More than 300 km / h: Report from the Moto Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing Series
In other races, a journalist, having access to restricted areas, gets a serious advantage over the viewer. You can look at the “dark side”, at the work of teams, at pilots in an extra-race atmosphere. In car racing, for example, the most interesting thing is hiding in the boxes, when a car - disassembled and laid out on shelves - is waiting for its turn to go to the track, or during a pit stop, when brisk mechanical ants change wheels with inhuman speed.
In MotoGP, everything is different. The most interesting here is focused on the track, no tour of the paddock will give the viewer as many exciting moments as a constant presence in the stands. Intense struggle between the pilots, numerous overtaking, spectacular turns with inclinations of almost 65 ° - enough to see. At the same time, everything is quite calm in the pits during the race. There is no tire change, no refueling, and the arrival of a motorcycle racer in the pit lane most often means its descent.
In addition, motodromes are much narrower than autodromes, and therefore occupy a smaller area. Thanks to this, their layout allows you to see almost the entire route from the first to the last turn. This is also the route in Valencia, where the last stage of the 2014 World Cup took place and where Popular Mechanics came - with the participation of Tissot, the official MotoGP timekeeper - to join the world of very fast motorcycles.
The Ricardo Tormo Motodrome was built in 1999 and named after the famous Spanish motorcycle racer, two-time 50cc world champion. Tormo, a native of Valencia, was a star in the early 1980s, he died a year before the construction of the track from a serious illness, and the track got his name.
The organization of the Grand Prix bears the characteristic Spanish features - confused pointers, accidentally closed entrances, idle devices for controlling the audience, fun sloppiness combined with high-tech cars and deadly risk. In Spain, there are as many as four races from the 18-stage MotoGP calendar, and in the top ten according to the results of the championship there are five Spaniards, the main of which, of course, is Marc Marquez, a miracle boy who won two titles in a row immediately after joining the top motorcycle racing series. This season, he won 13 victories - more than anyone ever in one championship.
One of the main differences between MotoGP and other series is the huge number of teams and boxes. This is due to the fact that each stage includes racing of three classes - the highest (MotoGP) and two younger (Moto2 and Moto3). In previous years, the number of classes reached five. At the same time, many riders “hang” in Moto2 until the end of their careers, showing decent results there, but never finding “loopholes” in the royal class. Again, in the 1950s and 1970s, pilots often specialized in a particular class, for example, 125 “cubes”, and refused offers to switch to more powerful motorcycles. Today Moto2 and Moto3 are perceived as steps to the top - champions and prize-winners of the younger series usually receive a number of offers from the older ones. Another thing is that, being the best among Moto3, you can become an outsider in Moto2. But it already depends on talent and team.
Just imagine: 25 motorcycles of the GP class, 35 motorcycles of the Moto2 class and 34 motorcycles of the Moto3 class take part in the Valencia Grand Prix alone. Even taking into account the fact that the boxes are twin and sometimes one compartment is divided by two teams that brought just one motorcycle each, for the comfortable accommodation of all pilots, 48 boxes are needed! For comparison - “Formula 1” is enough for only eleven. In NASCAR, the total number of cars is more than a hundred, but there the auxiliary and main races are held sequentially on different days, and the teams replace each other in the same boxes. Here everyone is placed at the same time. Due to lack of space, some of the Moto3 series teams are located not in the pit lane, but in the paddock, where even privileged spectators have access. It’s extremely inconvenient to work there, but for onlookers it’s great fun.
Motorcycle as it is
A motorcycle of the MotoGP class at first glance seems like an ordinary sports bike, which is not so difficult to find on the roads. But in fact, this is a real monster, designed specifically for racing and not suitable for off-road driving. A 4-stroke engine is limited to 1000 cubes and a maximum cylinder diameter of 81 mm. The minimum weight of a sport bike is 150 kg for engines up to 800 cm3 and 160 kg - from 800 to 1000 cm3. As in auto racing, engineers are trying to facilitate the design of the motorcycle by creating a margin between its real mass and the minimum limit. The weight remaining to a minimum is distributed in the form of goods in the frame in order to achieve perfect weight distribution. Interestingly, the minimum weight of the “empty” bike is regulated in MotoGP, and in the lower grades the minimum weight of the bike with a pilot (for example, in Moto2 - no more than 215 kg).
