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25 days ago
By motogp.com

Marc Marquez, Nakagami and more: not all heroes wear capes

The comeback, the suffering, the bravery - MotoGP™ riders are as tough as they come, and the HRC pairing proved that in Portimao

Crashing is part of MotoGP™. It’s a small element of what makes this special sport such a spectacle, but seeing a big one never makes for nice viewing. Thankfully, a lot of the time, Grand Prix warriors can walk away relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) in his 2020 Spanish GP crash that saw him miss nine months of action, and what we observed from the eight-time World Champion upon his return was astonishing. So was the performance of HRC teammate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) in Portimao after his monster Turn 1 shunt on Friday afternoon.

Marquez’s FP1 outing was probably the most anticipated Free Practice run in history. All eyes were fixated on the number 93 as millions witnessed the Spaniard enter the unknown. How would Marquez get on with his RC213V after three surgeries and the longest 265 days of his life? As it turned out, quite well. The beaming smile at the end of FP1 as Marquez returned to his Repsol Honda box was a sight to behold, and told the world everything we needed to know: Marquez was back. Not a fully fit Marquez of course, but a Marquez that could ride his MotoGP™ bike in relative comfort again.

FP1 was something like a fairy tale comeback for the Spaniard: P3, 0.2s from Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) on a partly damp track. Unreal. In FP2 we saw Marquez sliding the rear and tucking the front, it was like he’d never been away. That Turn 7, rear-wheel kick out and slide to make the apex – something we used to see Marquez doing everywhere like it was nothing – was unbelievable. Even Marquez himself couldn’t help but crack a huge smile and chuckle at seeing himself do that when he was sat in his garage.

 

Qualifying sixth on the grid after coming through Q1 was about as good as Marquez could have wished for. The doctors had told him his right arm muscles would get weaker as the weekend progressed, so a place on Row 2 was some effort. But he and everyone else knew that a 25-lap slog on Sunday wasn’t going to be easy. It’s not easy when you’re fully fit, let alone after nine months on the sidelines.

Feeling like “a kid playing soccer with older kids” in the opening laps, Marquez went toe-to-toe with reigning World Champion Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) on laps one and two. Turn 3 nearly spelt the end of Marquez’s race when he tagged the rear wheel of the Suzuki, as close as it gets. Marquez quickly slipped into the shadows of the faster, fitter riders ahead of him but that’s when the overwhelming grit, bravery and determination of a top-class rider comes into play. Marquez rode his pace, stayed out of trouble, kept his head down and raced on as others crashed ahead of him.

In the end, a P7 was above and beyond what Marquez and his team could have envisaged a couple of months ago. As he said himself, Marquez is a man that likes to hide his emotions. But it was impossible to do so after seeing his first chequered flag in 518 days.

But he wasn’t the only rider to produce a truly heroic performance at the Portuguese GP. The aforementioned Nakagami’s Turn 1 crash in FP2 was monumental. Thankfully the Japanese rider sustained no fractures or broken bones, but we saw just how much discomfort Nakagami was in when he tried to ride his RC213V throughout the weekend. A right collar bone contusion saw the LCR Honda man sit out of qualifying, and still experiencing pain in Sunday morning Warm Up, Nakagami would have been forgiven for resting up. But Nakagami is a warrior, just like the rest of them, so that’s exactly what he didn’t do.

 

Going under the radar on Sunday afternoon, Nakagami finished P10. Ahead of Qatar GP race winner Viñales, and just over five seconds behind teammate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol). Portimao’s layout is nicknamed the rollercoaster for a reason. It’s arguably the most demanding circuit on the calendar. So to emerge with a top 10 at the end of one of his most difficult weekends is herculean by Nakagami.

Riders like Luca Marini (SKY VR46 Avintia) also demonstrated just how mentally tough you need to be at Grand Prix level. The Italian crashed at the super-fast Turn 9 left-hander in FP4, just before his debut MotoGP™ Q2 session. Crashing at such speeds and being able to walk away, go back to your box and head out on track straight away is something most of us can’t comprehend. These riders are as brave as they come, willing to risk everything to achieve their goal. Minutes after his crash, Marini went and collected his best MotoGP™ qualifying to date. Sensational.

Make no mistake, every rider we see on track are warriors. Jorge Martin’s (Pramac Racing) brutal Turn 7 crash was a reminder of when a big off can result in injury, but that won’t stop the rookie from returning as soon as possible to push like mad to achieve his dreams. Motorcycle racers are made of different minerals to the rest of us. They’ve worked all their lives to become superhumans in their sport, and the likes of Marc Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami proved that to us first hand. Martin will prove it to us when he returns too, and many other riders will do the same in future.

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