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Top 15 Stories of 2013, Number 1: Marquez Wins World Championship As Rookie
by staff
Thursday, January 16, 2014

Marc Marquez. Yes, the earth moved for us, too.
image by

Editor's Note: This is a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2013, as determined by the Soup staff.

You probably know the numbers by now.

Marc Marquez became the first rookie to win the premier-class World Championship since Kenny Roberts in 1978. He won six races, more than any rookie in the 64-year history of the World Championship. At age 20, he became the youngest rider to win a race and the season title in the premier class.

All astounding feats. But almost all benchmarks in sport - and in life - are written in pencil. Someone is bound to reset them at some point.

It's remarkable that Marquez stomped such a huge imprint in motorcycle Grand Prix history in just one year. But someone, somewhere, sometime - probably deep in the future - will erase what appears indelible and set a new standard of statistics.

But Marquez is different because of how he set these records. He's special because of his unique personality. And his timing is impeccable for the health of global motorcycle racing.

Marquez was almost pre-ordained for stardom. He made his World Championship debut at age 15 in 2008 in 125cc. Two years later, he won 10 of 17 races and the season title at age 17. He then climbed to Moto2 in 2011 and finished second as a rookie that season, with seven wins, and followed with nine victories and the Moto2 championship in 2012. His Moto2 title came after risky surgery in January 2012 to repair career-threatening double vision after a crash late in the 2011 season.

He had the speed. He had the skill. He had the Repsol backing. Marquez had so much promise and horsepower at such a young age that Honda was able to convince Dorna to rescind the "rookie rule" preventing first-year riders from competing for factory teams before the 2013 season, clearing a path for him to replace the retiring Casey Stoner at Repsol Honda.

Marquez gave notice right away that he was special. He was only about a second slower than Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa - the dominant rider of the second half of 2012 - during his very first test on a MotoGP machine in November 2012 at Valencia. Marquez crept closer to Pedrosa and 2012 World Champion Jorge Lorenzo at subsequent tests at Sepang and Jerez, and he led a special test at the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

The performance at Austin was a portent of a phenomenon. It was fitting that Marquez earned his first MotoGP victory in April at COTA in just his second career MotoGP start.

That victory tied Marquez with Lorenzo atop the World Championship standings. Marquez dropped behind Lorenzo and Pedrosa in the standings at varying points through the first half of the season, always staying within easy reach.

One of his only signs of vulnerability in 2013 came in late May at Mugello when he crashed on his RC213V at nearly 200 mph at the end of the front straight leading into San Donado corner. Marquez escaped with just a cut and badly bruised chin and other scrapes, but many veteran MotoGP observers figured the crash would scare Marquez back into the reality of a rookie.

Wrong.

Marquez won in July at Sachsenring to take the top spot in the standings, a spot he never lost for the rest of the year. The Sachsenring victory started a hot streak of four consecutive victories that provided essential padding in the points that he needed desperately after a debacle in October at Phillip Island.

The new pavement at Phillip Island created rapid tire wear, and Dorna responded by mandating a pit stop for all riders within the first 10 laps of the race to change bikes. Marquez's inner circle, led by manager Emilio Alzamora, overthought the situation and figured Marquez could pit on Lap 11, before officially crossing the start-finish line to signal the end of the lap, and still be credited with pitting on their 10th lap.

Repsol Honda mechanics and strategists were dumbfounded on the pit wall. Slash-across-the-throat gestures were seen. They knew Marquez would be disqualified due to the incredulous botched strategy call unknown to them, and Dorna followed suit by parking Marquez for breaking the rule.

Lorenzo won the race, and Marquez's lead was slashed from 43 to 18 points. But Marquez rode to composed second- and third-place finishes at Motegi and Valencia, respectively, to seal the crown by four points over Lorenzo.

It was an uncommon amount of grace inside a crucible for a 20-year-old rider. But Marquez also showed beneath his impish grin worn at all times lived the heart of a Machiavellian operator, when needed.

