MotoGP Safety Commission Push To Remove Artificial Grass, Examine Flag-To-Flag Races

The events of the previous MotoGP race at Aragon look set to have a major impact on tracks around the world in the near future. The crashes by Valentino Rossi and Andrea Iannone, both of whom lost control of their bikes when they hit the still wet astroturf which lines the outside of the outer kerbs, caused the subject to be raised in the MotoGP Safety Commission at Motegi. There, the Safety Commission decided to ask the circuits hosting MotoGP races to remove all of the astroturf from the run off areas around the track. Dorna Managing Director Javier Alonso told the MotoGP.com website that they would start talks with circuits to get them to remove the astroturf as soon as possible, starting with the most dangerous parts of the tracks.

The decision is a complete reversal of the earlier policy devised by the Safety Commission, the closed and private forum in which MotoGP riders can discuss safety issues and other concerns with the FIM and Dorna. As a result of a previous request, tracks had started putting in astroturf on the run off areas. That was in response to changes made primarily for car racing, where gravel traps on the outside of corners have been replaced with hard standing, such as asphalted areas. The astroturf was put in place to prevent riders using the run off as extra race track, allowing them to take corners faster.

The crashes at Aragon were just the latest in a long list of incidents involving the astroturf, and demonstrating its downside. The material becomes exceptionally slick and slippery when it gets wet, making it extremely dangerous and unpredictable when you touch it. Even in the dry it can be dangerous: Stefan Bradl got caught while sliding over the astroturf, and fractured his leg in the ensuing tumble. A case can be made that it was the astroturf which was responsible for Shoya Tomizawa's fatal accident at Misano, when he slid and fell back on the track, in front of other riders. 

Those incidents meant that the subject of artificial grass in the run off area has been a recurring theme in the Safety Commission. The events at Aragon appear to have been the final straw, and the astroturf will now be removed again.

The question is, of course, what to replace it with? Most likely, the astroturf will simply be replaced by asphalt, once again opening the door for riders to use the extra run off as part of the track. That is already happening a lot with the kerbstones, riders using those as an extension of the track surface. More track space (either legal or illegal) will corner faster, requiring either more space or more airfence in the case of a crash. The faster riders crash, after all, the further they travel. And riders tend to slide much further over asphalt than they do over gravel. 

If astroturf or gravel are not to be used to prevent exceeding the track limits, that will leave Race Direction with a lot more work. The current punishment for exceeding the track limits is to drop a place, even if no advantage is gained. That can lead to strange and sometimes dangerous situations, such as happened to Jonas Folger at Misano. The German missed Turn 1, as so many riders to at the track, and was penalized for cutting the track and forced to drop a place. The problem was, Folger was over five seconds ahead of a group battling for 8th, and he had to wait around for them to catch him, then try to rejoin amidst a pack of riders fighting for position. The situation was technically correct, but entirely unsound from a safety perspective. If Race Direction are to spend more time punishing infractions for exceeding the track limit, they will have to spend both a lot more time and effort monitoring riders' positions, and enforcing the penalties correctly and safely.

The Safety Commission also discussed the procedures around flag-to-flag races, though no satisfactory conclusion was reached, Javier Alonso told MotoGP.com. Flag-to-flag races are the best way of allowing a race to be run to completion, and keep it within its allotted time slot on TV. The alternative is to red flag a race once it starts to rain, and then restart a new, shortened race to run to completion. That, too, has its dangers, as the shortened races invite riders to take much more risk, and can be very confusing for TV viewers if they are run on the basis of aggregate times. Having race officials decide on when riders should come in to swap bikes and tires is also undesirable, as the riders have a better idea of the grip all around the track, not just in certain sections. The flag-to-flag procedure is to be reviewed, and any proposals to be discussed at further meetings.

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Comments

i didn't think the flag to flag races were that dangerous. I love seeing them on TV. Aragon was a perfect example! It adds so much excitement wondering who will stay out or come in, or 'he was fast in wet, but the tack is starting to dry' and vice versa scenarios.

As for the turf, that would seem like a no brainer. But it kinda makes me think about what Casey was saying, the "safer" tracks get the less riders are worried about the consequence.

And if riders are cutting corners why not just add penalty time to the end of their race?

Total votes: 86

I just don't understand what the complaint is about flag to flag. To me, it is the riders displaying their supreme talent...AND BRAINS. The Aragon race was fantastic.

It should only be the riders who decide how much risk to take and when. It was brilliant for Marquez to admit that he was stupid to stay out at Aragon, and that's exactly what we were all thinking. But at least he had an excuse, which was his inexperience. Pedrosa had no excuse for following Marquez around with the experience that he has. EVERY other rider took to the box to change their bikes and had no problem.

Aggregate times was the worst thing I have ever seen. What we all want to see is elbow to elbow action, which in an aggregate race means absolutely nothing. It simply becomes a timed race and there is usually no point in battling with someone.

I hope they don't change it.

Total votes: 87

A compulsory pit window would be a good middle ground (like during the Australian tyre incident...).

Also set a time stopped - say 10 seconds or something so nobody has to drop bikes on wet concrete while in a mad rush with so many people about.

I guess it sanitises the whole thing, but if it keeps it safe then we can't complain.

Cheers

Dan

Total votes: 77

If tarmac replaces astroturf because the former's a health hazard, while the latter's a hazard to fairplay, then it's a trade off between clinica mobile and race direction; both post hoc.
The latter's a matter of good CCTV and perspicacity; the former of rolling dice with a herd of 250+HP mechanical bulls vs rider health.

