Superprestigio II: Marc Marquez Is King In Spain

Americans Jared Mees and Kenny Noyes finish second and third in Barcelona.

Superprestigio II checkered flags

"Marc Marquez? Dónde está, Marc Marquez?" To the disbelief of the willowy singer who had called his name, the Spanish superstar leapt out of the shadows onto the stage and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. A few hours earlier, the four-time world champion had added yet another chapter to his fairytale book: victory in the Superfinal at the Superprestigio dirt-track invitational in Barcelona. Now it was time to celebrate.

Just like last January, when he battled eventual Superfinal winner, 2013 AMA Pro Flat Track Grand National Champion Brad Baker, Marquez had stiff competition Saturday night. After setting fast time in qualifying around the 200-meter oval in the Palau Sant Jordi, Baker crashed heavily. He was knocked unconscious and dislocated his left shoulder, putting him out of the event.

“I was fastest in every session, and I had just laid in a really good time—a 12.0-second lap,” Baker said after returning from the hospital. “There were a lot of braking bumps going into turn 3. I just flicked ’er in there, and the rear tire caught a rut and sent it back to the left, over the highside, which planted me on my head. Then the bike came around and landed directly on my shoulder.”

Fortunately for American fans, 2014 AMA Pro GNC champ Jared Mees had also been invited, making the overseas trip with his wife, fellow flat-tracker Nichole, and Rogers Racing crew. As expected, the Michigan resident adapted quickly to the low-profile 17-inch Michelin roadracing rain tires and motocross-style starting gate that make this event unique, winning every race he attempted, including all three Open-class finals.

Superprestigio press conference Brad Baker, Jared Mees and Shayna Texter

Everyone in the star-studded 48-rider international field, which included nine other world champions—Tito Rabat, Troy Bayliss, Alex Marquez, Toni Elias, Julian Simon, Ivan Cervantes, Taddy Blazusiak, Joonas Kylmäkorpi, and Thomas Chareyre—was quick, but no one matched the times laid down by Baker, Mees, and Marquez.

While Baker, Mees, and fellow American Shayna Texter were riding borrowed Honda CRF450Rs with their personal handlebars, graphics, exhaust pipes, and suspension, Marquez’s purpose-built Honda sparkled under the stadium’s bright lights. The blueprinted engine and carbon-fiber-tipped exhaust pipe was shipped directly from HRC in Japan, and the shiny Öhlins suspension was the best available. Every detail was perfect.

Superprestigio rules allow single-cylinder engines displacing from 250 to 750cc, but most raced MX- or supermoto-based 450cc Hondas and KTMs, with a few other brands mixed in. When Mees’ bike slowed in practice, everyone feared a blown engine. Fortunately, the situation wasn’t serious. The decompression weight inside the head had snapped off, but the loose fragment was found before it did actual damage. “We got lucky,” said one of the team mechanics.

At the start of the eight-rider, 12-lap Superfinal, Mees and Marquez came together. Mees stalled his engine, but it restarted immediately. Barcelona-based American Kenny Noyes jumped to the front and led the first half of the race. When Marquez took the lead, the mostly Spanish crowd (reportedly a busload of fans had driven from Poland to support Blazusiak) went nuts. With Mees closing fast, spectators had the hoped-for showdown between the two number-one riders.

Jared Mees race action shot

Lap times dipped into the low 12-second range, nearly half a second quicker than anyone, including Baker, had run last January. On the final lap, Marquez slipped exiting turn 4, but Mees wasn't close enough to take advantage, and Marquez took the checkers from AMA Pro Flat Track starter Kevin Clark. Margin of victory was 0.298 seconds. Noyes, who won the FIM CEV Repsol International Superbike title this year, was third, matching his finish in January. Spaniards Gerald Bailo and Dani Ribalta were fourth and fifth, followed by Great Britain's 16-year-old Oliver Brindley and Bradley Smith. Frenchman Chareyre was eighth.

Why such a short race? Barring inclement weather or other unforeseen circumstances, an AMA Pro Grand National main event, whether it’s a short track, half-mile or mile, is 25 laps. “At 12 laps,” Mees said, “we are just getting going. A few more laps definitely would have been nice.” I asked Marquez if he’d like a longer race next year. “Maybe,” he replied. “Sixteen can be good.”

About the first-turn incident, Marquez said, “We were side by side on the straight. We touched and went wide. Yeah, it was difficult to manage that situation, but in the end, it was good for the show.” Mees agreed. “The only thing I would change is to lead it off the first corner like I was for most of the day.

“It’s kind of a little bullring, crapshoot type of a race. You put these guys on a little short track with dirt, twist the throttle and go forward. The races were very short, so nobody could get settled in. Man, I felt like the whole time I was just running on a treadmill. Every time I got off the bike, I got back on it to go out there again.

