Lessons From The Austin Test: Marquez' Star Rises, Rossi's Starts to Wane

So the three days of testing at Austin are over, and what did we learn? That Marc Marquez is something special? We knew that, though we didn't perhaps realize just how special. That Yamaha really need to find more acceleration? This, too, was known, but becoming clearer every time the M1 goes up against the Honda RC213V on track. That Valentino Rossi's return does not equate to an automatic 8th MotoGP title? We suspected as much.

The first thing that became obvious is that the Austin circuit itself is pretty decent. Valentino Rossi described it as "a typical Tilke track, with corners that remind you of Shanghai and Turkey." Unsurprising, given that Herman Tilke, who also designed Shanghai, Istanbul and many other race tracks around the world, was responsible for designing the track. The input from Kevin Schwantz was helpful, though, making the track more like Istanbul than Shanghai. The circuit has a couple of highly technical sections, where you go in blind and need to have memorized which way the track goes. It is wide, giving opportunities for overtaking and braking, and has a couple of the fast, fast sweepers which motorcycle racers love.

It also has a couple of tight corners, leaving the bike in low gear with a lot of acceleration to do. This, it became apparent, favors the Hondas, the RC213V strongest off the bottom, and capable of pulling a gap. Acceleration issues will be a problem for Yamaha this year, unless Masahiko Nakajima and his fellow engineers can find some extra grunt out of the corners. The situation was similar in 2012, but Yamaha was helped by the problems the Hondas had with chatter. So far, the Repsol Honda men have remained silent on the issue, meaning the worst of it is over. Yamaha have their work cut out, and Jorge Lorenzo's second title defense could be a little too reminiscent of his previous one in 2011.

A visit to a new track reveals more than just what the track layout is like on a racing motorcycle. It also levels the playing field for younger riders: the veterans of the class can no longer rely on the secrets they have learned at tracks they have tens of thousands of testing miles at. The track is the same for everyone, and experience is no longer relevant: it is much, much more about talent.

Talent is something which Marc Marquez quite clearly has in abundance. The Spaniard was dogged throughout his Moto2 career by accusations of his success being down to having the best bike, his team bending the rules, and a host of other excuses. At Austin, those excuses do not hold. He leaves the test having dominated all three days of testing, something a rookie - this was day 9 through 11 for Marquez on a MotoGP bike, as opposed to the hundreds and thousands the other riders there have had - simply should not be able to do. Marquez' first task is to learn to ride the bike, to understand its secrets and find ways of extracting the final hundredths of a second from the bike. It seems he has already done this - though he is still learning, and his team are nowhere near arriving at a final race set up for the Spaniard while he is still finding the limits. Casey Stoner left huge boots to fill at Repsol Honda; so far, Marquez is filling them very comfortably.

Two photos tell the tale of Marquez' talent. At the first test at Sepang, photos appeared of Marquez' Alpinestars leathers with holes worn in the elbows, despite the elbow protectors. Alpinestars' "mistake" was to assume that Marquez was as fast as other riders, and would occasionally drag his elbow in a corner. They underestimated both his ability and his style, Marquez doing things on the bike which are not really supposed to be possible. At Austin, more photos appeared of his leathers, Alpinestars having applied their ingenuity to the problem by adding titanium sliders over the patch where the Repsol Honda man was wearing through his leathers. That helped a lot, but even then, Marquez is wearing through the titanium sliders at a worrying rate. Racing leathers manufacturers back riders because they wish to associate themselves with talent. They chose wisely.

While Marquez is already challenging his teammate, Valentino Rossi is as yet no match for Jorge Lorenzo. The Italian had spent time at Sepang confirming to himself that he can still ride a motorcycle as fast as he used to, and then worked on adjusting the bike to try and understand how it reacts to changes. All that went to plan, but Rossi has a problem. While he was at Ducati, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa were getting faster and faster, pushed on to no small extent by Casey Stoner. While Rossi was desperately trying just to keep his head above water at Ducati, Lorenzo and Pedrosa were striking off in search of shores unknown, and now that Rossi is back on a bike he understands, he is in danger of losing sight of the Spanish duo - better make that a trio, given Marquez' incredible debut so far.

