2015 Motegi Post-Race Round Up, Part 2: On Tire Wear, Moto2 And Moto3, And The Dangers Of Racing

With the title chase so incredibly tight, it is inevitable that every MotoGP race from now until Valencia will result in journalists and writers – and I include myself in that group – spend most of their time writing about the clash between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. The outcome of that confrontation matters, as it will decide the 2015 MotoGP championship.

This is tough on the rest of the MotoGP field and the riders in other classes. They, too, are riding their hearts out, aiming for – and in Moto2 and Moto3 attaining – glory, yet they are ignored as the rest of the world gazes in wonder at a few names at the front of MotoGP. They do not deserve such treatment, but life in general, and motorcycle racing in particular are neither fair nor just.

There were plenty of tales to tell at Motegi, however. The biggest, perhaps, is the tale of tires. To some extent, this has already been covered in part 1 of the round up, as tire wear ended up determining the outcome of the race. Jorge Lorenzo pushed early, then went backwards in the second half of the race. Valentino Rossi tried to follow Lorenzo at the start, realized that was not possible and so paced himself, and found himself catching and then passing Lorenzo in the latter stages of the race. And Dani Pedrosa felt uncomfortable in the first part of the race, as he figured out what the rear tire needed, then gradually upped his pace – or more accurately, maintained his pace – from about lap 8, and started reeling in the riders ahead as their pace began to flag. Whether accidental or deliberate, Pedrosa's strategy ended up winning the race.

The question on the lips of a lot of fans after Rossi finished ahead of Lorenzo was how much influence the winglets used by Lorenzo made to tire wear. Rossi elected not to use them, and did not slow as badly in the second half of the race as Lorenzo did. Andrea Dovizioso also suffered badly with front tire wear, though the second pair of winglets which the Ducati GP15 had sprouted during practice were dropped for the race. Could these have caused the problem?

Wings or Wear?

Without access to a lot more data than we actually have, it is hard to say anything definitive about it. But we can draw a few tentative conclusions. It was not just Lorenzo and Dovizioso who were complaining about excessive wear on the front. Cal Crutchlow told reporters that his front tire was shot as well. "It seems that Bridgestone says ours was the worst out of everybody's, and also Marc's because of how much we push with the front." Everyone, from Lorenzo and Dovizioso to Márquez, Crutchlow and Yonny Hernandez complained of the same thing: the front tire held up, but had to be taken care of.

The one thing where both Lorenzo and Dovizioso did differ from the other riders is how hard they pushed from the start of the race. Lorenzo's pace was positively – and perhaps literally – scorching, loading the tire from the beginning. Dovizioso too was fast in the early laps, pushing Valentino Rossi for second. Pushing so hard will have loaded the tires and generated a lot of heat in the soft rubber, especially in the carcass. Once the track started to dry, the additional heat of riding on a dry line would have pushed tire temperatures over the edge, and started to severely degrade performance. Did the winglets play a role? Perhaps, by not as much as Lorenzo's string of low 1'55s and a 1'54 with which he opened.

Dovizioso's issue was at both ends. He was unable to brake as hard as usual, and that meant he lost a lot of ground. The rear was spinning a lot, forcing him to switch engine mapping in search of more grip. No grip front and rear meant no speed, and the Italian fell back into the clutches of Marc Márquez. The reigning world champion was himself not making any inroads into the leaders, his problem not so much his broken hand – wet races make coping with broken bones much easier – as the lack of a wet set up. Not enough time on a wet track meant that he and his Repsol Honda team had been unable to find a good set up in warm up, and the few changes they made for the race did not help. Márquez told the press he was never really comfortable in the wet, and unable to match the pace of the leaders. He was forced to settle for fourth, while Dovizioso slipped back to fifth.

Brit vs Brit

One of the better battles of the race was the fight for top satellite honors between Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow. The two fought fiercely from about the halfway mark, with Crutchlow coming out on top. Both were more relieved than pleased, as neither man had much left in the way of tires. After a slow start struggling with a lack of heat and grip in the rear, Crutchlow soon forged his way forward. That cost him his front tire. "The front tire was completely bald," he said, "so even to finish the race was hard work." But finishing, and finishing in sixth ahead of Smith, was an acceptable result, where so many others had fallen.

