In the World of motor-racing, the four-wheel segment is ruled by the Formula One. However, it was but obvious that two-wheel popularity would also require a platform for racing and so, MotoGP or Motorcycle Grands Prix was born. Although there are many different categories of racing motorcycles across the world, the most coveted trophy is the one handed out at the end of the MotoGP season in its various categories. >
The Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme or the FIM organized the first Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix in 1949. Over the years, the FIM has organized races in the 50, 80, 125, 250, 350 and 500 cc categories with 350 and 500 cc categories for sidecar racing as well.
In 1992, Dorna Sports became the exclusive holder of the commercial rights for the MotoGP World Championships and brought about change in the sport. They moved the FIM completely out of the rule-making body and gave the entire power in the hands of the Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers Association (MSMA).
Purpose-built and powerful - two words that aptly describe these “prototype” machines created by a team of specialists. MotoGP motorcycles are not available for commercial sale and are not road-legal either. The bikes are not allowed any super or turbo charging and cannot have more than 6 gears. There is a standard weight restriction as well, for each engine category. The body is generally made of carbon fiber or other non-commercial production material. These are light, expensive and extremely durable materials specially structured to withstand the harsh punishment meted out by their riders.
All teams have two bikes per rider and in the case where there might be issues with the bike before a race, practice or qualifying, the bikes can be interchanged quickly to allow the rider to go out on time.
In the 1950s and 60s, four-stroke engines had made their mark and were the most prevalent variety out on the starting grid. Soon began the influx of two-stroke engines that were more powerful, yet completely non-commercial products. Manufacturers soon began turning towards the more powerful two-strokes until the 1970s, when everyone on the track would be driven only by a two-stroke engine.
There were many efforts made to return to four-stroke bikes, the most popular by Honda in 1979. All dropped out of contention, as did the 50cc & 350cc categories and a bit later, sidecars even.
Since 2002, the face of MotoGP has undergone another change as all motorcycles, 2- or 4-stroke, were now allowed four cylinders. Two-strokes were more expensive to produce for the smaller teams and thus, this move was an effort to move in the direction of re-introducing the four-stroke engines in the world of MotoGP.
At such incredible speeds, MotoGP riders need to know that they can slow down quickly and safely. While they can be changed regularly, brakes are harder to change in the middle of a race and so, at 340kmph, the riders need them to be perfect throughout the race.
Since the 1970s, MotoGP bikes have used disc brakes. Although these brakes were initially made of steel, their performance in rainy conditions led the manufacturers to look for better options and more expensive Carbon brakes were introduced. These light weight brakes took off about 500g off the weight of the steel versions and were more effective in dry and wet conditions.
Carbon disc brakes are lighter and help reduce the resistance to change in direction that a rider normally faces with steel brakes. Carbon brakes need to reach their optimal temperature to work properly and since they react to temperature changes quickly, they can be air-cooled even at high temperatures. However, wet weather means that the brakes would never heat up enough to reach their optimum temperature and this would not let them work properly.
Manufacturers resort to Steel brakes in wet weather conditions to solve the issue of temperature.
One of the most important safety features of the MotoGP riders’ armoury, the helmets have a lot of research and development behind them to offer utmost safety to the riders. Although the helmets are similar to those made for commercial use, they are custom made for the riders according to their shape, size and comfort.
Riders, like Valentino Rossi in particular, have been known to use colourful designs to express themselves with their helmet. Riders like Casey Stoner, Marco Melandri and Dani Pedrosa bear their mascots on their helmets - Kangaroos, hedgehogs and a baby holding a light sabre, respectively.
On a more serious note, helmets are made to be aerodynamic and light, while also offering safety from crashes. The outer shell is normally made of glass fibre, carbon, Kevlar and polyurethane. The interior cushioning is made specifically with the rider in mind and for a perfect fit, is made in the shape of the rider’s head and facial features.
The visors on the helmets are made of specially treated plastic to avoid breakage due to airborne objects as well as to prevent fogging up.
The race weekend brings with it the chance of adding more points to the tally for riders and manufacturers alike. Depending on the outcome in the race, and their final standing, points are allocated to the riders as well as manufacturers. At the end of the season, the points are added up and the rider with the most points is awarded the title of MotoGP World Champion in his category while the team receives the MotoGP World Championship title.
Supplied by Bridgestone, all manufacturers and riders have access to standard tyres for the event in question. Each rider is given a set of 20 tyres for each weekend. This set is meant to cover the practice sessions, the warm ups and the race as well. There are 4 wet tyres available to each rider as well.
Each tyre is made of a complex combination of synthetic material and naturally sourced rubber. Teams choose their race tyres depending on their observations of the track conditions as well as the observations of the tyre manufacturers.
Softer compound tyres are quicker and have more grip but are extremely prone to burning out quickly. Harder compound tyres take longer to break into and are not as quick. Riders also have access to a midway compound that is usable for a more balanced performance.
To add excitement and drama to the event, each race’s set of riders is accompanied by Wild Card Entries. These riders are often people who are guests to the grand prix event and are given a run-out to help their profile as well as confidence levels by racing in front of, what is usually, their home crowd.
It is also used as an effective way of helping many riders make their debut at the top-level. Teams are also known to use these wild card riders to gather data on the circuits and since they are not a part of the World Championship title chase, they are not allocated any points irrespective of their final standing.