At different times, there were different rules in MotoGP - not so long ago, both four-stroke and two-stroke engines were allowed, and the disappearance of the latter is associated with an incident. Four-stroke engines have appeared in the rules before; their next return dates back to 2002. In that year, it was allowed to use four-stroke engines with a volume of not more than 990 cm3 and two-stroke engines with a volume of not more than 500 cm3. In terms of racing performance, the first clearly won, and already in 2003 there were not a single motorcycle with a two-stroke engine left on the grid! “Two-stroke” from the old memory remained authorized until 2011, when they were finally canceled as unnecessary. Interestingly, the two-stroke engines lasted longer in the lower grades, and when the regulations were rewritten, the “pool” of manufacturers and participating teams almost completely changed - Gilera, Aprilia and Honda in one season gave way to Suter, Moriwaki and Kalex. The younger classes differ from the older one primarily in engine capacity - 600 cm3 for Moto2 and 250 cm3 for Moto3, as well as age limits for pilots (at least 16 years old; in Moto3 there is also an upper limit of 28 years). The minimum age requirement of MotoGP is 18 years.
The fuel used in MotoGP is 99% composed of the same components as regular gasoline for a road sport bike. Another thing is that the components are connected by manufacturers in other proportions (ratio - the know-how of suppliers), and 1% are additional additives that allow the fuel to work in extreme conditions. The volume of the tank of a motorcycle of the highest class is 20 liters, which is just enough for a 45-minute race. Interestingly, until 2002, the tank volume was not regulated, and the designers had more room for imagination. Then the volume was limited to 26 liters and gradually, from year to year, reduced to the current level.
The official timekeeper of the MotoGP series is Tissot. Timekeepers work in a tower on the edge of the race track next to officials and technical services. Climbing to the very top is more interesting by stairs - you pass, for example, an office, and from there comes Franco Unchini, the world champion in the 500 cm³ class of 1982. However, there are many legends at the circuit, the main thing is to know them by sight.
Duration of motor racing does not differ from auto racing. Each motorcycle has a special transponder sensor operating at a specific frequency. When the motorcycle sweeps over the measuring area, the sensor transmits information about the moment of passing this point, it goes to the timekeepers computers and is processed automatically. Such transponders are made by companies specializing in racing equipment, for example Mylaps.
Modern timing is almost perfect - it almost never raises errors, inaccuracies, strange situations. Tissot engineers only remembered how, at one of the Grand Prix, during a training session on the entire circuit, the electricity had been cut off. Of course, computers are connected to uninterruptible power supplies, but they were not enough for a long time. And timekeepers turned off computers one at a time, trying to save energy - by the end of the workout, there was only one computer with a charge of about 5%. But the work was done.
Most of the technical limitations relate specifically to the engine - the designs and aerodynamic designs of motorcycles differ significantly more seriously. Although ... only at the motorcycle level. In "Formula 1" you have to constantly tighten the rules, banning more and more new elements, since there is huge scope for the imagination of engineers there. In motorcycle racing, engineers quite a long time ago came to an almost ideal design, both structural and aerodynamic - deviations from it most often lead to a drop in speed. It is impossible to attach, for example, a “racing vacuum cleaner” to increase the downforce or additional spoilers - it will simply worsen speed indicators. Therefore, MotoGP regulations rely heavily on natural limitations, not trying to create unnecessary artificial barriers for designers.
Work from the inside out
In the boxes, motorcycles stand on special stands in disassembled form - with the removed aerodynamic elements, and sometimes the wheels. Actually, rare pit stops during the race take place precisely in order to replace parts damaged in the heat of the fight - a wheel with a slow puncture or a broken fairing. It should be noted that for each pilot, in normal circumstances, two motorcycles are “prepared” - if one is damaged during free races, the pilot can start in the qualification and race on the other. Moreover, there were precedents in which the motorcycle was allowed to be changed directly during the race - this is done if it is necessary to replace “dry” tires with rain tires. Changing the wheels of a motorcycle is not such a simple process as a car, and therefore, to simplify the procedure, if it rains, pilots are allowed to change to "rain bikes." The race managers give a separate go-ahead for this procedure.
The main work of the teams falls on Friday and Saturday, when riders of all three categories leave for free races and qualifications. The search for the right settings is in progress, motorcycles are sorted out almost in detail. Their shiny “skeletons” and carbon body kit can be considered closer, the main thing is not to interfere with the mechanics.
