SportsHow to Avoid More Rider Deaths Without Detracting from Motorcycle Racing

How to Avoid More Rider Deaths Without Detracting from Motorcycle Racing

The world begins to look at motorcycle racing with different eyes. Too many dead in too little time. Even the drivers do it, tired of attending minutes of silence only a few hours (or minutes) of fighting at full speed on a speed circuit. The perspective of the promoters themselves, who are known to be observed, has also changed.

The business works. Equality, maximum competition and opportunities for all. Pillars on which the motorcycle races organized by the Spanish company Dorna are based, which exploits the rights to the MotoGP and Superbike championships and has also promoted a handful of promotional cups for young talents.

However, the increase in multiple accidents on the circuits has put Dorna on alert. And the role of race management and the panel of commissioners on whom competition sanctions depend has been strengthened. Two almost anecdotal moments lived just a week ago in two of the smaller displacement categories of the MotoGP and Superbike World Championships serve as a sample.

It was Saturday, the sun was shining in the Portuguese Algarve and the SSP 300 riders took to the track to contest the Superpole and earn a good place on the starting grid. A few minutes later, the race management raised the red flag and suspended the session. He received all the pilots, about forty, in the hallway in front of the team garages. And he began to yell at them.

There were a lot of lazy riders on the track, at a slow pace, waiting for some fast colleague whose wheel they could catch. And for each other, no one pulled. Neither pride nor motorcycle. The scene has been seen countless times in the small categories, where the slip-ups save your day. And it is dangerous. Much. “They were told that this was not the behavior of professional pilots. If you are in the World Championship, you have to set an example ”, explains Gregorio Lavilla, director of the Superbike World Championship.

These attitudes were usually punished with a posteriori sanctions. There have been many in recent years. “But, it got to an untenable situation in which the pilots did not pay any attention. We had to stop ”, he adds.

The other episode happened two Sundays ago, at the Austin circuit. The Moto3 race was suspended after a spectacular crash. It was resumed: race reduced to five laps. There was another accident. Up to four pilots were involved. The images are chilling. One of them, Andrea Migno, with the shock still in his body, desperately asked someone to do something, that this had been a fatal fall, that he was very lucky. A few hours later it was learned that the panel of commissioners of the International Motorcycle Federation (FIM) sanctioned the cause of the accident, Deniz Öncü, with two great suspension prizes, for irresponsible driving. His abrupt and unexpected change of direction on the straight caused the crash.

The last similar sanction that is remembered – beyond the act of indiscipline that cost him the season and a contract for Romano Fenati in 2018 – dates back to 2005 and has as its protagonist a beardless Jorge Lorenzo, who, already mature, always remembered how that punishment that forced him to watch two races on TV made him aware of the limits that one must impose in the fight for a position on the track.

“Hopefully Deniz reaches the premier class, is champion and says the same as Lorenzo. It was an exemplary sanction, ”says Carlos Ezpeleta, MotoGP general director. A sanction, in addition, that made even more sense after having lost a few days before a young pilot, Dean Berta Viñales, who died at the age of 15 after being involved in a multiple accident during the SSP 300 race of the World Superbike in the Jerez circuit.

“All world motorcycling knew what situation we were in,” emphasizes Ezpeleta, who assumes that improving safety is the most important challenge facing Dorna right now.

In the last four years, five pilots have died, four of them minors, 14 and 15 years old. They all competed in the so-called small categories, those with the smallest displacement —250cc or 300cc, as in Moto3 or SSP 300—, with similar characteristics, all covered by Dorna.

The riders raced with light bikes (less than 100 kilos; a MotoGP weighs 157), fast (they reach maximum speeds of 190 to 240 km / h), that look for the slips and with which a piloting that rewards speed in the race is imposed. cornering. “These bikes don’t have as much power as those of the higher categories, so when they crash, they tend to stay on the track longer; they don’t shoot out like the big ones ”, explains Lavilla, referring to the high number of abuses seen lately.

In addition, as in recent years the regulations have been put in place to equalize the competition as much as possible and give more and more opportunities to young people, this translates into races in which the distances between drivers are practically nil. What also affects the dangerousness. “A few years ago you finished the race at 10 seconds and you were third. Now, hopefully, you finish the 15 ″, warns Ezpeleta.

Report a fall

Dean Berta Viñales’ fatal accident marked a turning point. Meetings and talks have happened. All the parties involved – Dorna, in addition to the FIM, the manufacturers and the Federations, especially the Spanish one – are looking for solutions.

Beyond the immediate action that depends on race direction, as seen in the last weekend of races in the Algarve and Austin, to guarantee the good behavior of the drivers, decisive measures are imposed. The first ones were pointed out by the president of the RFME, Manuel Casado, to this newspaper days ago: increase the minimum age to compete —12 is the minimum to debut in the Junior World Championship or one of the Talent Cups with a 250cc motorcycle— and reduce the volume of drivers on the grid, which in SPP 300 reaches 42 drivers, for example.

The other solutions need technology. Work is being done, for example, to improve communication with pilots in competition so that they can be immediately warned of possible falls on the track, to prevent other riders from being involved in the accident.

“We have a bigger challenge: to improve the equipment. We have been talking with manufacturers, both helmets and overalls. We try to take small steps that allow us to make a difference, ”says the MotoGP director. For example, it is being studied to extend the mandatory use of airbags in pilots’ leather suits to all competitions. Today it is only essential in the three categories of the MotoGP World Championship. And the airbag, in addition to minimizing the risk of injury, can also save lives.

“We will have to invest time and money,” assumes Lavilla.

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