AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Marc Marquez is back to racing after his latest bout with injuries and vision problems with shaken confidence and lowered expectations for the Grand Prix of the Americas, a race he has dominated for nearly a decade.
These are trying times for Spain's six-time MotoGP champion as he confronts rare uncertainty on his Repsol Honda and even some fear of what could happen if he has another hard crash.
Marquez will start from ninth on Sunday in Texas in his return after a scary crash in warm-up laps for the Indonesian Grand Prix on March 20 that left him with double vision and also knocked him out of last Sunday's race in Argentina.
"In the way of confidence I feel much worse, that’s obvious after another injury, with the vision. It’s something that makes me scared,” Marquez said this week. “(But) I can’t fear that I cannot crash. Racing is my passion.”
Pramac Racing's Jorge Martin of Spain took pole position Saturday and will lead an all-Ducati front row. Next to him are Ducati Lenovo teammates Jack Miller of Australia and Francesco Bagnaia of Italy.
It's rare Marquez isn't right up there with them. He's won at the Circuit of the Americas seven times since 2013 and started on pole seven times.
Marquez showed bursts of his old speed through several rounds of practice. And he was unlucky in qualifying when two fast laps were wiped out by crashes in front of him. Those laps might not have earned him the front row, but he likely would have been a lot closer.
If he could somehow earn a podium finish Sunday, it would go a long way toward energizing a rider who hasn't won a championship since 2019. His 2020 season was wiped out by injuries from a crash in the first race, and 2021 was a struggle to regain his winning form.
He still won three times last season, including in Austin, only to later crash in a training session. That fall disrupted an ocular nerve and caused a bout of double vision that knocked him out of the final races.
That's what happened again with the crash in Indonesia, which initially sent him to the hospital for a concussion. It was hours later on his flight home to Spain when the double vision problems started again.
“I don’t remember much. I remember more from the video and the images than what I felt” in the crash, Marquez said. “I feel lucky about that crash" that it wasn't even worse.
Lucky but still unnerved about the recurring vision problems.
“It’s something that makes you scared, it makes you very uncomfortable, even for a normal life,” Marquez said. “The first week was difficult. The second week was better every day.”
Regaining the confidence to ride and take risks at high speed has proven difficult, even for a racer who already ranks among the greatest in the sport's history at the age of 29.
“Third, fourth, fifth injury in three years. And difficult injuries," he said. "Two weeks ago, I wasn’t motivated to even come here. I was motivated to sit on the sofa and not take care of anything. My brother (Honda LCR rider Alex Marquez) helped me a lot, pushed me to train again.”
Crashes happen in MotoGP and often. A mid-race tumble in 2019 is the only time Marquez hasn't won in Austin.
After the Indonesia crash, Marquez spoke with his doctor about the risk of more vision problems when he inevitably falls off his motorcycle again. The problem first occurred back in his Moto2 racing days after a crash in 2011.
“He said in (Indonesia) the impact was huge. I would have the same risk this weekend, in one year or three years,” Marquez said, acknowledging the injured eye nerve "is one of my weak points.”
Marquez has long dominated the Circuit of the Americas, a Formula One track where the long straights and tight corners reward the pure horsepower of the Honda engines. In any other year, he would be the runaway favorite to win again.
“The approach cannot be the victory,” Marquez said this week. “Now I’m just trying to regain the confidence.”
Championship leader Aleix Espargaro of Aprilia Racing, who will start Sunday from 13th, said he is glad to see Marquez back on the track. And he won't dismiss Marquez from podium chances Sunday.
"Marc is one of the best in history, especially strong here in America,” Espargaro said. “You still have to look at him. We’re happy he’s back. What happened to him is extremely difficult. You have to be very brave and have a strong mentality to overcome that.”
Miller, who starts second, noted the Ducati motorcycles have proven themselves exceptionally fast for one lap. He expects to see Marquez in the hunt for the podium over 20 laps.
“All this talk and nobody’s even mentioned the King of Cota," Miller said after qualifying. "Marc will have something to say about this tomorrow.”
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