Marc Marquez is clearly no rookie when it comes to riding Circuit of the Americas.
Marquez, 20, is competing in only the second MotoGP race of his life this weekend. But Friday he posted the fastest time in the second and final practice of the day, 2:05.031. That was after clocking the fastest time in the morning practice. And recording the fastest times at a private test at the circuit last month, day after day after day.
Trailing Marquez Friday were Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa (2:05.585), German Stefan Bradl (2:06.173), defending world champion Jorge Lorenzo (2:06.637) and motorcycling legend Valentino Rossi (2:08.868).
One thing all those riders had in common is that they were in an elite group that participated in a private test at the circuit last month. If there were any remaining doubts that the added practice gave them an edge, the Friday sessions should have erased those.
“Today, especially, we have a big advantage compared to the other riders,” Marquez said, referring to the testing at the circuit last month.
This weekend’s MotoGP is the second international race at the circuit in the past five months. MotoGP, which has been described as the two-wheeled version of Formula One racing, is expected to draw crowds of close to 100,000 this weekend. Riders come from a range of countries, including Spain, Italy, Great Britain and Germany.
The common thread in those March tests at the circuit was that Marquez always topped the field.
The story was the same on Friday, although everyone, even Marquez, got off to a slow start. A frequent complaint from riders, which was also voiced a month ago, was that the circuit was slippery, that it lacked grip. The circuit’s first race was a Formula One Grand Prix in November and there is not yet a lot of tire rubber on the surface.
“The track slides a lot. The grip is zero,” Marquez said after posting the top time in the morning practice, 2:08.756. “There was no rubber on the track.”
In the first practice Marquez was followed by Lorenzo and then Pedrosa. Marquez said the cool morning temperatures might also have played a role in keeping the times slow.
But as the day warmed, the times dropped.
“In the afternoon it was much better and I think tomorrow it will be better and the times will be much faster,” said Marquez, who predicted that times would keep dropping throughout the weekend.
Although the Austin MotoGP race is only the second at the highest level for Marquez, he already has a podium finish on his résumé. In the season-opener in Qatar, he finished third behind Lorenzo, who ran away from the field, and the crafty Rossi, the seven-time top-tier champions who was just barely able to hold him off.
Friday, Marquez said the good showing in Qatar hasn’t changed his goals for this season. He’s not playing up his chances here, although no one seems to be able to post faster times than him no matter what the month or time of day.
Chuck Aksland is a former managing director for a MotoGP team and the vice president of motorsports operations for the circuit. He said Marquez would be his pick on Sunday. Aksland also said that he’s never seen a cyclist be able to do such an extreme lean in the corners as Marquez.
Marquez is also pretty good at ducking questions.
“No I didn’t feel the favorite,” Marquez said.
He did acknowledge, however, “Today we are quite good and we did a very good job. … Tomorrow will be much better because I will have the experience and the track will be much faster.”
On Saturday, there will be two practice sessions before the afternoon qualifying. MotoGP’s 21-lap race is Sunday at 2 p.m.
“We try to be ready for the race and try to fight — if it’s for the podium, for the top five or if it’s for the victory,” Marquez said.
It’s looking more and more like we’ll be battling for his first win here.