VALENCIA - Spain's Marc Marquez is poised to wrap up a fourth world MotoGP title on Sunday, an achievement which appeared a long-distance dream in the first half of the season.
The 24-year-old Honda rider, who was world champion in the premier class in 2013, 2014 and 2016, watched as Yamaha's Maverick Vinales romped to victory in three of the first five races.
He was even down in fourth spot in the standings after old rival Valentino Rossi won in the Netherlands. But the second half of the season has been monopolised by Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso on a Ducati.
Five of Marquez's six wins in 2017 have come since the Assen race as Yamaha fell dramatically off the pace.
Dovizioso also has six wins to his name but Marquez heads for Spain with a 21-point advantage meaning he only has to finish in the top 11 on Sunday to again be crowned world champion.
"Of course it will be natural to feel some pressure in Valencia with so much at stake, but honestly there has been pressure for the entire second part of the season," said Marquez whose attempts to wrap up the title in rain-swept Malaysia two weeks ago were thwarted by a fourth-place finish.
"The fact that we’ve been able to manage some tricky situations, as was the case at the last race in Malaysia, gives me a positive feeling.
"Regarding the track, I feel good because I like Valencia. It’s an anti-clockwise circuit, which normally suits me. Of course it’s also good to have a points advantage to manage.
"That said, we won’t think too much about any of those things. We definitely don’t think it will be easy, so we won’t go to Valencia with any extra confidence."
The 31-year-old Dovizioso has been a sensation in a season in which his Ducati teammate and former world champion Jorge Lorenzo was expected to be the outfit's go-to rider.
But the Italian has completely overshadowed the Spaniard, with Dovizioso even getting the better of Lorenzo in Malaysia in Ducati's only one-two finish in 2017.
"What Marquez did this season is incredible," admitted Dovizioso, wary of Sunday's mission impossible which confronts him.
For Yamaha, the campaign has tailed off even if Vinales has the consolation of already being assured third place in the standings.
Teammate and seven-time MotoGP champion Rossi, who suffered a double leg fracture earlier in the season before returning to the saddle three weeks after surgery, is fourth overall although Honda's Dani Pedrosa can still pip him on a circuit where he has traditionally thrived.
Pedrosa has six career wins at Valencia -- three in MotoGP, two in 250cc, and one in the 125cc class.