortals.

“I watched him lose the front I think six times in the space of two laps,” Miller said, shaking his head.

“I thought ‘he’s down, he’s down’, and then he stood it up and kept going again! But I followed him the lap before through the fast three corners, and he lost the front each time.

“It was amazing to watch from behind, there was smoke and stuff coming off him …”

Marquez’s ability to manhandle a bike that isn’t quite where he wants it in conditions that aren’t quite the optimum means, yet again, the Spaniard will be the man to beat this year. We might not get a repeat of the nine race winners that made the 2016 season one of the more memorable in the sport’s history, but we could see an increase on the number of riders to make the podium this year, if testing is any guide.

It’ll be a tall order for anyone to unseat Marquez, but the number of contenders nipping at his heels looks set to rise – which can only be a good thing.

Thai takeaways: what the riders thought of MotoGP’s new track

Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa, Miller and more weigh in on the newest circuit to join the MotoGP calendar in Buriram.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s been a while since we had a completely new circuit join the MotoGP calendar – the Red Bull Ring in Austria re-joined the world championship in 2016, while the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina came on stream two years earlier.

So it was with much anticipation (and plenty of cold water) that MotoGP arrived in steaming hot Thailand last week for a three-day test at the Chang International Circuit, located at Buriram, a little over 400 kilometres northeast of the country’s capital, Bangkok.

The 4.6km track, which has played host to World Superbikes for the past three years, will hold its first world championship Grands Prix in October this year, meaning riders and teams were keen to bank as much knowledge as they could over three days of running, and to familiarise themselves with the 12-turn layout. “I’ve adapted to it pretty quickly, and the circuit itself is very fast,” said Alma Pramac Ducati’s Jack Miller after the second day of the test, adding “it’s a little bit like Austria, minus the elevation changes.” We’re presuming he meant minus snow-capped mountains, lush green fields and a giant bull statue, as well …

The comparisons between Austria and Buriram are valid – the Thailand circuit is 300m longer, has two more corners and is just as wide (12m) as the Red Bull Ring – but while Austria has been Ducati territory for the past two seasons, Buriram was all about Honda, factory rider Dani Pedrosa setting the fastest time of the test (a lap of 1min 29.781secs on the final day), and becoming the third Honda to top the timesheets after Cal Crutchlow led day one, and Pedrosa’s teammate and reigning world champion Marc Marquez set the day two benchmark.

Pre-season testing times should be taken with a grain of salt – who would have thought Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo would struggle so much after dominating the Malaysian test just two weeks previously? – but the timesheets can tell us that Johann Zarco is plainly the fastest man on a Yamaha, factory Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales have a lot of head-scratching to do between now and the final test in Qatar in a fortnight’s time, and Miller and Ducati appear to be the perfect marriage, the Aussie backing up his strong showing at Sepang by finishing sixth overall – and the fastest Ducati rider – in Buriram.

That’s what the stopwatch says, but what did the riders themselves think of the new circuit? Here’s what they had to say, and where they finished after three days of sweltering action in front of grandstands that were routinely packed, the locals showing their love for all things two wheels before racing starts in earnest in eight months’ time.

Dani Pedrosa
Repsol Honda Team (1:29.781, 1st overall)
“The circuit is quite narrow, so it’s important to use the right lines and carry speed. We’re working to find the best balance in order to be quick in both the fast sectors and the more twisty ones.”

Marc Marquez
Repsol Honda Team (+0.188secs, 3rd)
“Regarding the track layout, it seemed quite fast to me when I lapped it on a scooter yesterday, but today riding my bike, I realised it was slower that I was expecting, with many second- or third-gear corners. Still, there are some hard acceleration and braking points, and it will probably be challenging to manage tyre life, so we’ll work on that as well.”

Jack Miller
Alma Pramac Racing (+0.404secs, 6th)
“The layout of the circuit is fascinating. I expected it to be more dirty, especially in the morning, but I had the feeling of having a good grip right away. It’s a fast track and it’s nice to race here. To do the best lap time you have to be patient and you have to give up a bit in braking to get the acceleration, especially on the Ducati. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that at the moment. But being patient isn’t one of my strong points …”

Andrea Dovizioso
Ducati Team (+0.411secs, 7th)
“The Buriram track is very unusual and it wasn’t easy to get used to its layout. There are three corners which are virtually hairpins and then the rest is quite a pretty straightforward run. It’s quite a slow track for our bike, but it’s always interesting to try new circuits.”

Maverick Vinales
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (+0.493secs, 8th)
“I like the track a lot, it fits my riding style quite well with these flowing corners.”

Danilo Petrucci
Alma Pramac Racing (+0.586secs, 9th)
“I liked the track right away. We were expecting to find a circuit with a lot of aggressive braking but many curves turned out to be fast.”

Tito Rabat
Reale Avintia Racing (+0.695secs, 11th)
“I like the circuit and I had a lot of fun. It has several parts that reminded me of Qatar, others of Texas… it has some long straights and the asphalt is okay, although at the beginning of the day it was a little bit dirty. But the first impression was very good.”

Valentino Rossi
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (+0.730secs, 12th)
“First of all, the feeling with the track is not too bad, I expect worse, but first of all the track is in a good condition. It’s clean and the asphalt has good grip. This is very important. And also the layout. I remembered [this track to be] more similar to Austria, so I was very worried. But when you ride maybe it is more similar to Argentina. It’s good to ride, you have a good feeling, you enjoy. The track is not very difficult but anyway it’s fun. Technically it’s quite easy, but it’s not boring.”

Aleix Espargaro
Aprilia Racing Team Gresini (+0.920secs, 14th)
“To be honest, the track surprised me. I had more fun than I thought I would. The first part is not particularly interesting with all the straights connected by braking sections, but overall it is a nice track.”

Alvaro Bautista
Angel Nieto Team (+1.102secs, 17th)
“It’s a track that has a couple of good points like Turn 4, where you go into it very fast and you have to go down a couple of gears and enter quickly. The circuit reminds me a little of Austria; it’s varied and fun. I thought it looked easier, on paper, but riding a MotoGP bike complicates everything a bit more. The last two sectors are critical; they are narrow and you have to clearly choose the line because otherwise you can lose a lot of time.”