Smith was a little more disappointed, having lost out on sixth when he lost the front and had to save a crash, finishing behind Crutchlow was all that was possible. His rear tire was so shot that he was "moving about on the bike like a motocrosser" in the search for grip. At one point, he had even sat on the back of the seat unit to try to get more weight over the rear.

The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider was pleased with his weekend overall, though. He had been fast and consistent all weekend, despite the three crashes he had on Saturday. Risking those crashes had been a deliberate strategy, to make a point to the Yamaha bigwigs who were present. "I just wanted to see what the next level is," Smith said. He is at the limit with the bike he has, having run out of adjustment options with the 2014 frame he is using. So far, Yamaha have refused to give him upgrades, and Smith has had to learn to ride around the issues. By pushing just that little bit harder, he illustrated all too graphically that he has reached the end of what is possible with his current bike. Doing so in front of Yamaha bosses sends a message which they should be able to understand.

It is a common tactic. The Japanese Grand Prix is the only race where all of the senior executives from the Japanese manufacturers are present. It is an ideal opportunity to talk to them, but also to show what you are capable of as a rider. Every rider linked with a factory does the same, using the opportunity to push that little bit harder and demonstrate where the weaknesses of their current bikes are.

Dreams of being champion

The withdrawal of Tito Rabat on Friday meant that Johann Zarco was the de facto champion. With Rabat lacking the strength in the wrist he fractured in a training crash at Almeria, he was unable to ride, and so pulled out. Zarco gave a press conference on Friday, but found it hard to focus on his achievement. There was still the small matter of the race on Sunday to attend to first, and Zarco wrapped his championship up in style. He reigned supreme in the wet, much as he has in the dry all year, celebrating his title with a win. Jonas Folger found himself at the front once again, settling for a strong second, while Sandro Cortese, who is having a strong second half of the season, grabbed the final podium slot. He did so at the expense of Azlan Shah, the Malaysian rider impressive in the wet, and showing real promise. The other Malaysian Moto2 rider Hafizh Syaharin finished in fifth, a sign that Asia is slowing starting to produce some real talent. With Sepang still to come, there is hope that the Malaysian crowds could be in for a treat in 10 days' time.

The Moto3 race was dominated by Niccolo Antonelli, much as he had ruled in practice. His first victory at Brno had liberated Antonelli, who has been competitive ever since. The Italian youngster just gelled from the beginning with the Japanese track, his victory in a shortened race coming as no surprise. Miguel Oliveira kept Antonelli honest, but could find no way to stop him. Jorge Navarro followed up a debut podium at Aragon with another at Motegi, the Spaniard starting to get into his stride in Moto3.

All eyes in Moto3 were on the title battle behind the leaders. Enea Bastianini got away well, running close behind the leading group. Championship leader Danny Kent made a more cautious start, worried about getting tangled up with other riders in the thirteen-lap dash. The Englishman was down in sixteenth for the first couple of laps, but slowly picked up his pace and worked his way forward. He caught Bastianini with three laps to go, and on the final lap, got past the Italian youngster with an audacious into Turn 7, then held him off to the line. He knew he was faster than his title rival in the second half of the circuit, and exploited that to ensure he finished ahead of Bastianini.

Kent leaves Motegi with a 56-point lead in the championship. He needs just 19 points to be sure of the Moto3 title, no matter what Bastianini does. 19 points should not be too difficult in three races, Kent said. "You can score that in just one race." A second place at Phillip Island would be sufficient, but just finishing ahead of Bastianini will ensure that he wraps up the title this coming weekend.

