- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Marc Marquez is putting together a rookie MotoGP campaign of historic proportion.
At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- a venue that prides itself on history -- Marquez rode his Repsol Honda to his fourth race win of the 2013 season on Sunday in the Red Bull Indianapolis GP and widened his lead in the MotoGP championship to 21 points.
The 20-year-old Spaniard set the fast time in all three practice sessions and secured pole position by nearly half a second with a lap that smashed the IMS MotoGP record by eight-tenths.
Dropped to third place by championship rivals Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa at the start, Marquez passed his Honda teammate Pedrosa for second place on Lap 9, then patiently tracked leader Lorenzo for a few laps before taking the lead on the 14th lap with a nice outside/inside move in the short run between Turns 1 and 2.
From there, it was a Sunday cruise as Marquez pulled away to win by 3.495 seconds over Pedrosa in an HRC Honda 1-2. Marquez leads Pedrosa by 21 points and Lorenzo by 35 after 10 of 18 championship rounds.
Marquez earned the unique distinction of winning all three MotoGP races in America this year -- at Circuit of the Americas, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Indianapolis.
"I didn't make such a good start, but I knew before the race the end was the most important part of the race," Marquez said. "The first 10 laps, I just tried to follow Dani and Jorge and tried to save the tires. Then when I felt ready, when the fuel went down a little bit, I tried to attack. In the beginning, Jorge was able to follow me, but then I could push a little bit more and I felt good on the bike.
"I feel good here in the USA -- I won the three races here, and that is important," he added. "But now we go back to Europe and I would like to continue this way."
The dominant performance was not really a surprise, as Marquez won the Moto2 support race at IMS the past two years, and he had earned his way to the MotoGP podium in eight of the nine races heading into Indianapolis.
Marquez's path to the top of the MotoGP standings in his rookie season was made easier when Lorenzo and Pedrosa suffered broken collarbones in accidents at Assen and the Sachsenring, respectively.
Both riders missed the German event while Marquez won, giving him a 25-point boost in the title sweepstakes.
Pedrosa and Lorenzo benefited from a four-week break since the last MotoGP race at Laguna Seca, but admitted they are still not physically at their best.
"Today the bike was sliding front and rear the entire race and I wasn't able to manage very well because the way I am riding the bike is very static," Pedrosa said. "I had to fight all the race to stay on the bike, and in the last laps I could improve a little my rhythm and get back to second place.
"It was difficult, and the result is pretty amazing, because this summer I have only been resting -- I didn't really train physically," he said. "So I'm very happy with this. It still needs a few more weeks to recover completely, but my feeling is already much better than in Laguna."
With the Indianapolis victory, Marquez has moved ahead of Lorenzo with four race wins this year to his fellow Spaniard's three. Lorenzo wasn't too unhappy with Sunday's podium finish as the unique Indianapolis circuit, with an unusual combination of long, fast straights and a few extremely slow corners, has traditionally favored Honda over Yamaha.
"I'm disappointed, not because I didn't win, but because Marquez was unbelievable this weekend," Lorenzo said. "In the race he was faster and faster every lap. I was able to follow him after he overtook me for a few laps, but something strange happened to the rear tire and it wasn't possible to defend second place."
By winning four races and leading the championship deep into his rookie MotoGP season, Marquez is having a season that ranks with the best opening campaigns in motorsports history.
He has managed to overcome scary practice-session falls at Mugello and Assen and his victory at COTA in April at the age of 20 years and 63 days made him the youngest winner of Grand Prix motorcycle racing's premier category.
Not even seven-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi claimed the series championship in his rookie season; you have go to back to American legend Kenny Roberts winning the 1978 500-cc crown to find a rookie rider conquering cycle racing's top class.
In auto racing, rookies Lewis Hamilton (2007) and Jacques Villeneuve (1996) won races and finished second in the championship in their first season before going on to claim the title in their second year.
Juan Pablo Montoya (CART, 1999), Nigel Mansell (CART, 1993) and Mario Andretti (USAC, 1965) won races and Indy car championships as rookies; in NASCAR, Denny Hamlin (two wins and third in the 2006 Sprint Cup championship) and Tony Stewart (three wins, fourth overall) were the most successful rookie NASCAR drivers.
The title buzz that is starting to build hasn't fazed Marquez. He's handled the pressure of MotoGP like a veteran so far this year, and with his confidence steadily growing, that outlook isn't expected to change.
"It will be difficult," Marquez said. "I didn't expect to be in this situation before the start of the season, so this is good news.
"I will just try to keep the same mentality and level of intensity and focus for the second part of the season," he added. "I am interested to see how my level is with Dani and Jorge when they are 100 percent fit, because then I think it will be a little more different."