Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - “Marc is a freak!”

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


“Marc is a freak!”

Another race, another victory, so what exactly is Marc Márquez’s big secret?

I’m stood in the Le Mans pitlane, chatting with a venerable MotoGP engineer, trying to eke from him the relative merits of every bike on the grid.

“The holy grail of motorcycle racing has always been to come up with a device that can save front-end slides, and now Honda has one…” he says, pausing for effect. “He’s called Marc Márquez.”

And that there is the story of MotoGP right now. Love him or loathe him, Márquez is on another level to everyone else. He has an ability that none of the others possess. That doesn’t mean he’s unbeatable, because he’s not always the fastest man out there, but it’s this unique talent that helps him to make the difference.

Most people only notice Márquez sliding the front tyre when he’s saving a slide, or not quite saving a slide. But his uncanny ability to play with the front tyre isn’t merely about trying to save crashes; it’s about using the front-tyre slide as a performance tool, to help pivot the bike at the apex of the corner to tighten his line and therefore cut faster lap times.

His almost supernatural ability to save front slides was especially noticeable at Le Mans, where there were no less than 109 crashes over the three days, more than twice the total at Jerez a fortnight earlier.

Márquez was one of those fallers. On Saturday morning he was, as always exploring deep into the unknown when he tipped into the Turn 3 left-hander, lost the front at 56 degrees of lean and crashed his Repsol Honda RC213V. But the crash was a long-time coming, especially in super-slow-mo. The front tyre folded to the left a few degrees, the handlebars swung the same way by a few degrees and the bike stayed like that for what seemed like an eon, as he fought to stay in control, by digging his left elbow into the kerb, by digging his left knee into the asphalt, by adjusting his body position and by gently opening the throttle take load off the front tyre. Throughout these few seconds the tyre had already lost grip, it was merely skating across the asphalt, while Márquez scrambled to remove some load, slow the skid and give the rubber a chance to regain traction.

Finally the battle was lost, the handlebars swung to full lock and he was down: scraping the bodywork, breaking the aero and snapping a footrest. Márquez got straight to his feet, picked the bike out of the gravel, bumped-started the engine and carried on like nothing had happened, upping his pace over the next few laps to go second quickest in the session, even though the RCV’s lopsided aero made the bike pull to the right whenever he hit the brakes.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Total votes: 36
Total votes: 41

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When MM hit the scene, I said to myself, hmmm fast guy, good looking, says the right things, no wonder Honda wanted him. Not wanting to be a bandwagon fan, I continued on indifferently, still a fan of Lorenzo, and still not caring for Rossi. Now that Lorenzo has finally imploded, but more importantly, that MM has become the "bad boy", I can finally declare as a MM fan. It's not tough really, anyone that has ever roadraced themselves, or simply paid attention to the sport, can see he has a technique that is unmatched by anyone else. I agree, his core strength must be phenomenol. What does this mean in terms of the future? Others had better start practicing their front end slide saves or he will romp for years to come. The only thing I see stopping him, stress. Same thing that got to Stoner. At some point, he may find it difficult to "get it up" for what is required to race at the level he does. Until then, and especially with the Honda not a POS, he will dominate. All hail the new (albiet bad boy) king. 

Total votes: 48

Psychotherapist perspective, Marquez is nothing like Stoner psychologically. Casey was an "internalizer" And Marc is an "externalizer."

It was Stoner that last struck me as riding qualitatively different like this. But he was more rear wheel focused. Opposite, but similar. And got around corners on lines unseen.

I can see the psyche in the riding style. No time to articulate, my next patient is arriving in moments.

No need for me to do paddock drama fan stuff around it. It is tiresome and unfortunate that it is so prevalent. I see certain riders doing something "special" w certain bikes. Lorenzo 250 front wheel and rails riding with previously unknown precision and consistency on the Yamaha. Casey rear wheel blasting an unsettled and unbridled Ducati. Marquez front wheel pivot and skating this Honda.

The kid is brilliant.

Total votes: 46

been watching roadracing of all sorts since the late 70's.

never heard of "front wheel pivot". i understand gassing it to get the rear to step out and thereby "pivoting" the bike so that it points toward the exit of the corner.

can someone please explain a front wheel pivot? what the heck does that even mean?

thanks in advance.

Total votes: 27

You are steering the front tire, into the corner direction, a few degrees more than would be required to describe a classic arc. The front tire actually then "scrubs" across the track in the forward direction, which (slightly) retards that wheels' forward progress, generates a small but noticeable increase in front side thrust, and lets the back continue as normal, so the bike is said to be "pivoting" around the front tire (because, from a rider's perspective, that is exactly what it feels like, even though the actual dynamics are not that simple). Typically it can be employed with a whisper of trail braking near the apex, and it definitely works better if the bike has a more rearward weight distribution and neutral understeer characteristics (which Marc's Honda does). The "front wheel pivot" technique compensates for the natural tendency of the bike to run wide (understeer push due to weight distribution) and then lets the rider exploit the rearward weight distribution accelerating out of the corner. While seeming counter-intuitive, it works because tires develop maximum thrust when they are slightly sliding (which is what we have called scrubbing), so you are not getting water from a stone...rather you are extracting the last little bit of water left in the well.

It is a pretty common flat track skill, and the first generation of GP Septics with a flat track background (KR, Lawson, Rainey, etc) adapted the technique to pavement, probably because they thought it was all pretty normal. A lot of the Ozzies did it as well, for much the same reasons. But generally the old guard used it in the slower corners where all the bikes tended to push. Stoner and Marquez, who are the masters of the technique, have elevated it to a whole different level.

It takes enormous sacks of confidence and skill, plus the reflexes of a mongoose on it's third cup of coffee, to use this technique in the medium to faster bits without ending up on your ear. But as Krop and Mr. Oxley have pointed out, Marc has one more thing that sets him apart from the rest of the grid (now that Casey has retired): He practices this technique all the time (along with the others in his very large bag of tricks). As the golfer Arnold Palmer once replied, when a commentator remarked on what a "lucky" shot he played at a critical point in a tournament: "Yes, it was lucky. And the more I practice it, the luckier I get". Cheers.

Total votes: 33

Marc is a freak, I agree, and his Honda is another freak. Let's be honest: Marc's bike is far better then the other ones, and Marc cannily uses the weekend to explore its limits (sometimes falling) in order not to pass them on Sunday. A 95 % of his Honda is enough to keep at bay all the others, who are compelled, if they want to antagonize Marquez, to go at a 110 %, where falling is obviously much easier and in any case not enough. I admire MM, but I think that with his bike at least other four or five pilots would win.

Total votes: 30

You don't believe me. Good, let's listen to what Cal Crutchlow said to the spanish newspaper AS after Jerez: "I do not think that Marc could win so easily with my bike. On friday Marquez and Pedrosa leave strips of rubber anywhere, on saturday less, on sunday they ride perfectly... In the race Marc rode at just cruise speed... very simply, I don't have the same bike".

 

Total votes: 35