Risk vs reward, or the price of safety

The Japanese Grand Prix was marred by a couple of ugly incidents, causing concerns over safety. On Saturday, Alex De Angelis suffered a horrific crash in which he fractured several vertebrae, suffered a bruised lung, and took a heavy blow to the head. The accident was strange, but happened because De Angelis held on to the handlebars of the bike in an attempt to save it, rather than letting go and crashing normally. The rear of the bike came round in Turn 9, and De Angelis hung on. The bike stayed upright, and the Italian ended up heading into the crash barrier.

Should there have been some protection on the crash barrier? It was a freak accident, one which is hard to take into account. The outside of Turn 9 is where riders tend to crash and has safety measures to cope with it, but De Angelis ended up on the opposite side of the track. It was reminiscent in a way of Marco Simoncelli's crash at Sepang, another incident where the rider tried to hang on to the bars instead of letting go, and found himself in a bad place. De Angelis posted a picture today on Facebook, showing himself lying in a hospital bed, with an oxygen mask, but giving the thumbs up. He is still in a serious condition, but being conscious and responding is a positive sign.

On Sunday, fog moved in over the circuit and prevented the medical helicopter from flying. After a series of delays, warm up was started nearly two hours late, and without coverage from the medical helicopter. Two years ago, the same situation had been enough to stop all activity at the track. The difference, Race Director Mike Webb explained, was that medical facilities at Motegi had been greatly improved in the past two years. New facilities had been added to the medical center, and better equipped ambulances were now present, which made it possible to transport seriously-injured riders to the nearest hospital – Dokkyo University Hospital, 50 minutes away by road – with sufficient medical support. In addition, the circuit had liased with local police to ensure safe and clear passage to the hospital, with the very minimum of delays.

Was this a safe decision? Race Director Mike Webb gave a very full explanation to Steve English of Motorcycle News, in which Webb explains the background. The key points were the upgraded medical facilities, but Webb pointed out that the decision was not up to him. Decisions on whether to go ahead or not on medical grounds are taken by the Chief Medical Officer – the senior doctor appointed by the circuit – and Dorna's Medical Director Dr. Michele Macchiagodena. The CMO and Medical Director are both experts in trauma medicine, and able to make informed decisions on the safety of an event. Medical facilities at a circuit are sufficient to stabilize an injured rider and prepare them for transport. Both helicopters and ambulances used to transport riders are provided with the highest level of equipment, and staffed by experts in trauma care. Helicopters are not mandatory, the medical regulations merely requiring that riders can be evacuated quickly and safely to a hospital which provides the necessary care.

The other nasty incident at Motegi involved Pol Espargaro. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider crashed at the end of the straight, folding the front as he got on the brakes, and sliding very closely along the crash barrier, clipping it on the way. When he stood up, he was clearly shaken, though uninjured. When I asked Mike Webb about the crash, he said that the situation at the end of the straight is similar to straights at several other tracks. He was certainly concerned about the incident, and would be investigating it, but said it was too early to comment on the situation.

Unlike the incident with De Angelis, crashes like Espargaro's can always happen, especially in the wet. The saving grace is that any contact with the barrier takes place at a very obtuse angle, so that riders only really suffer a very glancing blow. Energy transfer in such a crash is minimal, reducing the risk of serious injury. The rain complicates the situation even further, as riders are braking much earlier than they would otherwise, and so they are likely to crash earlier if they lock the front. Pushing the barrier back may be a solution, but it is hard to calculate the benefits of such a move. Circuits have to accommodate paying spectators, and cannot remove them too far from the action.

Motorcycle racing is a dangerous activity, and while the FIM rules are aimed at reducing risk and injury as much as possible, there is always a point at which the benefits of making track changes are less than the costs of doing so. If a crash happens rarely enough, and the risk of injury from such a crash is low enough, then you have to ask yourself whether the money needed to make the change could not be put to better use elsewhere, in places where riders are exposed to real and regular risk. It is a dilemma common with many forms of public policy, including whether to cover the cost of a particular medicine for a rare disease, or spend money modifying a road intersection to prevent accidents. Unfortunately, it is necessary to put a price on human life in such calculations. We cannot wrap the world in cotton wool. Nor, to be honest, would we want to.


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Comments

David, is there any footage of the crash available ?. In motoGP website ?
During fp 4, there was never a replay shown.

