Friday was all about learning the way the bikes could turn into and out of corners, which will determine who climbs the top step of the podium in the sprint and the day after in the main Grand Prix. Suffice to say the riders had their work cut out, and boy was it entertaining! The teams went about perfecting the bike set up and understanding what they must do to get their electronics into play for every section of the 5km Buddh International Circuit.
Let’s start with the biggies in the blue riband MotoGP class. Every rider up and down the field experienced tricky situations, especially in the critical opening corners from turns 1 to 4. This is where the set-up is going to be critical because it is not just about a fast entry into the right handler after the start but the way the re-profiled corner tightens up and makes it so very easy to either go off line or miss the apex completely, both situations being untenable.
The young chargers like Jorge Martin and Marco Bezzecchi were blazing hot but the likes of Honda-mounted Marc Marquez and Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo were right there in the mix. World Champion Pecco Bagnaia is still feeling the after-effects of his Catalunya MotoGP crash because the physical demands of tipping into the first right hander using body English is yet not there as it demands. He went off at least three times in not making the corner but got it together to post the seventh-fastest lap time and keep himself in contention for a top qualifying spot on Saturday.
One expected the Aprilias to be right there in the thick of things and as Alex Espargaro went motocrossing into the gravel more than once, he and his teammate Maverick Vinales opined that if not for the opening corners, the Aprilias would win the race.
The surprise package, though, came in the form of Luca Marini on the Mooneys VR46 Ducati who set the fastest time of the day with a lap in 1 minute 44.782 seconds. The margins were wafer thin with one second covering the top 16 riders and that is terrific. The Martinator was ecstatic for his second fastest lap time: “Wow ! How I have enjoyed today! Very special track! Let’s keep going!”
All riders were unanimous in stating that while they have raced in hot and humid conditions in other Asian countries, the BIC is physically very demanding beyond anything they had raced on before and this will be another major variable that will be brought into play both in the Sprint and the Grand Prix.
The track is a challenging one and for a motorcycle racing enthusiast as well as a racer, this is what defines the sport. The few changes done to the opening corners at the BIC have paid off brilliantly. “Probably the most technically demanding track we have raced on,” said Miguel Oliviera who I thought would have been right up front but not something we can rule out for Saturday.
The focus on Saturday will be on the qualifying sessions for Moto3 and Moto2 classes and the two-step qualifying process for the MotoGP sprint to follow. Forget the technicalities on the bike front – engine, gearing, electronics, etc – and concentrate on seeing the riders put themselves on the line to achieve the best starting positions on the grid. As Aleix Espargaro put it, “One wrong brake manoeuvre while following behind another rider and you can kiss your chances of a race win goodbye!”
Following a faster rider to get a slipstreaming tow can also cause havoc with tyre temperature. Given the high mass brake discs the MotoGP bikes use, the heat generated by them gets transmitted to the wheels and on to the tyres, making for a very dicey situation. Again, Aleix’s remarks pretty much summed up what is going to decide the outcome of the sprint and the GP: “It is super crazy that you miss your braking reference marker by a metre and you go off the racing line by 100 metres and your race is run!” How well everyone of these virtuoso artists can handle this will decide who wins and who comes second.
Know your Grand Prix bikes
The absolute recorded time for a 1000cc superbike around a lap of the BIC is 1 min 55.96 seconds set by Jaipur’s Dilip Lalwani on his very potent Ducati Panigale V4 with an 1100cc vee-four motor with about 228bhp on tap.
This number was the benchmark every Indian enthusiast had in mind and many of us wanted to see how close the Moto3 bikes with just a single cylinder 250cc engine could get. Well, the fastest time in class set on a Husqvarna by an absolute rookie Colin Vieger was 1 min 59.566 sec. Given that a Moto3 bike makes 60bhp and weighs just around 82kg, these tiny machines make their mark with a terrific power-to-weight ratio which sees them, with the right gearing, able to top 260kmph and accelerate from zero to 100kmph in just over 3 seconds!
The intermediate Moto2 class employs a standard regulation motor from a Triumph Speed Triple suitably modified of course and all teams use this 765cc three-cylinder motor that pumps out around 140bhp plus. This is so because Dorna has used this as a breeding ground for future MotoGP champions to step up and this graduation school also needs to be affordable (if racing could ever be so).
A control engine helps and there are just three chassis suppliers in which teams can invest. The majority of teams in Moto2 use the German Kalex chassis frames while a handful use the Italian Boscoscuro and Forward Racing frames. No matter the make, all these bikes with production-based engines can top 280kmph (And they weigh about 140kg, which is slightly lesser than a Bajaj Pulsar).
And on to MotoGP. This is the creme de la creme of motorcycle sport in the world with manufacturers allowed to use only four-cylinders engines with a displacement of 1000cc and it is the class every bike maker wants to win at least once in their lifetime. There are two-engine configurations presently employed in this class – Ducati, Aprilia, KTM and Honda use the vee-four engine layout while Yamaha is the last man standing with an inline four-cylinder arrangement.
These bikes weigh around 170 kg and can hit top speeds in excess of 355kmp and can accelerate from zero to 100km/h in under 2.5 seconds. And I leave you with one more interesting bit, these two-wheeled missiles can hit 200kmph in just the third gear!
(The writer is India’s pioneer automotive journalist, historian and author )