Fans of the motorcycle racing series, MotoGP, would find that fall risk is high in the premier racing series to the tune of being unacceptable. Specifically, a cursory view of the highlights video on Youtube about MotoGP would find the viewer questioning the value of the sport where number of falls per race is in the high tens, for example, 50 to 60 in each race. This is unacceptable.
For a racing series aimed at showcasing the latest advances in materials engineering, electronics, aerodynamics, small capacity internal combustion engines as well as rider’s skill, it is unimaginable that there are so many falls per race, even from the best riders in the history of the sport. Indeed, many riders died or sustained serious career ending injuries due to the inability to handle the horse power of the motorcycle that is a key feature and attraction of the series.
Putting a high capacity engine to a small frame is the key characteristic of the series; however, the high power of the engine and light weight of the motorcycle meant that it is very difficult to control the power output of the motorcycle, especially in the twisty track of a racing circuit such as Barcelona or Circuit of the Americans in Austin, Texas, USA.
Tendency to fall in the MotoGP series comes from two factors: excessive power from the motorcycle as well as poor grip in the rear tyre that transfers the engine power onto traction on the track. More specifically, motorcycles in the first tier MotoGP racing series are indeed too powerful in engine output, and the series would be safer if engine capacity is reduced to about 500cc. In another way, reducing the engine capacity would also help the manufacturer to develop technologies potentially transferable to the road motorcycle market, where national regulations around the world limit the engine capacity of motorcycles on road to 500cc. One potential technology would be more fuel efficient engines.
In any racing series, whether Formula 1 or MotoGP, the challenge has and will continue to be the efficient and safe transfer of engine power to traction on the track through the contact patch available to the motorcycle tyre. Thus, tyre size and contact patch, as well as the type of rubber used are key determinants of the safety of the racer, especially in high speed and high angle corners, originally designed for Formula 1 cars, which in having a wider wheel base, would be better able to cope with the centrifugal forces coming from the corner. Hence, the question arises: is it safe to use tracks originally designed for Formula 1 cars for MotoGP races, where the centrifugal forces affecting the racer in the motorcycle is likely to be significantly higher than that of the Formula 1 driver in a car with a reinforced monoque? The answer from my perspective is: many of the modern Formula 1 tracks are not suitable for racing motorcycles used in MotoGP, due in large part to the lack of traction and grip from the thin contact patch available to the two wheel racing machine.
Coming back to the issue of tyres and contact patch, viewers would notice that the tyres of MotoGP motorcycles are angled for increasing the surface area of tyre in contact with the track surface. However, the surface area (or contact patch) available remains insufficient for allowing substantial amount of grip with the tarmac, given the cornering speed of the motorcycle. Thus, contact patch available to current MotoGP motorcycle borders on the fine line between grip and slip, and accounts for the significant number of falls in the racing series.
Thus, moving forward, there is a need for tightening regulation on reduction of engine capacity in MotoGP as well as the development of new tyre compounds with better grip characteristics for reducing the fall risk in the racing series, which has a broad audience, particularly in Europe. Additionally, the series would also do well to reinvent itself by racing on tracks more suited for testing the skills of motorcycle riders, compared to the current reliance on the same tracks used for Formula 1 races, which, in many substantial ways, are not suited for racing high power motorcycles such as those in MotoGP. Continuing with business as usual is certainly not good for racers, viewers and everyone interested in the sport of motorcycle racing.
Category: motor sport,
Tags: traction, grip, contact patch, engine power, aerodynamic grip, fall risk, MotoGP,
Acknowledgement: Ng Wenfa thank Seah Kwi Shan for co-authoring this blog post.