If people don't question or aren't outraged by happenings as they occur or soon after they are soon forgotten. So what? If Alex makes a full recovery there is no issue? If he (God forbid) is permanently impared or worse, there is an even bigger backlash against people wishing to see exactly what happened.

Head in the sand solves NOTHING. Alex isn't being harrassed, there is no harm/foul. From experience of watching fellow competitors killed the tragic bottom line is this: if change is not affected while the tragedyis fresh, change simply does not happen. As a result I'm all for full disclosure, give it fresh eyes, let people with no emotional involvement make impartial judgements.

As it is Alex is making positive signs, fingers crossed the recovery continues unabated.

Talking about and addressing safety is never a head in the sand moment, debate now is right.

Gawking at the footage of a rider being seriously hurt for own own gratification has got an appropriate timescale;

When the rider is fit enough to talk to the media and discuss the crash is the right time to make the footage public.

The second part of Motegi pays a much needed tribute to the lesser demigods of motorcycling racing. Comments about the price of human life though, are sad.
Remember this is not an everyday activity, it is the ultimate interplay of man and two-wheel maschines and sparing money for safety has no place. And we should anyway do away with whatever nuggets of "Roman blood lust" linger on engrained in our entertainment values.
Would be interesting to provide us also with an article on the actual differences in circumstances that can transform someone like Johan Zarco into a champion. Last year you depicted in a most informative way the hard work, the endless hours of determined riding that brought Tito Rabat the championship. What is this the story behind the Frenchman?

Has to be considered one of the riders of the season; yes Rossi is a fairy tale and Lorenzo has been clinically efficient all year etc etc but the skill and determnation shown by a rider who was never really respected and wasn't valued has been marvellous.

The boy grew up this year, it's unfortunate Yamaha have stoically stood by Japanese corporate convention and abided by every paragraph of their contract with Tech 3 and retained strict hierarchy - to thier own detriment;
BS may well have been the third Yamaha in the top 5 if he had equipment parity with his team mate.

I am with you on this, he is my "rider of the year" choice if he can close out the year strong. I have been absolutely shocked by his consistency, pace, and absolute drubbing of Espargaro this year. He is also now one of the more informative and entertaining interviews in the paddock. David's insights on his crashes this past weekend were helpful.

You mention equipment...is he on worse equipment than Pol? I recall that was one of the hanging points on his contract for next year.

Bet there was a huge collective sigh of relief in race direction when Sunday passed without serious incident. Upgraded medical centre, better ambulances, guaranteed 50 minute journey to hospital... FIM/Dorna must've known about this months ago, but chose not to tell anyone about it until an hour or so before the Moto3 race was due to start!

It did seem very convenient didn't it? It also seemed if it was ok at that point, then they could've started warm up earlier than they did as well. There seemed to be some windows in there to get laps in. And they could've always red-flagged it if they felt visibility got too poor.

In the end, it worked out, hopefully it makes them think about this a little harder to be more prepared next time.

Can we get a shout-out for Nakasuga?

Yes, he has significant experience with the M1 and, yes, the race conditions were tricky, but he still battled Smith at one point and had P.Espargaro well beaten too. (Plus, he also won bragging rights between the wild-carded test riders too!)

And on the subject of Pol Espagaro, just over half of points that Bradley scored and a full two race distances less completed so far this season! Bradley has so far completed every lap, an honour he shares with only one other rider, another Yamaha rider!

You are quite right, and I was wrong to miss him out. He did a brilliant job all weekend, and coming in 8th is a superb result. He is a really important part of Yamaha's program. If he wasn't so old, I'd suggest signing him up to a satellite ride. Takumi Takahashi had a very solid weekend as well. 

Rainy weekend forecast again, cool with a fair wind, too. Going to be very interesting again.

Michelin is said to be bringing back intermediate tires, which arguably would have been the tire of choice during the second half of the race. Have any of the riders commented on this?

I would have said Espargaro's angle of impact with the barrier was acute, not obtuse... even if the "vibe" of acute is "more severe".

