Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Are track limits MotoGP’s new tyranny?

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Are track limits MotoGP’s new tyranny?

Some people hate MotoGP’s rules over track-limits, but to understand why they are there we need to look at racing safety over the years

It’s a funny old world. Here we are in 2019 arguing about MotoGP riders exceeding track limits when motorcycle racing already had the best punishment for this crime more than a hundred years ago.

Great big stone walls did the job just fine – the ultimate deterrent to riders who sought to better their lap times by taking faster, wider lines.

Of course, the punishment could be severe. But, hey, as cynics used to say (and some still do) “the throttle works both ways”.

The first rider to fatally exceed track limits at the Isle of Man TT was Rudge factory rider Victor Surridge, who ran wide exiting the Glen Helen left-hander and rode into a rockface, on 27th July 1911.

Helpers at the nearby hotel tried to revive him with brandy, but without success.

Similar ends for riders pushing the boundaries were horrifically common over the decades, until clever people created purpose-built race tracks on open land, so the asphalt wasn’t bordered by walls, buildings and telegraph poles.

In Britain, dozens of these tracks were born out of disused Second World War airfields, including Goodwood, a vital Battle of Britain base.

Goodwood hosted its first (and last) motorcycle meeting in April 1951, which was dominated by Norton’s Geoff Duke. You would’ve thought that everyone would’ve been delighted by the track’s improved safety. But no, one reporter harrumphed that it allowed riders to see all the way through the corners, which encouraged them to take risks they wouldn’t usually take.

Purpose-built circuits saved the lives of countless bike racers, but soon they started killing them again. During the late 1960s, Formula 1 drivers demanded Armco barriers to contain the flight of out-of-control F1 cars. The barriers were an important safety improvement for car racers, but they were no softer than brick-walls for bike racers. In the Grand Prix paddock, they were nicknamed “death rails.”

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Total votes: 4
Total votes: 1

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Comments

Informative piece as ever Mat.

I’m incredulous at the btl commenter who thinks MotoGP should be dangerous enough to produce one death a year. Your reply asking ‘which one should that be?’ was priceless.

 

Total votes: 6

Track limits are the way to go in my book; while I take the same vicarious pleasure as some others in seeing someone overcook it, without exception I want to see them walk away with nothing worse than injured pride and scuffed leathers. And too often that wasn’t the case in the past, not because the rider made a mistake but because the means of trying to contain or manage the consequences made the mistake far more dangerous than it needed to be, in such a controlled environment. This, after all, is not road racing; that’s still there for those that want that degree of risk. 

I guess track limits are similar to jump starts. They are all about overstepping a line and the punishment for that infringement is almost always totally disproportionate to the gain. But there’s more of a case for such apparent disproportionality with track limits, because the alternative methods of dissuading overstepping the mark - litter, grass, whatever - would mean crossing that line would probably mean a crash and the end of your race, or at best a detour through the kitty litter that cost 20 or 30 seconds. So I think that should be the reference point, and if you cross the line - any time, not three times - you should have a penalty loop or ride through. For sure there would be some rubbish races and unpopular judgements as a consequence from time to time, but these are extremely skilled riders and they’d soon learn to just about avoid incurring that penalty, much as they just about avoid crashing about 2 or 3 hundred times every race.

Total votes: 4

Yes racing needs to be as safe as possible because no one likes seeing their favourite rider injured.  And yes, penalties for exceeding track limits is the best way to accomplish that.

Mind you, riders do seem to be “taking the piss” with it a fair bit recently.  So how should that be combatted without race results being decided after the checkered (which we can probably all agree, no one wants).

If we can’t have grass, gravel, astro turf and slippery pain edging a track for safety reasons, cant rippled kerbs be made more aggressive?  Enough to upset the bike and cost a little time/exit-drive without causing crashes?  Tyres, suspension and grippy paint have all but negated the penalty kerbs used to afford to a riders lap time.  Riders use every inch of the track and kerbs and the ripples in the kerbs are gently enough that there is no penalty.

Well, why don’t they make the ripples bigger?  Big enough to upset the bike a bit and discourage riding over them, but not big enough to cause a problem if a rider slides over the top for one in a crash.  From memory, Indianapolis has a couple of those kerbs leading onto the oval, and pretty sure no rider had any advantage when the slipped over the edge of one of those (and it led to that memorable Dovisioso and Hayden shot of two Ducati’s with both wheels off the group negotiating it in a last lap battle).

Total votes: 3

While not your intent i'd be remiss not to mention those dreadful Indy kerbs are in part why Peter Lenz was killed at the GP there some 10 yrs ago.  Witness accounts were he went over one of these kerbs and the bike developed headshake then highsided after which he was fine until bieng hit by another rider back in the pack.  I don't want to relive this for anyone but felt the connection to your comment above to great not to mention.  RIP. 

Total votes: 1

I guess most riders would say they are more scared of the accident of the bloke three feet in front than their own. Because anytime one bike goes into another the outcome is doubly uncertain. And anything that upsets the bike creates a risk of a crash, including any sudden deceleration, especially when the bikes are nose to tail. There are accidents we don’t talk about on here because they were so tragic, but where you just know the outcome would have been very different if the rider had had the same crash but without other bikes a fraction of a second behind.

Total votes: 1

its getting you used to the surveillance of you, with arbitrary judgements made by "the power that be" whether your intent was honourable was or not.

Because it's introduced to you on telly, it's not such a shock when it happens to you in real life. It's coming very shortly, possibly after the next "engineered financial crash", which again, is coming very shortly!

George Orwell would have been very interested!

 

Total votes: 2

We have a good entertainment deal not to dismiss too. The polite era is over, riders are swapping paint more. The tire/bike tech and performance envelope is WAY up, rising to meet the safety one. And fantastically, riders are massaging the pliable envelope more...exploring the limit methodically, regularly, frequently.

You can't have all these fantastic saves, slides, and paint-swapping passes with diverse lines with just airfence nearby.

Total votes: 28

Why can't the spec ECU simply cut hp in half the moment it senses both tires on the green? The tech exists.

Total votes: 19

Sure it does but at what cost? I had similar thought once but wouldn't that require burying some wire around the perimeter of every circuit they race on? Not to mention the sudden deceleration that could trigger an accident to a close pursuer?

I think it's simply a matter of coming up with a policing policy such as, any time you cross said limit and you weren't avoiding an accident or weren't forced off by a competitor, you get whatever penalty has been agreed upon. This HAS to be decided before the season starts and not changed before it ends and the officials HAVE to be consistent in handing out the penalties every, damn, time, w/o exception. Anything less and the riders will always be trying to exploit what they can. My 2 cents anyway... ;)

Total votes: 1

You can smooth the reduction of power with electronics to make it safe, same as the opposite. If the pursuer is also on the green then no issue--I don't think it would be unsafe. Losing your drive, having "only" 150 hp, will drive a motogp racer crazy, preventing further green zone excursions. Instant feedback, very Pavlovian. Why not?

 

 

Total votes: 1