AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — From the moment Marc Marquez enters the paddock at the Circuit of the Americas, a feeling of inevitability settles over the track: This race seems already won.
The reigning MotoGP champion has dominated the track from the year it opened, and the Repsol Honda rider comes back on top of the season standings in his chase for a sixth title in seven years.
Instead of the black cowboy hat given to the winner — Marquez has six — perhaps he should get a crown if things go his way again on Sunday.
“He is the king of this track,” acknowledged Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, the man chasing him from the No. 2 position. “It will be very difficult to fight with him.”
Dovizioso makes it sound as if there’s no one up to the challenge of knocking Marquez off his Texas throne this year, either.
Although the Italian beat Marquez in the season-opener in Qatar and trails in the championship standings by a mere four points, Dovizioso is already calculating how to use this race to stay close enough for a title challenge once MotoGP hits more favorable race tracks in Europe. Dovizioso has finished second in the season championship the last two seasons.
“We need to bring maximum points” from Texas, Dovizioso said.
The 26-year-old Marquez hasn’t just been unbeatable in Texas, he’s been practically near untouchable.
The Spanish rider was the youngest winner in MotoGP history when he got his first career victory here in 2013, a win that launched him toward his first championship. He’s rarely failed to top the time sheets in practice and the only time he didn’t start from pole position was last year. He was still fastest through qualifying but was penalized three spots on the starting grid for impeding another rider’s lap.
Even then, Marquez’s bolting start allowed him to snatch the lead on the first lap and he coasted through yet another Sunday drive to victory. Marquez was asked this week if he could win from a last-place start.
“I don’t want to try,” Marquez laughed.
Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales topped Friday’s second practice session and Marquez was second. But Vinales started the race on the pole last year after Marquez’s qualifying penalty and still finished well behind Marquez in second.
Marquez’s plan for a repeat victory is simple: Don’t take a win for granted and stay out of trouble. And above all, keep the bike upright. He has a history of practice crashes at the Circuit of the Americas but has never tumbled on race day.
“Don’t be crazy,” Marquez said. “Don’t try to do something that’s not in our hands.”
The riders call the Circuit of the Americas one of the most physically challenging and technical courses of the season. Built for Formula One, the track puts the MotoGP racers through s-curves, tight corners and a long straight and with an abrupt braking zone designed for F1 cars.
That could put pressure on Marquez’ left shoulder, which required surgery in December after it was dislocated several times in 2018. But Marquez dismissed any window of hope from his rivals that he might be vulnerable.
“This track is one of the most difficult tracks, but I feel fit,” Marquez said.
Marquez and the other riders have raised new concerns about the bumpy nature of the track that sits on shifting clay soil. They have complained for years, and the track has taken steps to smooth some of them out with varying success.
“They ground it down and the bumps became bigger and longer,” said Ducati’s Jack Miller.
Another win Sunday would set Marquez on a solid course for a season championship that would bring him within one title of the seven won by his fierce rival, 40-year-old Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi.
The rivalry has been a rocky one that that has sometimes deteriorated into kicks, harsh words and accusations of dirty tactics on the racetrack. Rossi finished second to Marquez in the championship in 2016 and was third last year.
But they shook hands two weeks ago after Marquez won in Argentina and Rossi finished third.
“It was a moment,” Marquez said. “Like when you give a kiss to the girl. It was a moment.”
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