Records are made to be broken, they say and it seems that we are seeing this axiom demonstrated on a fairly regular basis these days. Within the last year we have seen two records broken that will probably take a while to top. Can Oncu winning the Moto3 race at Valencia last year at age 15 and Fabio Quatararo becoming, at 20 years old, the youngest rider to put a MotoGp bike on pole earlier this year.
And last night we saw a record equalled and another one set. Marc Marquez put the Honda on pole at Brno and equalled the long-standing record of 58 pole positions in the premier class previously held by Mick Doohan (makes you realise how long THAT record has stood, doesn’t it?) One more and he will become the undisputed pole king.
The other record that was set was that, in setting pole last night, Marquez achieved the record of the biggest pole time advantage in the MotoGp era, over 2.5 seconds. In an era where lap time differences are measured in THOUSANDTHS of a second, the gap is phenomenal. I recall that Johann Zarco did a similar thing in a couple of qualifying sessions when he was riding in Moto2 but it hasn’t happened in MotoGp before last night.
However, impressive as these two records are, it was the manner in which Marquez ACHIEVED them that is most worthy of note. On a track that had been drenched by rain during the morning and on which only a small dry line was appearing, Marquez went with the safe option and did his first stint on wet tyres to at least achieve a “banker” time. Slowing down to head into the pits, he was set upon by Alex Rins who was, himself, heading to the pits. The two riders clashed as Rins elbowed the Honda out of the way and the tit-for-tat elbowing continued into the lane and right up to the pits where the two riders were pitted in adjacent pit garages.
Marquez’s crew had already wheeled out the #2 bike, fitted with slicks, as the Suzuki crew did the same thing. Surely it was still too wet to go out on slicks, but Marquez has often shown an almost supernatural ability to take the winning gamble and the last 8 minutes of the session was going to be filled with even more drama than usual. In his first two laps out, it looked like the gamble had fizzled out, he was over 2 seconds down on Zarco on the KTM and obviously struggling. But then the red mist descended and his next lap was suddenly filling with red sectors, Marquez was mowing down the bikes in front of him like they were standing still and it was suddenly looking like pole was within his grasp.
That is until the rain started hammering down in the last sector. Surely he couldn’t set pole when the last few corners before the start/finish line were drenched with water and he was on slicks? The bike became very twitchy but Marquez kept it lit and crossed the line with a massive advantage over Zarco, job done. The commentators were wetting themselves, frantically searching for superlatives when the timing screen showed that Jack Miller, who’d also gone onto slicks, was up in Sector 1. Surely there was a fairy tale about to be revealed here? But, whether his pit notified him or whether he had a sixth sense to keep pushing or whether he was just feeling “in the zone” Marquez got his head down and responded, again, red sectors started to show on his timing screen as well. The dry part of the track saw him making up bags of time again but everyone knew that that meant nothing when the last sector was even wetter than it had been last lap. Surely he would either slow down and lose time, or crash in the attempt?
But he didn’t. The bike was all over the place in the wet last third of the lap and Marquez was using all of his consummate skill to nurse the bike but still go fast. He crossed the line 2.5 seconds clear of Miller who had already snatched 2nd. Could Miller do the unthinkable? No, trying that extra bit on slicks, Miller crashed, keeping his 2nd grid spot as the clock had already timed out and leaving everyone shaking their heads at what they had just seen.
Afterwards in his interview, Marquez admitted that what he had done was just silly, he should have and could have kept his head and sat on his 2nd last lap which still would have been enough to secure pole. But he’s a racer and could haves and should haves just don’t apply. He had crushed the opposition with a display of mastery such as we have probably never seen. The reaction of his crew and of the other experts to his show demonstrated clearly that they all knew that what they had seen was a moment of magic, unprecedented in the modern era.
Yes, I am a Marquez fan, I always have been and I make no apologies for singing his praises. In years to come we will look back and consider ourselves to have been greatly privileged to have seen him race and do the things that only he is able to do. Some years ago they used to talk about “aliens”, the top flight riders who stand heads and shoulders over their peers, there is absolutely no doubt at all that, at the moment, there is only ONE alien and his name is Marc Marquez.