Teams work tirelessly to prepare their bike for each MotoGP race weekend.
No two events are the same.
Even year to year the track can be entirely different as seen recently in Austin Texas where the track surface had deteriorated or Silverstone in 2018 which was resurfaced only to prove unsuitable in wet conditions.
Every aspect of the track and the bike are analysed allowing the mechanics to set up the bikes for each rider’s preferences and the track conditions.
Apart from the track and the rider, mother nature also plays a huge role in what is needed to get the bike ready for race day.
So, what happens when inclement weather comes along and interrupts race weekend?
We look to Race Direction for a declaration of a wet or dry race.
They try to do this as early in the weekend as possible.
If rain is forecast prior to the weekend teams will set about having one bike for wet and one for dry and planning things like tyre allocation is easier.
But we know mother nature doesn’t always play by the rules of weather forecasting.
If you have been to Phillip Island you will understand the difficulties faced by a clear forecast only to have it pour down from the clear blue sky (yes that happens in Melbourne – weather changes unpredictably about every 15 minutes). (Join the club with Silverstone! – Ed)
In the case of sudden bad weather, teams are capable of making a bike ready for the wet in under 5 minutes.
Yep that’s right under 5 minutes!
This will include:
- shock absorbers
- rebalancing the bike
- electronic software changes
- and a rather odd change to the lower faring. More on this below.
That’s a pretty incredible effort on the mechanics’ part.
So, what are these changes exactly?
Probably the ones everyone talks about are the tyres and brakes.
While these are the most obvious the other changes are equally important but largely go unmentioned.
The suspension and shock absorber at the front will be changed.
The rear can be changed but it requires a lot more work and is only possible in the short time frame if the team already has a rear system all set and ready to be installed.
The bike will then require a rebalance which is a delicate process but essential for a smooth ride.
The electronic engineer will work on the ECU and IMU software (remember these are now unified software) making it more suited to wet weather. More information about the ECU and IMU software is available in our article here
One small but important change is then made to the lower faring where small caps are installed to catch any spillages from the bike (oil etc in the event of a technical failure).
These caps can fill with water in the rain so the teams change them out for ones with drainage holes.
Until recently if it rained teams needed to switch back to stainless steel discs due to temperature issues with the carbon fibre ones.
This is no longer the case thanks to advances in technology by Brembo, More information on MotoGP brakes is available in our article here.
Riders can now opt to stay on the carbon discs but the pads still need to be changed for wet weather pads.
In the event the team decides to revert to the steel discs in wet weather, this requires a full system change including the calipers and draining the hydraulic system.
The tyres for wet weather are created in the same way as slicks (dry weather tyres).
A selection of compounds are developed by Michelin taking into consideration climatic and track conditions for both wet and dry.
From here they will develop specific tyres in both asymmetrical and symmetrical options for different tracks (for more on tyre options and rules you can check out our blog article here).
Wet tyre options will usually be a soft, indicated by a white band or medium which has no colour.
They will also be offered in any asymmetrical options required.
But it’s not only changing the bike configuration
There are other matters to consider if a wet race is declared.
It may delay the start, Race Direction may have to issue a restart. It may even result in a shorter race.
In a once in a lifetime event, last year’s British GP was cancelled altogether due to the incredible downpours and standing water on the track.
In the event of a wet race there are a few different ways this could play out as follows
A dry race changes to wet race indicated by the white flag at marshal posts.
Riders are then free to enter the pits and change their bike.
This is the same if they start the race wet and the track dries out.
When this occurs, it is referred to as a flag to flag race.
If the race is declared wet before the race a board will be shown at the starting grid indicating it to be a wet race.
Where this is known before hand, the bikes they start with will be the wet setup.
The 2017 Brno MotoGP was a flag to flag race where all the riders started out on wet tyres.
The track was drying quickly and riders soon came in to switch bikes.
Marc Marquez stole an advantage as he knew his second bike was ready and pitted early.
Ducati did not have their two bikes ready when needed thus handing the advantage to Marquez who went on to win the race.
However, there are times where it seems the rain will hold off and a dry race is declared, the riders line up and rain begins to fall.
Again, they will show the board and allow the pits to reopen for bikes to be switched.
Here the rules are very difficult to get your head around and one can be forgiven for becoming confused.
Basically, there are a few ways the rules can play out.
The first is the timing of the rain means riders will remain in the pits with extra time allocated in the pits to make the needed adjustments, then the sighting and warm up laps continue as normal with a normal grid line up.
Second, they will be allocated extra time on the grid to make the required adjustments and last riders miss the opportunity at this point to make a change and must return to the pits and start their race from pit lane.
The rule book does contain the following clause:
“climatic conditions and their severity can never be accurately forecast Race Direction may react to specific situations by issuing different instructions. All instructions will be displayed on timekeeping monitors and teams will be informed by IRTA staff”
The result of this addition allows race direction to make whatever decision they need to for the safety of the riders and the event itself.
This is perhaps why there are times when the well laid out rules do not seem so clear cut to the viewers.
In severe weather the race may be red flagged and a restart is issued.
In the event this happens riders will return to their pit box and await notification the track is deemed safe and the quick start procedure will be followed.
This will be when we see the safety car, extra sighting laps and another warm up lap depending on the circumstances.
There is also the possibility the race is shortened to only two thirds its original length.
When the race is red flagged and not restarted in the event of severe weather or standing water it depends on how much of the race has occurred as to what happens with championship points.
If more than three quarters of the race has been completed full points are awarded based on the places when the race was red flagged.
In rare circumstances the event is cancelled without any racing at all.
This has happened at the 2018 British MotoGP and while race direction tried to come up with a solution including moving the race to the Monday it was in the end cancelled completely due to both the ongoing weather and the conditions of the track.
And that’s the basics of wet weather rules and adjustments in the event of inclement weather at a MotoGP event.
One thing is for sure though it doesn’t take away from the excitement and for the most part the fans don’t mind the occasional downpour.