There is a golden rule in motorcycle racing of the last 15 or so years: Never, ever, ever count out Valentino Rossi. That rule showed a few cracks while he was at Ducati, and now that he is back on a Yamaha, he should be able to at least paper over the cracks. But given how the game has moved on in the past two seasons, the ground rules have changed, and though it may be foolish to write Rossi off for victory at any given race, he is looking exceptionally vulnerable in terms of the championship. Rossi has not once been faster than his teammate throughout testing, nor has he been faster than Pedrosa. Indeed, only once has the Italian been quicker than Marc Marquez throughout testing. Though doubtless Rossi will improve once racing gets underway, that is likely still to leave him behind the three Spaniards.

Of course, it is still only testing. In less than a month's time, the MotoGP season kicks off at Qatar. There will be nowhere to hide, no sandbagging, no "I was just testing some stuff". Once the flag drops, the production of bovine manure stops, as the expression has it. Before then, three days of testing are to take place at Jerez, a track everyone knows like the back of their hands, and where the focus will shift to finalizing a race set up. So far, the 2013 season has the makings of being something a little bit special.

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my Marc Marquez enthusiam but it gets harder and harder. I still don't have any title expectations, but if he suddenly hits a good stride with wins before midseason...

And the golden never count Rossi out rule also includes Lorenzo, IMHO.

2013 IS going to be quite special...if you're Spanish

If MM keeps this up we are in for a good year. Only 3 more weeks ......... Are we there yet .......... Are we there yet :-)

Well see about that. Pedrosa sat quietly in stoners shadow last year during testing... And he damn near won it by the end of 2012.

Again. And realistically Jorge had him covered once Stoner got injured. There was just no way Dani could take enough points off him.

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

Interesting this season. We have an ascendent talent of much promise and the first of such since Rossi who instead of portraying the effort with seriousness, passes it off as just good fun. Interesting how Rossi has viewed this coming with much admiration and enthusiasm rather than the laughing jabs and japes usually reserved for his competition. Maturity? Sure. Also that maybe he knows that their careers are only briefly crossing rather than the sizable overlap of the previous enfant terribles. Maybe some of that appreciation also is due to the character of how MM93 races. Not only outlandishly fast but a true brawler and risk taker, something Rossi has criticized of his most recent adversaries. Yes, maybe we now are seeing the cool down laps of VR46's career. Doohan mentioned that one can only sustain competitiveness at the top for about 10 years. Ago recently remarked that age does matter, otherwise he'd still be racing. Rossi's not done yet. We may have seen the peak of Rossimania but as said above write him off at your peril. I'm sure there's a win or two in there he can pull off out of age and treachery. The worst thing to do now though is to start disparaging him and his career by viewing it through a nearsighted optic. All champions step back or are taken out by the new protagonists. Ali, Jordan, Agassi, the list goes on and Rossi is sure to join it. There was a time when Roberts and Lawson shared the track at opposite ends of their careers as the latter then did with Rainy as then did with Doohan. All dominant in their time. Doohan left on top out of injury but the writing was on the wall. Biaggi was threatening and Rossi came soon after to pre-empt the Roman emperors nascent reign. Rossi ruled for a decade strong. The next generation came to stake their own claims of succession. VR46 did respectable that in the years they've all shared so far in the top class 3 of the four have each had 2 championship crowns apiece. The one without now seems to have all things in place to claim his own before his time too is past. Time though is the enemy. Of the fantastic four one has abdicated. Crowns and the pursuit of them weighed too heavily on his brow. One is waning. Now it may only be the terrible two to wrestle for the kingdom. That is unless the new heir apparent upsets the order. That may be part of the glint and goodwill Rossi directs at Marc. Those that came along to trouble his ambitions have it to contend with themselves. For MM93, he may be the only one who has time on his side.

Motogp is going into 2013 with some excitement and promise for the future, and that looks like a future not dependent on Rossi.

Such a pity that Yamaha didn't put a young gun like Pol on the second factory M1 and Rossi on the Tech3.

Now to get the satellite bikes up to speed.