The first sign came at Jerez when Marquez bumped Lorenzo out of second place in the final corner. Lorenzo shook his head in disgust, but the message from Marquez was clear: I'm not afraid of you one bit.

Perhaps Marquez's most aggressive move came in September at Aragon. He battled for second with teammate Pedrosa, clipping Pedrosa's RC213V in an aggressive passing maneuver. The contact cut Pedrosa's traction control cable and caused him to crash in the next corner.

Marquez didn't flinch and hunted down leader Lorenzo for an unapologetic victory. Pedrosa complained Marquez was too aggressive, a cry heard from Lorenzo after his contact with Marquez earlier in the season at Jerez. The boy wonder had rattled the mental cages of his two biggest rivals.

And Marquez's riding style also confounded Lorenzo and Pedrosa.

The veteran Spaniards were weaned for MotoGP on 250cc machines, which required momentum-based, tidy, geometrically perfect paths to maintain speed. They rode their MotoGP machines in the same way a tuxedo-clad waiter discreetly pulled crumbs from a table with a scraper after dinner in Victorian England.

Marquez looked more like Joey Chestnut at the Nathan's Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating contest, inhaling an ungodly amount of meat in such a short time.

His lurid slides through corners would leave black swaths of rubber. Nobody in MotoGP leaned a bike further into corners and picked up a bike faster to apply full throttle to the sticky rear Bridgestone than Marquez, who made titanium skid plates on his ELBOWS a piece of required equipment.

The Kid rode almost every lap like a qualifying lap. He danced on the end of a lightning bolt and almost never was jolted except for the Mugello crash, a big spill in practice at Assen and a scary, reckless wreck in morning warmup at Silverstone that nearly took out Cal Crutchlow and a marshal.

There was almost nothing Lorenzo or Pedrosa could do to compensate. Their minds could not compute the weird blend of tire sliding, cerebral cortex activity and preternatural reflexes displayed by Marquez.

Marquez's riding style arguably was the biggest revolution in the premier class since Roberts arrived in Europe in 1978, dragging his knee on or over the asphalt and sliding his rear tire in nearly every corner. And much like Roberts, Marquez wondered what all the fuss was about.

This wasn't some sort of syncopation devised after video study or bike setup, especially in the era of traction control and electronics addiction for Marquez. It was simply the way they rode a motorcycle, and they didn't think twice about it. It was up to everyone else to figure it out.

That technique - and the results it produced - commanded the respect of all the living legends of the sport. Roberts even gave his rare blessing, noticing in person at Austin that Marquez was doing things on a motorcycle no one else in the class even tried that day as he stood near the barrier at COTA and watched riders blur past. King Kenny saw a mirror of his young self in the Catalan Kid.

Those showers of praise could have spawned weeds of arrogance quickly in Marquez. But instead he electrified the MotoGP world with his ubiquitous grin and ease with fame, competitive pressure, sponsors, media and fans. It was common to see Marquez stay to sign every autograph for fans at races. He was a happy, engaging participant on two media teleconferences with American media, a function in which other European riders never participate.

Hell, Marquez still lived with his parents. His mother still made him make his bed every day. One of the greatest supernatural freaks in the history of the sport also was the boy next door.

It was quite the contrast from the often-surly demeanor of his Repsol Honda predecessor, Stoner. And Marquez's supernova couldn't have come at a better time for Dorna and the sport of MotoGP.

Valentino Rossi's disastrous two-year stay at Ducati and advancing age caused many to contemplate the future of Grand Prix motorcycle racing without its most charismatic star. Rossi WAS MotoGP for a decade, the only rider who transcended the sport globally. No one had emerged to assume that mantle once the final grain of sand ran through the hourglass of Rossi's career, a moment arriving much sooner than later.

Enter Marquez, and few are nearly as worried in January 2014 about the doomsday scenario of a World Championship without Rossi as they were in January 2013.

The only remaining question about Marquez after his magnificent rookie season is just how many races or how many World Championships he'll win during his career. He makes the impossible look possible. His big eraser hovers over nearly all of the seemingly indelible records of the sport.

ENDS

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