MotoGP riders have to face the start of each race on machines with more than 240 horsepower, 22 litres of petrol in the tank, and cold tyres. It is a highly risky moment that has to be handled perfectly since the rest of the race depends on it. With all the riders wanting to hit the first turn in a good position, a good start does not guarantee victory or a place on the podium, but making a mistake in the first few feet of a GP can destroy any chance of victory.
The rider must be in harmony with the bike, and human control and the response of the machine must be perfect. A series of guidelines and procedures need to be followed to achieve this.
Setting up the rider and bike
In the training sessions, riders do practise starts during training sessions and mechanics make observations to adjust the bike’s set-up.
On Sunday, checks are carried out to make sure the machine is working correctlyand we do a reconnaissance lap to revise track conditions. This is so that before Race Direction shows the sign indicating there are three minutes left before the start of the race and most mechanics leave the track, the bike can be adjusted to both tarmac and weather conditions.
After the mechanics have left the track, riders use the warm up lap to check the engine’s maximum power, to make sure it is performing adequately, and that the brakes are correctly set up. Since in some GPs the riders must wait on the starting grid for a few seconds, it is extremely important that riders work hard to heat up their tyres and brakes enough during this lap. This is crucial to start off well and also to get to the first turn knowing they will be able to brake..
The moment of truth
Once all the riders are in their positions on the grid, the riders activate launch control, an electronic support system that allows the bike to accelerate with maximum efficiency without losing traction when starting from a stationary position.
This way, riders can hold out the time needed for Race Direction, after seeing that everything is in place, to turn on the light. That’s when the riders start to accelerate, getting ready to release the clutch as soon as the red lights are switched off whilst taking care not to burn it, and find the best position in the first few feet of the race.
Every rider knows that in just a few feet they’re competing to get into a good position for the first turn, so starting well and avoiding problems is of the utmost importance. How they hit the first turn will affect the following laps, the most chaotic of the GP, with a huge amount of riders tightly packed together on cold bikes still filled with petrol.
Well remembered starts from the past
You don’t have to look too far back to find starts where a rider started far back on the grid, even from the pit lane, and did well… even ending up winning the race!
Dani Pedrosa, in a wet and complicated 2012 Valencian Grand Prix, where he was starting in pole position, went into the pit lane after the warm up lap and changed bike, opting for dry tyres. This manoeuvre forced Pedrosa to start out of the pit lane. Even so, he managed to beat 21 riders and came first, beating the runner up by 37 seconds.
In the 2015 Italian Grand Prix, Marc Márquez had a stunning start which is worth remembering. The rider from Cervera began in 13th position in the starting grid, but after the first turn he was already in sixth position. Unfortunately, number 93 was later unable to finish the race, but nevertheless he left a strong impression with his great start.
If these moments are not forgotten, it is because they represent exceptions to the norm. Generally, being in a good position in the starting grid is important in securing a strong position after the first turn, which is a key element to ensuring a chance of winning the race. This is why all MotoGP racers are perfectly aware of the significance of a successful start.