Strictly, acute means <90°, obtuse means >90°, by extension acute tends to mean closer to zero. Really neither is particularly useful here...

Yes, I spent some time weighing up which was the better word to use. In the end, my reasoning was that the angle that any collision with the barrier would have produced would have been obtuse. I did also consider that the angle between Espargaro's path and the barrier was highly acute, and thought about using that. It's hard to find the best way of describing it, which is more easily understood. 

I would say Pol's crash against the barrier was obtuse (or glancing) because his incoming and exiting trajectories formed an angle >90deg with respect to the barrier. IMO, an acute crash is one where the incoming and exiting trajectories are <90deg, the most extreme being a head-on collision where the incoming and exiting trajectories are equal and the resulting angle is 0. It would then make sense that having an incoming trajectory of 45deg with respect to the barrier is the dividing line between acute and obtuse.

Of course real world objects (like racers flung off their bikes at speed) never behave in such an ideal way :)

since stoners data has become obsolete marc has struggled more and more.
in the first two champion winning years we heard nothing of set up issues..
just a thought

... stoner was responsible for the data he had in Moto2 where he won races from the back.

get off it

Honda screwed up with the 2015 bike and the sealed engine rules preclude fixing it.

Yamaha, meanwhile, made a step.

I assume the casual fan and/or less obsessive ones limit their main interest to the exploits of the gladiators at the top of each class but thankfully, the MM readers and writer(s) are not of that cloth.

Bradley Smith is definitely the polite and astute assassin of the paddock. Also, unarguably one of the "best of the rest" riders this year. I would have loved to see the battle between him and Crutchlow at the line. However, I am reminded of one Ben Spies who was unable to shoulder the burden of improving on his Tech 3 success with factory equipment. Just a thought - don't kill me for it. :-)

Having seen Zarco and Kent over the years on a myriad of manufacturers, it is pretty clear that what was holding them back from winning earlier was their machinery. It would be nice to read some behind the scenes stories on the journey to their respective championships this year. Maybe as an off-season "champions" series.

Money will always trump safety just as the blood lust of humanity will always be unsatisfied. We'll never know if a 50 minute ambulance ride would have been an acceptable risk on a non-race day. The risk/reward ratio is what determines what is acceptable to the people in charge and those who are willing to participate in it. It is also why we (or at least I do) revere these riders who risk it all every time they go out on track. Even "back-markers" like de Angelis.

- Credit to Crankophile for getting me going on the Roman empire analogy.
- Apologies to all for the Spies shoulder pun.

I think the Risk vs reward, or the price of safety section of this report was a disservice to Alex De Angeles, Pol Espargaro, Marco Simoncelli, and all the other riders. Basically you decreed that these things are freak accidents that are too rare, too expensive, and take up too much seating to fix.

Are they really that rare? We had two close calls in one weekend, and Marco Simoncelli's crash was not that long ago. Maybe they're rare compared to other crashes, but the consequences are dire. So let's at least consider doing something.

Is it prohibitively expensive to fix Motegi? Well it's owned by Honda. Do you really expect us to believe that Honda can't afford renovations? At least do some analysis. Don't just echo the "it's too expensive" platitude.

What about your assertion that we can't lose spectator seats? According to Wikipedia, Motegi's seating capacity is dictated not by the seats available for people to put their arses in, but by the poor traffic flow to and from the track. They only use about 65% of their seating capacity as it is! Can't afford to move a few seats in the name of rider safety? Really?

I agree we don't want to wrap the world in cotton wool. But your defense of Motegi is long on conclusions and very short on analysis.

I can assure you I did some research, and did not make those statements likely. Those statements are not meant to do any rider a disservice - I have tried to always promote safety where possible, and have a long interview with circuit designer Jarno Zafelli on just this subject which I will run over the winter.