The tire workers, Bridgesone and Dunlop, have separate tents in the paddock. The mechanics bring the wheels with spent, shabby rubber to the tires, and the tire workers undo the wheels and replace the tires, putting the updated lot on special racks. All this happens somehow at home: a mechanic comes running with two wheels in his hands (they are quite light), gives them for service, takes already ready ones in return or waits for “his own”. It resembles the process of exchanging country gas cylinders at a gas station. Between the boxes and tents of the tire workers, the "ant" path is trodden.
At the same time, the main work still takes place behind closed doors - no beautiful shows like the hustle and bustle of mechanics in the pit lane, the tense waiting of the car or running around for lost tools. Everything is dry, neat, calm and imperceptible - as if we were not in Spain at all. And not at the races.
Watches for a racing driver
On the second day of the Valencia Grand Prix, Tissot introduced the Tissot T-Race MotoGP Limited Edition 2015 - a collection of watches dedicated to the world's fastest motorcycle races. There are two models in the collection - the circulation of the mechanical version is limited to 3333 copies, and the series of watches with quartz movement has 8888 copies. The design of both models is based on the characteristic elements of MotoGP: the buttons resemble the foot rests of a racing motorcycle, the details of the bracelet attachment look like rear suspension rods, the bezel is made in the form of a motorcycle brake disc. In addition, among the Tissot models there are limited series dedicated to modern motorcycle racing stars - Nicky Hayden, Stefan Bradl and Thomas Luti (yes, just the winner of the Valencia Grand Prix in the Moto2 class). The accuracy of the Tissot watches is not subject to any doubts - these people are timing the queen of motorsport, can they be mistaken?
So, the most interesting thing in MotoGP is racing and only racing. Perhaps this is a rare event of this kind, in which journalists spend almost all the time in the press zone, watching events and timing, rather than running around the paddock in search of insider information. Especially spectacular was the Grand Prix of Valencia in the elementary grades. In Moto3, in a tense struggle, Alex Marquez still retained the title for himself, finishing third, while his rival Jack Miller won the race - he only needed two points before the championship. Throughout the race, spectators gasped and gasped, because the situation changed on each lap. Finish Marquez fourth, he would become only the vice champion.
In Moto2, the fate of the title was not decided - he was already staked out by the Marc VDS Racing Team rider, Spaniard Estev Rabat. But the race itself turned out to be very interesting - the leading Rabat made a classic mistake in the style of “don't start celebrating too early”, unsuccessfully entered the very last turn, and Swiss Thomas Luti, the pilot of the Interwetten Paddock, won the race, he sat on the tail for many laps.
Of course, not all races turn out to be interesting - for example, in MotoGP it is more and more predictable, especially if there is an absolute leader of the season, in this case Mark Marquez. But it’s interesting to watch anyway - monstrous tilt angles when cornering, spectacular intersection of trajectories, regular position changes, real dynamics on the track - all this is much more spectacular than auto racing. The downside is that motorcycles are much more difficult to distinguish even to a dedicated fan; they are similar in appearance, and the area of advertising stickers by which a specific pilot can be identified is very small.
A separate feature of motorcycle races that distinguishes them from most automotive counterparts is the “wild cards” - special individual invitations for pilots who do not take part in the whole season. The Wild Card allows young pilots to compete in one or two races of the season on factory motorcycles, test themselves and demonstrate their abilities to teams, most often on tracks that debutants are already familiar with in other races. In each class, two “wild cards” are issued per race; to whom to issue them is decided by the FIM Motorcycle Federation or the Dorna MotoGP management company. Pilots, upon their decision, receive a temporary license to perform in one race of the championship. Most often, wild cards are used in Spain, Italy and Japan - in these countries motorcycle racing is traditionally the most popular. Sometimes the owners of the “wild card” shoot - for example, in 1997-1998, the Japanese Daijiro Kato won the Japanese Grand Prix twice in the 250 cm3 class, having got there as an invited pilot (moreover, in 1998 wildcarts took the whole podium!).
MotoGP is, of course, a triumph of technology, top speeds exceeding 300 km / h (at the moment the record belongs to the pilot Andrea Iannone and amounts to 349.6 km / h) and the hard work of engineers. But first of all, this is a very spectacular action - sometimes much more interesting than Formula 1 or any body racing (although it is very difficult to reach NASCAR in terms of entertainment). Therefore - even if you are a fan of any other series - take a trip to MotoGP somehow. Adrenaline will increase, for sure.The article “Kings of Motorsport” was published in the magazine Popular Mechanics (No. 1, January 2015).