One week from now, we should know how the next chapter starts in one of the longest-running dramas in recent modern motorsport. Marc Marquez has announced his return to competition for round three of the 2021 MotoGP World Championship in Portimao, Portugal, April 18.
In case you dozed off almost a year ago (and many of us, pandemic-weary, might find that an attractive notion…), Marquez crashed at the delayed, season-opening MotoGP in Spain on July 19 of last year. At that Jerez race, Marquez ran off, caught back to the leaders, then suffered a huge high side from third place, the tumbling super star nailed by the wheel of his factory Repsol Honda.
This fall fractured the 28-year-old’s humerus, the upper bone in his right arm. Alpinestars, builder of Marc’s safety gear, indicated that the reigning World Champ was airborne for over a second, as his suit’s airbag deployed. The force of his initial impact with the ground was over 20G, and that isn’t what injured his arm!
Marquez is a frequent faller, and his find-the-limit style has developed with the advent of modern tracks and advanced protective equipment. His recent domination of the top league of racing can be partly attributed to his ability to find the very edge – he also frequently saves slides and incidents that would take down lesser bike heroes.
Marquez had surgery three days later, then tried to compete at the next round the following weekend at the same venue. Unfortunately, that proved impossible – hardly a surprise given the severity of the break.
From there, things really went down hill. Marquez was reported to have re-injured his arm opening a window at home, although few bought that yarn. In early August he underwent a second operation to re-do the bent titanium plate in his arm. At the start of December 2020, Marquez was back for his third round of repair, and this time things were starting to get really ugly, and critics wondered if he would race again.
On December 3, an eight-hour operation with five surgeons was required to repair the bone for a third time and deal with some serious infection. That started a race for the eight-time World Champ to be ready for the first two rounds in Qatar, and while Marquez got permission to start riding again at the start of March, he opted not to compete in the opening races of 2021.
Marquez did go to Qatar, recently – twice. Due to the politics of young, wealthy southern Europeans “jumping the line” to get their COVID-19 vaccinations, it was easier to join his fellow racers who got their shots during their time in the middle east for pre-season tests and the Doha rounds.
Meanwhile, Marquez started riding on a mini moto at a small venue, and then headed to the Barcelona G.P. track to ride a full-sized machine. Due to strict testing rules, Marquez had to use a street bike, Honda’s very limited RC213V-S.
If you don’t remember this roadster, you can be forgiven. It wasn’t offered for sale in Canada.
Back in 2015, Honda made a short semi-production run of this special 90-degree vee-four exotic, loosely based on the MotoGP machine of the time. The bike lacked the pneumatic vales and seamless transmission of the “real McCoy,” but did feature a variety of real-racer trick parts.
PHOTO: New recruit Pol Espargaro, 29, lead the Repsol-Honda factory team at the opening two MotoGP races in Qatar, earning eighth and 13 place finishes. Credit: Honda Racing Corporation
With a build run of a little over 200 units, the RC213V-S is not very impressive in raw spec – 149 horsepower and 375-pound wet weight. This would be the data for the base U.S. model at $ 184,000. There is also a power-up kit, unavailable in the States, that pushes output up to 210, and slightly lowers the weight thanks to new ECU, advanced data, revised ram air and a new exhaust system.
Marquez did a solid day on his “street bike,” and then a second outing in Portugal. He looked ready to go, but still skipped Qatar’s races. Now he will rejoin the circus with an announced 17 rounds left to go (maybe less due to the Pandemic?) in Portugal, a track he has never raced at.
Everyone is eager to see how ready Marquez might be to resume his career, and if his splendid fire still burns. My guess is he won’t have changed much – but the series has altered, in his absence.
Racing has been great while Marquez recovered, and remarkably close. This suggests that he can slot back in, since no other racer is typically running away the way Marquez frequently did.
On the other hand, he has not participated in factory Honda development for a full year. The best Honda in the openers was Marc’s new team-mate, Pol Espargaro, who showed some promise but wound up with eighth and 13th placings. Some doubt the current Honda package will be good enough, but their in-race top speed has been impressive.
Of course, Qatar is not typical of most G.P. tracks. The works KTM’s struggled there but won in Portugal last fall. My best bet is that Marquez is a factor, from the outset – and not too far back to work his way into Championship contention. With a little luck!