British GP: Marc Marquez rewriting rule book to reign in MotoGP

With his elbow slide and ability to turn with his rear wheel in the air, Spaniard is defying physics as he revolutionises the sport. Ahead of Sunday’s British GP he tells Mike Nicks how he’s doing it

It was a situation that Marc Marquez, the 21-year-old miracle worker in speed, thought that he had lost. He had angled his 1000cc Honda so far over to the right in a corner that even Bridgestone’s stickiest rubber lost adhesion and the Spaniard toppled over at nearly 70mph.

Marquez was sliding across the asphalt on the Brno circuit with his entire right side on the ground – arm, ribcage, thigh – and his left foot flapping in the air on top of the bike. But still he refused to accept that all was lost.

“I was completely on the floor, and I was trying to save, save, save with the elbow and the knee,” Marquez says as we chat at Silverstone. “Then I say OK, I will try to open gas, and I open gas and the bike is back.”

Defying every law of physics, Marquez levered and powered the 250hp Honda RC213V upright, and sped on round the circuit in the Czech Republic. The drama took place on a slow corner by MotoGP standards: he was doing 68mph when the front wheel slid away, and he had decelerated to 50mph by the time he was struggling on the ground. Even so, his recovery feat left his rivals stunned.

“Normally Marc leans the bike over to an angle of 63 degrees, but on that occasion it was at 67 degrees,” his crew chief, Santi Hernandez, confirms.

It is walk-on-water acts like this that are drawing fans to the British MotoGP at Silverstone this weekend to see Marquez attempt to once again pummel his rivals’ battered psyches. He has already won 10 of the 11 rounds in the series this year, was fastest during practice yesterday and looks set to canter to his second MotoGP world title with several rounds in hand.

Watching Marquez is never boring, because he is constantly rewriting the instruction manual of how to handle a 215mph MotoGP bike. With the need to transfer weight to the inside of the corner in order to increase the speed through it, the adrenalin-pumped athletes who pilot these missiles –  0-60mph in three seconds – have long been used to dangling over so far that they wear knee protectors on their leathers.

Then Marquez introduced the elegant trick of the elbow slide. He started to climb so far over the edge of the bike in corners that his entire forearm and elbow were dragging on the track. Leather manufacturers Alpinestars felt obliged to develop a special Marquez-proof protector for his elbows, consisting of a diamond-shaped magnesium patch on a plastic seating, attached by a Velcro fastening to the suit.

“We developed the elbow slider because Marc was damaging his leathers in the corners and it was a time- consuming update every time we had to make a replacement,” Alpinestars’ Jeremy Appleton says. “Now it’s simply a question of tearing off and replacing the protectors at the end of a day’s racing.”

Everyone who is serious about winning is now dragging the elbow. But even MotoGP hard cases Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have been fazed by Marquez’s latest trick – somehow he manages to turn the motorcycle while the rear wheel is hopping in the air. It doesn’t sound possible – a motorcyclist needs two wheels on the ground to make the bike change direction. Or they did until now.

“Normally riders like the rear wheel to touch the ground because it gives them more confidence,” Hernandez says. “The bike will be more stable that way. But Marc likes to prepare the entry to the corner with the rear flying.”

Marquez explains: “After lots of kilometres on the bike I started to adapt my riding style to try to manage more the braking and stability. Now I am able to control that kind of braking. The most difficult thing is the slide in the entry to the corner.”

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Marc Marquez celebrates winning the Indianapolis Grand Prix

 

No, it doesn’t quite explain what Marquez is doing and why. But a genius is often the last person who can analyse their actions micro-second by micro-second. Ask Lionel Messi to give you a minute breakdown of what he does.

Hernandez, who partnered Marquez to the 2012 Moto2 championship for 600cc bikes and to last year’s MotoGP title, probably knows his rider as well as anyone. “The elbow on the asphalt is a style that Marc started to do because it’s natural for him,” Hernandez says. “It gives him another  reference point to know where his limit is.”

The messages from two tyres and his knee on the track were clearly insufficient feedback for Marquez. The dragging elbow now gives him a fourth contact point with Mother Earth.

Marquez himself remains modest about his gifts. “I think it’s a bit like soccer,” he says. “With the motorbike you only see the rider, but behind the rider there is a team. And behind the team there is a factory, a bike and everything else that you need to find the best package.”

It is certainly true that Honda has given Marquez the most effective machine on the MotoGP grid this year. The combination of the Spaniard’s flair and Japanese technology has landed him with a 77-point lead over his nearest rival, his Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa. A second world championship is all but in Marquez’s palm, but the crowds still flock to MotoGP circuits to see him weave his special brand of alchemy.

There is also the spectacle of the always-thrilling Rossi trying to power his Movistar Yamaha past Pedrosa into second place in the standings by season’s end.

None of the five Britons on the grid for tomorrow’s 20-lap race on the 3.666-mile circuit is likely to climb the podium, yet each had his personal heroic battle to wage. Bradley Smith would dearly love to lift himself above 10th in the points table on his Tech 3 Yamaha, Cal Crutchlow seeks to stage a mid-season revival on the slow-turning Ducati, and the 21-year-old Scott Redding and Leon Camier, 28, want career-boosting finishes to help next year’s job prospects. 

The prospects of any of the riders, British or not, catching Marquez any time soon, however, are beyond remote.

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