(Published March 18, 2013)
After three days of watching Repsol Honda MotoGP rider Marc Marquez ride, I have just one thing to say:
Believe the hype.
Marquez came to MotoGP with critics cat-calling him, suggesting that he is Dorna’s favored son, the chosen one that they obliterated the rookie rule for, in doing so creating for him a place on the factory Honda squad. He was given, they said, Casey Stoner’s crew and Casey Stoner’s bike. This is all more or less true, but doesn’t in any way give Marquez’s talent its fair due.
For three days the 20 year old Marc Marquez rode in the Texas sunshine at the new Circuit of Americas. He lapped nearly all day every day. I wasn’t his shadow, of course, but I never once saw Marquez utter one syllable of a complaint. He seemed genuinely enthusiastic about riding, and at the end of each day had the big eyes and wide smile of a rider who was completely in his element. Marquez liked the COTA circuit, and seemed to be a rider who relished it more the more he rode. How would the person who previously rode Marquez’s motorcycle have reacted to a new circuit with F1 roots that was built without them consulting him first? Good question. Marquez displayed poise and grace that made the previous rider’s behavior just seem frankly petty in comparison.
How good is Marquez? I can’t quantify it at all, maybe I was drunk on sunshine and the smell of race fuel, but I left Texas really wondering if Marc Marquez isn’t one of the most talented riders I’ve ever seen in my life. The usual questions about his future–will he win MotoGP races and the MotoGP world championship?–now just seem so much like foregone conclusions. And a part of me finds them to be accomplishments that won’t fully complete a young man with that much talent.
I almost wish that there was something more he could achieve rather than just MotoGP race wins and MotoGP championships, because at times they don’t seem to be achievements that will challenge the limits of his talent and capability. At COTA I saw that rare once in a half-generation rider for whom the normal boundaries are just the first braking markers for his talent. This is a rider who could win the MotoGP championship in his first try. There seems to be so much unrealized potential in Marquez.
This must have been what it was like to see American Freddie Spencer in 1981, to see in him almost limitless potential and wonder how it was going to develop, how it would change the world, which Spencer did in 1983 when he became the youngest ever 500cc world champion, then winning both the 250 and 500 world titles in 1985–a feat that was never repeated.
Almost as remarkable as his speed and obvious talent was Marquez’s attitude. He seemed so bright, cheerful and appreciative, loving the racing life. He rode all day yet never complained, and at the end of each day he struck me as a kid slightly bummed out with the realization that the sun was going down and he could no longer ride. Where were the complaints about the grueling travel to another country, the Twitter rants about the time zone changes, price of gas or jet lag, snipes at the other riders, or complaints about a track that didn’t completely suit him? Not Marquez. It was clear to me that he loves racing as much as you or I. He didn’t complain because he found nothing to complain about.
I don’t have grandchildren, but I hope one day that I will. I have a feeling that when that day comes–some years from now–maybe I’ll show them a picture printed on a piece of paper or displayed on an electronic device, an image of a young Spanish rider taken in 2013. “That’s Marc Marquez, one of the all time greats in racing,” I might say to the tots. “I was one of the few who saw him ride for the very first time in America. It was incredible.”
I wonder if it isn’t advisable to make plans to see this young man on a MotoGP bike with your own eyes, be it at COTA, Laguna, Indy or anywhere else he will race in 2013?