Marc Marquez headshot

“I knew Marc was going to be tough. The guy can ride a motorcycle. He’s the best in the world right now. I hope I can come back next year.”

I asked Marquez if he had studied Mees. “Honestly I prepared for this race like a MotoGP race,” he said. “Last week, I watched some videos from the races of Brad and Jared this year. I tried to learn because the riding style of Jared is much different from Brad. Of course, I was disappointed because Brad was injured this morning, but in the end with Jared we did a really good race. It’s nice to ride with the best of dirt track because you can learn many things.”

Inevitably, talked turned to electronics. Asked if traction control would be an advantage in this environment, Mees replied, “I don’t know, but Marc sure had a lot of switches on his handlebar. All in all, though, you couldn’t ask for a more equal motorcycle than a 450.”

I wondered if Marquez had heard from Shuhei Nakamoto, the HRC VP in charge of Honda’s MotoGP program. “Yesterday, I received a message from Takeo Yokoyama,” he replied with a broad smile. “‘This is a little project of MotoGP. Everybody is watching you.’ I feel the pressure, but it’s okay. It was nice.”

Noyes couldn’t believe his good fortune. “It was a tough night,” he said. “In the morning, the track was really bumpy, and I was really worried because our setup wasn’t working at all. Then in the first heat race, I crashed. I put it all together for the LCQ, and I tried to be real consistent in the Superprestigio finals.

“In the Superfinal, Mees got a good jump off the line and so did Marc. They both went in there real deep and opened up a big hole for me. I tried to go, but they were a little quicker than me in the middle of the corner. It’s my second dirt-track race since 2000, so I’m really happy.”

Superprestigio superfinal starting line

While others were celebrating, Texter was packing her gearbag. She, too, crashed in her first heat race and tangled with another rider in the second. In the Open LCQ, despite a slow start, she finished fourth, posting a 12.6-second best lap. Only the winner advanced to the finals.

“I hesitated at the gate drop,” Texter said. “When I pulled back, the gate dropped. I feel like I redeemed myself a little bit, but I’m bummed that I didn’t put the whole day together better. I had higher expectations for myself.”

Texter never got comfortable on the 17-inch tires. “The bike was coming around really fast on me,” she said, “especially in the second heat race, trying to highside me in the middle of the corner. Compared to what I’m used to back home, tonight was a really fast program. There was little time between the heat races and the LCQ. I had to sprint around the stadium every time just to make the gate.

“If I’m invited back, I’d like to be more prepared. Overall, the event was really good. I appreciated all the support from the fans. They seemed to enjoy having me here.”

Seven-time AMA Pro Grand National Champion Chris Carr, in Barcelona to help call the Superprestigio on television, knew the odds were stacked against Texter. "The shorter the track, the more physical it is," he said. "Shayna is a foot shorter than Brad. She just doesn't have the same size and strength as Brad and Jared."

Superprestigio podium Marc Marquez, Jared Mees and Kenny Noyes

Earlier in the week, Carr spent time working with several riders, including Superprestigio first-timer Guy Martin. The Brit has earned 15 podium finishes at the Isle of Man TT, but on Thursday at the Rancho Canudas test track, he looked like a fish out of water. “At the Isle of Man, a crash could be fatal,” Carr said, “so Guy is used to riding to his limit, then taking it back a notch. He’s doing the same thing here. Guy is very smooth; he’s just not fast. That can be fixed easily.”

Carr had high expectations for England’s 19-year-old Neave twins, Tim and Tom, who are first-generation flat-trackers. With Carr’s help, Tim spent time racing in the US in 2011. While both brothers were quick, neither made the Superfinal. “They practice enough,” Carr said. “They just need to race more.”

On Sunday morning, Barcelona was still buzzing from the event. “That may be the most well-attended dirt-track race in a long time,” Carr told me over breakfast. British dirt-tracker Alan Birtwistle chimed in, “What other sport brings together so many high-profile people?” Apparently, the fans agreed. In a press release, RPM Racing, the promoter of the Superprestigio, claimed 9000 spectators, a 50 percent increase from January’s event.

In fact, in less than a year, the Superprestigio has arguably become the most important standalone motorcycle race in the world, with more than 100 credentialed journalists, 40 percent international, and worldwide television coverage. At the post-race party, RPM President Jaime Alguersuari recalled that after Marquez crashed last January, he immediately asked Baker for a rematch. “Now,” he said, fist-pumping the air, “it’s the Americans’ turn to ask for rematch!”

Superprestigio press conference Brad Baker, Jared Mees and Shayna Texter.

Marc Marquez.

Marc Marquez practice.

Brad Baker.

Jared Mees.

Oliver Brindley.

Kenny Noyes.

Superfinal start.

Superfinal checkered flags.

Superprestigio podium Marc Marquez, Jared Mees and Kenny Noyes.