Here's the issue. First, about Alex De Angelis' crash. He hit the wall because he held onto the handlebars, as did Marco Simoncelli. It is an entirely understandable reaction from motorcycle racers, and in thousands of cases, it either succeeds, or the rider crashes without incident. Very occasionally, due to bad luck and some uncontrollable variables, it ends badly. The problem is that the bike can end up pointing in the wrong direction, and travelling at very high speed straight at a wall. In the case of De Angelis, it is not certain that he would have fared better had the barrier been further back.

Can we prevent such a situation from ever happening again? Almost certainly not. Freak accidents happen (I shall come to another later). Should circuits try to mitigate the effects of such an incident? Absolutely, but there are limits to what can be done. Let's say that moving the wall De Angelis hit back 10 meters costs, say, €100,000. You would certainly say yes, we should do that. What if it cost €1 million, because a lot of earth needed moving? Certainly, if it was likely to save a life, though you might want to calculate the probability of a life actually being saved. What if it cost €10 million? Then a track has to start thinking about whether it is worth the investment, or if it is better to focus on car racing, which is what happens at the track for a lot of the rest of the year.

If the cost was somewhere between €100,000 and €1 million, how does that affect the decision? Say you got an estimate of it being €1 million, but the contractor comes back and says, we made a mistake, it's going to be €1.5 million, or €2 million? Do you still push ahead? Even if the calculations done show that the probability of a crash is 1 in 1000 laps? Or 1 in 100,000 laps? Or 1 in 100 million laps?

One of the best examples for this came in 2010. In the Moto2 race at Barcelona, Carmelo Morales was chasing Kenny Noyes on the last lap, and was trying to line up a pass along the back straight. As they came along the straight, Morales' front wheel just clipped the back of Noyes' rear. Morales was thrown off his bike at high speed, and slid and collided with the wall. That was a freak accident, but one which can happen all the time. If the wall hadn't been so close, then it would have been a lot safer.

The trouble is, that wall is on the main straight, directly in front of the main grandstand (see a good photo of it here). There is a service road about 3 meters wide, and then the main grandstand begins. If they wanted to create more room, they could make the service road narrower, but that would be much more dangerous, as ambulances and other vehicles would not be allowed to pass along it. The other alternative is to tear the main grandstand down and push it back 10 meters. That would cost somewhere upwards of €5 million, maybe twice that. Safety would be improved, and the chance of a very rare crash reduced (but not eliminated, with speeds of up to 350 km/h, you travel a long way before you stop). You would also have made the main grandstand a lot less attractive, as fans are much further away from the action, making it difficult to recoup your costs. One of the attractions of a main grandstand is that you can look into the pits on the other side, and get close to the last lap action and celebrations. The further back you go, the harder it is to see.

If you compare De Angelis' crash with Espargaro's, there is a real difference. The crash which happened to Pol Espargaro can happen in any wet race or practice, as riders are braking much earlier and grip is much more difficult to manage. De Angelis' crash was a freak accident, Espargaro's was common. I was told by Mike Webb that they will be having a look at this aspect of safety, not just at Motegi, but at other circuits with long straights and walls close at the end of them, though he did say it was far too early to make a formal comment. Pushing back the wall at the end of that straight would be significantly more expensive than pushing back the wall where De Angelis crashed, but it would also be much more effective, as it would be much more likely to actually make a difference to rider safety.

The key words here are "likely", "probability" and "chance". Freak occurrences can always happen, after all the probability of a crash such as De Angelis' happening is demonstrably 1, despite the fact that it is a freak occurrence. The probability of it happening again is very low. The probability of Espargaro's crash happening again is very, very high. When budgets are limited - and they always are, no matter how much we would like them not to be - then safety has to be prioritized and a compromise. Is that a good thing? No, but it's better than the alternative.

Because money is not unlimited, in any field, we have to accept that there is a price on a human life. Every engineering project or undertaking is subject to a risk assessment, which includes the probability of catastrophe causing injury or death. That includes designing aircraft, planning flight paths, building shopping malls, designing race circuits, choosing where to place medical posts at a track, whether to prescribe or pay for a particular drug or not, and so on. There is a good explanation in a thread on Quora about calculating what a human life should cost. It does not make easy reading, but it is informative.

