The formula’s different behind the fastest motorcycles

While Formula One cars can clock the fastest speeds on a race track, MotoGP bikes are far meaner machines, which literally fly on the ground. Unlike a Formula One car where the machine reigns supreme, in MotoGP the rider’s skills play a far greater role

By: | Updated: March 21, 2016 12:58 PM

It’s called the Doppler Effect, commonly experienced when a vehicle sounding a siren approaches you, passes by you, and goes away from you.

This effect is far more pronounced in MotoGP, where motorcycles with roaring engines go past you at speeds close to 300 kmph. This, and much more, we witnessed last Sunday, when the finals of the 2014 season took place in Valencia, Spain—won by Marc Marquez of Repsol Honda.

The Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix, as it is officially called, is the premier championship of motorcycle racing. First organised by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) in 1949, the commercial rights of the sport are now owned by Dorna Sports, with the FIM as the sport sanctioning body.

Grand Prix bikes are purpose-built racing machines that are neither available for purchase by the general public nor can be ridden legally on public roads. This contrasts with the various production categories of racing, such as the Superbike World Championship, which feature modified versions of road-legal bikes.

Grand Prix motorcycle race is currently divided into three classes: MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3. All three classes use four-stroke engines now. In 2010, 250cc two-stroke engines were replaced by the new Moto2 600cc four-stroke engines. In 2012, 125cc two-stroke engines were replaced by the Moto3 250cc four-stroke engines, and the engine capacity for MotoGP increased from 800cc to 1,000cc.

While three Formula One races have been held in India (2011-13), our racing track—the Buddh International Circuit—is yet to host a MotoGP race. In fact, rights holder Dorna Sports is keen to bring the event to India but says the lack of a local promoter is preventing the MotoGP from being held here. “In India, we need somebody to organise the event. At the moment, we don’t have an agreement. Our view is that India is very important for motorcycle sports. We need some good local promoters, but without them we can’t organise an event of such magnitude,” Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO, Dorna Sports, told us in Valencia.

Vito Ippolito, president, FIM, added, “We would be very happy to have the MotoGP in India, which is a very important market, but any race needs an agreement with the promoter for the contribution to the cost of that.”

Last year Dorna Sports had a contract to host the Superbike World Championship in India. “The situation at the BIC didn’t permit us to organise the race. In August last year the Indian round was cancelled due to operational challenges,” Ezpeleta said.

When asked if support from the Indian government could help, Ezpeleta said, “We didn’t talk with anybody except the owners of the BIC. But, of course, in any place, there is a need for support from the local government. Even here in Valencia, the government supports in a big way.”

Ezpeleta also added that the BIC is as good a track as others in the MotoGP calendar. “Except for one slow corner, which needs to be rectified from a safety point of view, the BIC is a good track to host the MotoGP races,” he said.

Over the last 50-odd years the MotoGP has produced legendary riders such as Giacomo Agostini, Mick Doohan, Mike Hailwood, Phil Read and Barry Sheene, among others. The latest to join the league is Casey Stoner, who retired last year. But, in India, the most popular MotoGP name is that of Valentino Rossi—one of the most successful racers of all time, having won nine world championships—and now Marc Marquez. In fact, the 21-year-old Marquez beat the 35-year-old Rossi in Sunday’s race.

Marquez, now twice MotoGP world champion and the youngest to do so, would love to promote the event in India. “I would love to come to India because I know that MotoGP is getting popular there. Such a race is important for the manufacturers also because they sell a lot of bikes in India,” Marquez said. He added it would be a nice idea to invite Indian fans to some of the races in the MotoGP calendar. “If Dorna Sports says we go and show our bikes to fans in India, why not?” he added.

Lastly, that inevitable comparison with the F1 cars. Which machine is faster, which brakes better, which is a meaner machine, and so on.

The experts we met in Valencia say that the Repsol Honda RC213V motorcycle, ridden by Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, produces a power of over 230 bhp and can touch a top speed of over 350 kmph from its 1,000cc engine. Compare that to, say, the Red Bull RB8 Renault RS27 car that was driven by Sebastian Vettel, which produces a power of 790 bhp and a top speed of 354 kmph from its 2,400cc engine. While an F1 car has big wings and fat tyres to help it through the corners, they slow the car down on the straights. MotoGP bikes can go faster on the straights, but they don’t have comparable grip on the corners. Unlike the F1 where the machine reigns supreme, in MotoGP the rider skills play a far greater role. A Repsol Honda official told us that when a MotoGP rider is leaning on a corner at over 60 degrees, the area of rubber in contact with the track is less than a coin’s width, and that’s where the rider’s skills come into play.

The highest top speed recorded in a MotoGP is 349.6 kmph set by Andrea Iannone at the Mugello circuit in Italy on a Ducati. The highest for an F1 car is 372.6 kmph set by Juan Pablo Montoya at the Italian GP in a McLaren Mercedes. But the potential top speeds of each of the machines are far higher than what is achieved during a race.

What is MotoGP?

The Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix, as it is officially called, is the premier championship of motorcycle road racing. Grand Prix motorcycles are purpose-built racing machines that are neither available for purchase by the general public nor can be ridden legally on public roads. This contrasts with the various production categories of racing, such as the Superbike World Championship, which feature modified versions of road-going motorcycles available to the public. It is currently divided into three classes: MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3.

(The author attended the MotoGP finals in Valencia at the invitation of Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India)

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