This season promises to be special by virtue of Marquez alone, whether you are Spanish or not. So far, his progress has been astonishing. Crikey, when is the last time we've seen a rookie debut like this in the premier class ? He holds no fear of the bike or his competitors. Someone said above that he is on a Honda, so that is the reason. Please. Compare his debut on the RCV with that of Bradl, Bautista, De Puniet or Rea when he filled for Stoner last year. Even more frightening for his rivals is that surely he still has a few things to learn and he is learning fast. Any smart GP fan respects Rossi, but, at this stage, I am not sure he will be able to find that last .5 of a second. He may need more to to catch Marquez.

If my aunt had balls, she'd be my uncle.

Having said that, if only Maro Simoncelli hadn't been lost; I can't imagine the spectacle we would have been given this year with the top 5 being comprised of three that wouldn't mind mixing it up from flag to flag.

Such a pity.

While I agree Marquez is a phenomenon, I don't believe the worn elbow protectors have anything to do with his talent but rather with his riding style. Also, I'm a bit annoyed when I read some comments about his "extreme lean angle". I don't think he leans the bike more than others (quite the opposite, I suspect), he just hangs off the bike a lot.

I agree that Marquez is probably is not producing much more actual angle of lean than the others, but what he does do however is stay at maximum lean for much longer than the others. Where you would occasionally see Stoner touch his elbow down Marquez positively drags it along the ground. There is a reason why the top guys don't do this - staying at full lean for longer prevents you from getting hard on the gas and using the huge horsepower of the bike early enough, and there is increased risk in staying at full lean for longer than is necessary. You possible also wear the edge of the tyre more than you need to by staying at full lean more than you need to over 30 plus laps.

This to me will have the result that Marquez will be able to put in very competitive lap times but over the full race distance he will either fall away or fall off trying too hard. IMO over time we'll see Marquez ride a lot more like Pedrosa and Stoner, to maximize the strengths of the Honda. The Yamaha would possibly be a better for for his lean happy style.

I was looking at photos of him and Stoner and I think there is a style difference purely with the elbow. Admittedly I am no expert, but it looks to me that Marquez points his elbow more, where Stoner tends to keep it up slightly. It could be down to nothing more than different body shapes.

Marquez' style reminds me of both Stoner and Elias. Stoner hangs off a lot with his upper body while his buttocks stays halfway on the seat. Elias does exactly the opposite, he hangs off his lower body a lot but his chest and head remain close to the bike. An imaginary line along their spines intersects with the front (Elias) or rear (Stoner) of the bike. Marquez stays parallel with the bike like Rossi and Lorenzo but he is lot more under the bike than these two.

That imaginary line down the spine seems to intersect with the contact patch rear tire with Stoner, Rossi and a lot of the current crop. The line on a typical rider from Doohan's era is almost vertical to the ground precisely because their arse comes off a long way and the head remains near the centreline of the bike, like Elias. Very very curious thing to consider.

First, Rossi is testing the 990 in that pic where Stoner is on the 07 or 08 800. For most of the 800 era Stoner was the only one sliding the bike to any great extent, and certainly the only guy to do it consistently on the Duc 800. Second, see all the black strips laid down on the inside of the rumble strip in Rossi's pic? That's Stoner's rubber.


Pretty simple equation, if you lean your body over more and get it lower, then it means the bike has to lean *less* and can stay more upright, even for the *same* lean angle of the centre-of-mass.

Which means that if Marquez is getting the *same* angle-of-lean as measured by the bike, then he's getting *more* lean with his centre-of-mass - which is the one that *matters* for corner-speed. Measuring the centre-of-mass is hard, but corner-speed is a good proxy for it - be interesting to know how Marquez measures on apex corner speed.

MM is soo damn fast - I knew the kid had talent - but never suspected it could be anywhere close to what he's shown so far.... then again, it's just testing.... but.........

David hits on the nail on the head (yet again) - He's not scared of the bike nor the extra speed (I for one, am scared just listening to these bikes go by - the thought of 250hp+ on a 300 Lb Bike - damn).

I hope, and think that Rossi can be a serious factor this year - but the title? Even as an admited Rossi fan boy I can't go that far... (I hope I am wrong)

I hope I am not jinx'ing the season - but I think we're in for one the better years of racing we've had for somewhile. It seems that Yamaha really needs to find a half second however.

