MotoGP’s safety revolution saves riders from disaster

America is witnessing something of a renaissance in motorsport. Call it the “Drive to Survive” effect, but Formula one It’s not the only series to see a resurgence among TV audiences. Last season was the most watched in IndyCar history.

However, ask most of these newly converted race fans about MotoGP and that enthusiasm quickly turns to anxiety. Who can blame them? The riders hit 220 mph in a straight line, they elbowed the pavement at corners, and all that separates them from serious injury is just over a millimeter of kangaroo skin.

“F1 and MotoGP both come from dangerous backgrounds,” Ducati Lenovo racer Jack Miller told ESPN at San Marino and the Rimini Riviera Grand Prix at Misano earlier this month. “At the end of the day, there’s danger associated with anything we do, whether it’s driving your car to work in the morning or cycling, whatever.”

“Most of the time now, as you can see, we can get up, walk, the wound is a lot less than before. It used to be at least once. [big crash] weekend, and now maybe one in a season – maybe. “

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What the sport used to be, as Miller alludes to and like most any racing series more than 30 years ago, is dangerous. Over the past 30 years, seven riders in MotoGP and its support classes have died from injuries in crashes. In the 30 years before that, 59 people died – nearly a third took place on the Isle of Man, a circuit located on public roads that the world championships last visited in 1976.

For context, in F1 and its feeder series like Formula Two and Formula Three, three drivers have died from injuries in crashes over the past 30 years.

When Madrid-based Dorna Sports became the sport’s organizer in 1991, the organization and the International Federation of Motocyclisme (FIM) began to improve safety. Streets and temporary circuits were soon removed from the schedule, and gravel trap and track areas were installed or expanded to minimize the chance of riders falling into walls, trees or other obstacles.

Today, Dorna and FIM use software developed in conjunction with the University of Padova to accurately calculate the amount of running room needed, both asphalt and gravel, to ensure a minimum safety standard for every nook and cranny of every corner. Racecourse. However, advances in tire grip, braking performance and aerodynamics ensure that these motorcycles are constantly evolving, getting faster and faster, while also ensuring that the math is constantly changing. and frequent monitoring, requires more and more running space.

Now, the majority of crashes end with riders slipping before hitting anything other than asphalt and gravel. What MotoGP and protective equipment suppliers like Alpinestars and Dainese have been working to eradicate over the past decade are bruises and broken bones that are affected by falls.

Nearly 20 years of research and development, much of which continues to be conducted on MotoGP race weekends with the world’s best riders, has resulted in leather suits that not only protect against cases serious road crashes but also includes an airbag system to soften the blow of most crashes. Systems that initially primarily protected the collarbone – fractures that were once the scourge of the series, injuries have now been completely erased – now extend to the shoulders, chest, and even hips.

At Alpinestars, six accelerometers, three sensors and a gyroscope work together to provide real-time data to an algorithm to interpret if a rider’s movements are normal behavior. or not, whether they are struggling to control the bike or whether a collision occurs. happen.

“Every problem that happens, no matter how big or small, we download the data, we’re feeding it to our algorithm,” said Chris Hillard, communications director at Alpinestars.

Speaking in Misano, an Alpinestars technician charted every moment of the crash from that morning on a graph, noting sensor inputs that illustrate when the rider loses control of the bike, when he when the airbag inflated, when his feet hit the ground, and when the rest of his body fell. In less than a tenth of a second, the system recognized that a crash was taking place and deployed the airbag.

MotoGP’s ultra-slow-motion cameras captured this high-altitude crash, in which a rider is tossed on top of the bike, from six-time series champion Marc Marquez at the 2019 Malaysian Grand Prix. The footage below illustrates how quickly this all happened, with Marquez’s airbag deploying before his left hand even let go of the bike.

In 2018, the FIM required every rider in MotoGP and its supporting classes to wear such safety technology during every practice, qualifying and race.

Miller said of the airbags: “You don’t think about it until it’s too late, and when you’re in the air, everything is deployed. “It may not be much, but it puts a lot (keeping his fingers an inch or two apart) between you and the asphalt or whatever you’re going to land on. It makes a big difference. , sure.”

Last month, when MotoGP visited the Red Bull Ring in Austria, Team Suzuki Ecstar rider and 2020 world champion Joan Mir crossed an almighty peak. The data Dainese downloaded from Mir’s suit was shocking: he spent 1.02 seconds and nearly 64 feet in the air before hitting the ground at 41.9 mph with an impact of 18 g.

He has “broken bones and fragments” in his right ankle, missed the next race in Misano. Mir tried to make a comeback at the Aragon Grand Prix in Spain last weekend, but give up that effort after Friday and Saturday practice sessions.

“I think after a throw-in like I suffered in Austria, no [the airbag], it could certainly be a lot worse,” Mir told ESPN. To be able to get out of that accident with just a crack in your ankle is something you couldn’t have imagined in the past. Maybe an accident like this, in the past, was the end of your career. “

Despite such advances, much work remains to be done. Riders are most vulnerable after falling on the track, in the tracks of those immediately behind them, and this is Dorna’s focus as the development of safety technology in MotoGP continues: immediate warning Tell the racers about an opponent falling ahead.

Dorna sporting director Carlos Ezpeleta said: “I think the biggest challenge we have right now, and unfortunately that’s a big challenge, is protecting against traffic, protecting against traffic. driver when the driver behind them runs over or hits them”. ESPN. “That’s really hard to deal with because you’re talking about a bike that might be traveling at 60 or 70 miles per hour hitting the rider on the ground.

“But if you think about airbags for leather suits, 20 years ago they would all have said that’s impossible.”

As Mir can attest, what seemed impossible in MotoGP 20 years ago is now lifesaving technology as ubiquitous as helmets.

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