In short, I believe that safety is paramount for the riders. But safety, like everything else, is bound by cost constraints. You can't make a race track perfectly safe, and the return on investment for each safety improvement needs to be carefully examined. Because they can't prevent everything, tracks need to spend money on safety where it can make the biggest difference. Accepting that sadly means that we have to accept that sometimes, things happen outside of our control, and people will get hurt, sometimes very badly, or even fatally. 

If you want to hear the riders' view, there was an excellent piece on Crash.net about this, where the riders - including Espargaro - gave their views on the crashes at Motegi and safety in general. Worth taking the time to read.

Before they went to practice there for the 8 Hours, Espargaro and Smith both said they were really looking forward to it. After practice and the race, they both said it was one of the best tracks in the world, and possibly the very best. They also said it was really dangerous, and that they could understand why MotoGP doesn't go there.

Thank you for making me expand on something which really needed to be clarified. I hope you understand my point a little better now. You certainly raised some valid concerns. This is an incredibly difficult subject, which is impossible to get everyone to agree on. But it is important that we realize this is not a black and white issue, but one with many shades of gray. 

... the are no shortage of riders at the TT or Ulster GP.

I agree with David, you do what is feasible to improve safety, but at the end of the day, Motorcycle racing is dangerous (not always as dangerous as the TT though), and there is no way we can eliminate all of the risk.

If you come off at 200-350 km/h it is going to hurt. You can prevent a lot of injuries by making sure there is run off where appropriate, but there's still always the possibility of being run over (e.g., Simoncelli) or having your bike highside you and land on top of you (for example).

intermediates are no panacea. don't get all worked up about them. rarely does it pay to come in and change bikes, and on a damp track with no puddles, a slick is as good as an intermediate. this is a quote from kenny roberts book. intermediates will never be used to good effect except under the most lucky of circumstances next year.

It was impossible to tell on TV, but I actually wondered whether slicks were an option at any point at Motegi. When Baz came in, the commentators speculated that he was swapping to slicks. He wasn't, but I thought it was interesting that their attitude was more, "hmm, that may be a bit premature" rather than "is he freakin' crazy?!"

I definitely don't think that intermediates will be a game changer. The situations in which they're useful are pretty limited. But Motegi seemed like it may have been one of those situations, and--based on Smith's race--I'd guess they might have come in handy at Misano as well.

Interesting comment in that crash.net article from Dovisiozo. I was not aware that the airfence was less effective on glancing blows versus the more direct impacts. Maybe its the idea that air would be softer than steel and a glancing blow would not be as hard as the barrier. Then again, I guess the analogy of hitting water at speed is a good example. It is no different than hitting a brick wall even if you can swim through it.

Maybe the focus of safety should lay inward toward the bike's inertial movements during loss of trajectory control instead of trying to find ways to distance or soften the impact areas. With all the sensors they have on those bikes and huge data on almost every MotoGP circuit, would it be that hard to code recognition into the ECU of an expected path on the track (with appropriate leeway for recoverable runoffs and incidents) and use that data to somehow help mitigate the speed/trajectory of a bike off that path? Maybe apply engine braking or other controllable rider input?

I don't know. Just trying to think outside the box. Also, the investment in these types of safety advances could end up going to market if they prove viable on the prototypes. Track safety has no market value to a motorcycle manufacturer.

Was also thinking handlebar airbags or "fairing baglets" (since ***inglets seem to be all the rage these days) to shield riders from fences the bikes take them towards unexpectedly. Especially since they like to hold on when they can while going down. It would help with making a direct impact with an air barrier at least.

I shouldn't post when sleep deprived. lol

The problem with airfences is that if you don't hit them head on, you can slide underneath them, still hit the barrier and get stuck underneath them. That is then a very bad situation.

I believe the focus of safety is now shifting to wearable protection. Air bags were a start, and they are changing and growing to protect more of the body, and provide better protection. These are going to expand their function, and be refined. It actually makes sense that protective clothing will be the future, as it is the most direct form of protection for a rider. But it faces formidable technical challenges.