Lose the impromtpu crash bait surface and displace penalty to race direction. They have more than enough leeway to make out of bounds as painful for a rider's championship as any crash. And much less tragic for the sport itself.

Total votes: 86

I supposed the astroturf should go. I do wonder why it's bad, but the turf, dirt or other stuff alongside the track - which is just as likely to knock a rider down if it's wet - is OK.

Bigger problem: Lack of testicular fortitude by Race Direction. Three times in recent years, race finishes and perhaps championships in MotoGP and WSBK have been affected when riders have clearly ridden off the circuit to make a pass and race officials went, in their best Sgt. Schultz impression, "I see nothink ..."

It's easy to penalize Folger running in 8th or whatever in Moto2.

It takes much, much more TF to penalize Rossi when the TV cash cow is fighting for the podium.

Safer is always better. But in this case it requires race officials to up their game, too.

Total votes: 89

Which rider would you pick to be the next Simoncelli or Tomizawa, over RD's potential TF? The scales just don't level. It has to be something else than a such an unpredictably, instantaneously, and irreversibly lethal alternative.

Life and death, versus sporting arbitration. One's a thin line of no return and the other as wide as inventiveness allows.

Total votes: 69

Perhaps I was unclear. I am agreeing with you; safety takes precedence over all. But if you have runoff areas that do not result in a rider falling or slowing dramatically, then Race Direction must have the stones to actually issue a penalty for leaving the racing surface that might result in a race winner being demoted. Imagine the whining of the Rossi fans had he actually been penalized, instead of praised, for "The Pass" at Laguna (which, by the rules, he should have been, for he clearly gained an advantage by leaving the racing surface). But there was no way Dorna was going to penalize their cash cow!

My point is this: I am unclear as to what purpose the Astroturf is/was supposed to serve. What is it an alternative to? I just spent all weekend at the track. If I were to go off the racing surface anywhere except for one corner at the Streets of Willow, I go onto desert sand. Is Astroturf better or worse than that? If it pours overnight, and the desert sand is still soaked, it would be like hitting quicksand.

Anyway, here's one idea for runoff that might pay dividends. This is from the Paul Ricard circuit:

The track is known for its distinctive black and blue runoff areas known as the Blue Zone. The runoff surface consists of a mixture of asphalt and tungsten, used instead of gravel traps, as common at other circuits.[3] A second, deeper run-off area is the Red Zone, with a more abrasive surface designed to maximize tyre grip and hence minimize braking distance, although at the cost of intense tyre wear. The final safeguard consists of Tecpro barriers, a modern improvement on tyre barriers.[3]

Total votes: 73

Roger.

I was actually thinking of Ricard. Of saying that that track's the first one I thought of when asking myself of what a track ought to look more like, as I wrote that reply above.

Total votes: 70

Like R6rider mentions above, Casey Stoner too was critical of all that tarmac instead of grass or gravel traps, seeing what it caused. It makes many riders take far more risks, also in crazy overtaking attempts. And seeing the wide tarmac area, they will more easily risk crossing that narrow bit of astroturf as well.

It's the same with the modern 'kerbstones', which are more and more simply a rough painting on the tarmac. That makes riders use them as part of the track, even on the inside of the corner, and then they cut across the astroturf or whatever is there - which is dangerous. So now we put more track on the inside and outside of the track, with race direction having to observe constantly if riders are within track limits or not, and what penalty to give for that. That's going to be some work.
And even if they can monitor everything, there's still the danger of accidents like that during the Formula One race at Silverstone, where Raikkonen ran off track, kept on going full speed on the massive asphalt area and caused havoc when he re-entered the track with 250 km/h or thereabouts.

Running off track simply has to cost you serious time or even cause you to fall down. All one can (and has to) do is minimize the chance of injury with enough space, tall grass, airfences and so on. Motorcycle racing will never be 100% safe, so trying to achieve that is hopeless. Trying to convince riders to stay on track in the first place sounds like the best of all options.
Just my opinion of course.

That said, I don't think Rossi's crash had anything to do with him taking extra risks, just with Pedrosa going slow and wide unexpectedly. Still, I think no astroturf but simply grass and a gravel trap would have been kinder to him.

Total votes: 80

...was an Italian riding wit a certan 46 number. If Ianonne was the only victim of astroturf, no one would enver mention it. A sort of Ratzenberger. When Senna was killed, well all hel broke loose.

Total votes: 75

If that's the case then I'm sure many riders will have cause to thank VR in the years to come, and that's not a bad legacy to leave for today's juniors.

Someone, sooner or later, will come up with a surface that does what's needed, and whoever does will be a clever chap or chap-ess. You need to take just enough speed away to make it not worthwhile to exceed the limits, but not so much that you endanger that rider and those that are following. And because it's bikes rather than cars you can't really use hard-material ride through obstacles. For me, it also needs to be a visual penalty, not a 5 second add-on. There's nothing worse than seeing someone win or whatever only to be demoted post-race. Maybe this is crazy but mightn't rumble strip work, where the bumps are so small and spaced out that they still leave the rider with a very good chance of retaining control, but he's going to have to ride through that area in a straight line for 10 metres before even thinking of leaning, with narrow, laned, compulsory re-entry points that disadvantage bike placement for the next corner? A bit like F1 pit-stop exits? I'm not so sure what you could do on the insides of corners other than perhaps again use rumble, with the bumps becoming progressively bigger towards the inside of the kerb until you really don't want to be there.

One of the thrills of bike racing is seeing a rival going out of contention through binning it, but preferably walking away while throwing a major strop, rather than leaving on a stretcher. I'd hate to see that disappear altogether, it's one of the things that makes bike racing unique.

Total votes: 75