I am ready, all ready - let the racing begin...

when Rossi switched to Bridgestone tires the talk was exactly the same as now in the first few races. he did a bad choice... he must be desiring to be back with Michelin... etc, etc, etc. later, he started to winning races and eventually the world championship.

I too remember that. Being one of the people that was hating on Rossi. He then made me a hypocrite in that same season.

Some of you guys crack me up. Any of you competed at the world class level? Hmmm...

Having the best equipment is a blessing AND a curse! If you succeed, it's because do your equipment. If you fail, it's because you didn't have the talent to use your equipment. MM93 is the REAL DEAL! He won in M2 because do the equipment/cheating/etc. when he went from last to FIRST.....

The kid is just plain and simply FAST!! Period! His goal this year is simple--- World Champion! If anybody thinks otherwise they don't understand his mentality.

Having the opportunity to visit the COTA circuit on testing day 2, it became obvious (to me) how superior the Repsol Honda's are. Slow hairpins demonstrated their dominance. Their electronics are "head and shoulders" above the competition! The drive, grip, acceleration and throttle opening the Repsol Honda displayed is impressive. Or is it?

The electronics have become so advanced and the switch to 800cc in 2007 is still leaving it's mark on the series. Those smaller capacity engines turned focus on the electronics, and there will probably never be a complete recovery. But you can't blame the manufactures; they have to win.

With electronics like today, they could've increased the capacity to 2000cc's and the bike would still drive as smooth as a hybrid Prius. Like the majority of you guys, I hope that this season can be intriguing.....but I would not be surprised if it's a two-horse race either (based from testing thus far). The bikes (and tires) are so advanced (too advanced) that gone are the days that great racers (as well as qualifiers) had a chance to make miracles out of improperly set-up bike and fading tires.

I never thought I'd say it's better to look back, but it sure seems that way....back to 2006 when the last 990's were circling the track. Since the 800cc 2007 era, it's been more processional and you typically know who will win by Saturday....minus the occasional surprise. Never again will we see a Portugal 2006 performance. Toni Elias on a satellite Honda beating the factory bikes in one of the most thrilling (and closest) finishes ever!

To watch the Repsol Honda's drive out of those hairpins at COTA was mind boggling. Then Blake Young would follow with a more traditional "stand it up then open" style (still super fast) but looked way out of his league. The Yamaha's didn't fair too much better either.....

Marc Marquez is blazing fast and a special talent no doubt, but he's also on the best bike..... by a long shot!

Either way, I'm optimistic that it will be the best season in 4-5 years. Looking forward to the start of the season and of course, round 2 (COTA) in my back yard!

Yes MM has been impressive riding a motogp bike. It's as if he has been in the motogp lineup for seasons past. BUT I do think we have to draw some conclusions on where he stands as a young pup joining the ranks of the wise old owls. He is obviously talented. Riding fast laps on your own compared to in a racing environment are polar opposites. I believe he has not yet shown he can keep up this impressive level for a whole race distance like JL can and will he be able to click off those fast laps with an experienced Rossi out braking him and messing up his lines and frustrating him; Or even knowing how the Honda behaves during the second half of the race like little Dani does.
Marquez is the future of motogp because he is exciting and isn't afraid to " go for the win" like Rossi would ie ( on Sete at jerez ), ( Hayden on Edwards at Assen ), and my fav ( rossi on Jorge at Barcelona, last turn )....
I will be looking for him to be really strong during the second half of the season but the fight will be between dani and Jorge for the most part with vale mixing it up for some laps. Almost as interestingly will be the big fight between cal, bradl, and Bautista.
Lets see if I'm right. :-)

I just got caught in an endless YouTube MotoGP loop!


Always preferred Rossi letting the brakes off pulling his knee in and passing Jorge round the outside when they were both on the limit to the last corner pass, brilliant though it was. That I have never seen before and probably never will.

Sometimes I need to be remembered why I love this sport so much...

Marquez is proving to all, even the greatest doubters that he has at least the speed part. Judging from Moto2 performance he has the mental as well. But we will see once the racing starts. If he can hold the same speed in a race... will be scary for his competition. There is hope if that is the case. Espargo from Moto2 is damn fast himself. Once he moves up that will be a rivalry for years to come.

Rossi...well. I am not going to say anything negative. I will keep my mouth closed until at LEAST the 3rd or 4th race. He learns while racing if he is behind. And has proven that being slower does not mean he will not beat other people.

That said, waiting for the start of the season impatiently. Especially since I am waiting on parts for my own motorcycle so I am DOUBLY frustrated. Great article, keep it coming.

I just realized that in the title, it reads "Rossi's starts to wane". I don't know what this is in reference to. Can't see how anyone can conclude that one is "struggling" or "has lost" it when all that's been done thus far is TESTING.

I find this Interesting, because we haven't even started the season....

The season is very long; you'd imagine the most seasoned, experienced MotoGP fans and followers know this.

If Rossi is within 3 to 4 tenths of a second on Saturday afternoon, I surely wouldn't bet against him on Sunday.....when it counts. What would we call it then, "waning" or "winning"?

I'm surely not making any predictions nor would I bet on anyone, but I know who I'd never bet against.

Rossi's problem is not that he has lost it but the fact the others are going faster so at the wrong end of his career he needs to be faster than ever before....

Also in the past he could psych-out the field. Not any more.

Any one who doubted Marquez would be doing well very early once he moved to Moto GP must have been deeply biased or unwilling to accept reality. Even then, the fact that he was so consistently fast so quickly is probably beyond what the most optimistic fans expected. The kid is mind-boggingly fast, and apparently achieves his lap times with an ease and consistency that must push his opponents into a deep depression.On the other hand, Marquez has proven in the past that he can do silly things. Time will tell if he has matured to the point of being able to win races and fight for the championship.

Although it is very easy to get carried away with Marquez's current exploits, we should not forget the 3 men who cannot be counted out of the championship equation. Pedrosa has proven last year that he has the speed to win a championship, and his mental approach appears to have stepped up one notch, which makes him even more of a challenger. Lorenzo won't have lost his speed, incredible regularity and iron will. And then there is Rossi; hard to tell what will happen with him. He certainly hasn't lost his skill, but his Ducati hiatus has to have left him scarred. The other factor that is hard to evaluate is how much Simoncelli's death has affected his will to go to the extreme limit.

One final aspect of Marquez that is quite impressive and not without interest is his attitude. After years of hearing Stoner complain, here is a kid who seems to thrive on anything that is thrown at him. Refreshing ! See Dean Adams' comments on the COTA test on Superbike Planet (http://www.superbikeplanet.com/2013/Mar/130315-93x.htm)

I can't wait for the season to begin !

Being a Rossi and Dovi fan, I continue to wish Rossi great success and victory.

As for Dovi, I am saddened that he took on the big challenge with Ducati instead of staying with Tech3. But still, I wish him success.

What a pleasure to watch this again. It reminds me why I eventually became such a fan of VR despite thinking him an arrogant young upstart when he first came into the 500's. Anyone remember him rejecting mentorship from Mick Doohan after MD retired, and how insulting that seemed at the time? Maybe that's what we have coming in the form of MM, another super-champion. I mean to take nothing away from the other aliens, I deeply respect JR's running-on-rails precision and the guts he showed to become a champ (those ankles will ruin his life from middle-age onwards); CS was a strange, not very likeable but nevertheless superb talent; and I'd so like to see Pedrosa get a championship under his belt before his day too is done. But MM? Unless we're all very wrong, he'll be in a different league within a year or two, and he will be the true successor to VR's crown. The others have just been trying it out for a while.

They should make the most of the coming year - once MM wins it once I doubt anyone will get a look in for many years to come. Though I don't think MM will win it this year. I can't quote specifics (or be bothered to trawl through result listings) but my memory is of him not always being on form last year despite that amazing last race of the season, and at this level he'll need to be consistent, week in, week out.

Elsewhere in the thread doubts are cast on his ability to be this fast in a race setting. I have none of those doubts, this boy is the real deal. He might not yet have the experience and cunning of the others but he has the temperament and nature and can learn the rest. If another rider is in the way, he'll do whatever it takes to get past - a bit like VR in these vids, and in countless other races over the years.

Personally, having reluctantly accepted that VR only has an outside chance himself, I'd be content to see DP do the business this year and for all three of the others make it through the whole season unhurt, but especially VR. But whatever happens, it's just possible that we're in for something special