Sometimes what happens in the Box can be more important than a rider’s performance on the track
Getting a top-ranking time is a walk in the park if you’re alone on the track and nobody gets in your way. This all changes during a race as the other riders cross your path. Sooner or later, you have to overtake them if you want to send the speedometer sky-high, but how?
Keep your friends close, but your fellow competitors even closer
Riders that compete in the same category normally end up getting to know each other’s riding style. Over time, after riding behind other riders and observing them during the pre-race practises, we can start to identify their strengths and weaknesses. During a race, we can stay put behind a rider for several laps just to analyse their bike and how they ride it. Ideally, we need to identify situations that we can turn into opportunities: do they brake quickly? Does their motorbike go off track? Do they go wide on turns? These signs can help us see where we can go faster and when to make our move.
Know the lay of the land
Studying the other riders isn’t enough. The riders must also know the track like the back of their hand. They need to update their knowledge constantly as new tracks may be included in the Championship, like Buriram in 2018 and the Red Bull Ring in 2016. There is also the possibility of the tracks being resurfaced or changed. Studying the different paths and how the track feels can give riders the little extra they need to leave the other competitors eating dust.
Come up with a winning strategy
Sometimes the winner of a race is decided even before the competitors cross the starting line, and what happens in the Box can be more important than a rider’s performance on the track, such as choosing the right tyre or setting up the bike’s electronics. After a number of training sessions before the race, the teams come up with a strategy. Sometimes they go for the more conservative or safer option, but occasionally we get to see how an ambitious set-up can really pay off. If the track conditions don’t change suddenly the rider sticks to the strategy, but when events take an unexpected turn they need to be a bit more flexible and improvise.
One of the most delicate strategic decisions is whether and when to change motorbike in a flag-to-flag race. Although this implies certain risks, being the first rider to change bike can be a great way to get ahead all the other competitors without having to overtake them. If the conditions ultimately force all other riders to change as well, the first one to have made this decision will be the first to start up again. This decision can have spectacular results, as Marc Márquez showed us in the Czech GP in 2017.
Take the bull by the horns
When you’re behind another rider whose bike has a similar specification and they block off the track on each curve so you can’t overtake them, there’s no way to get ahead. In this situation, patience, keeping a steady rhythm, and waiting for your opportunity is key. The pressure your opponent is feeling might cause them to make a mistake sooner or later. Or maybe they are pushing their bike to the limits to keep you behind. Whatever the case, you have to stay alert and be prepared to take an opportunity whenever it presents itself. If you see a gap, your motorbike is well positioned, and you can get past if you put your foot down, don’t think twice! The opportunity will pass in the blink of an eye.
This might sound difficult, but with a bit of experience riders can make these types of decisions in a millisecond. If you see that your rival goes a bit too wide on a turn and your bike is in the right position, don’t hesitate, just go for it!
If two bikes that are as powerful as one another are riding side by side, it-s practically impossible for one of them to overtake the other. The aerodynamics, weight, and gears may be different, but at the end of the day the numbers are going to be pretty similar. However, overtaking can be possible when the slipstream comes into play. The bikes may be equally powerful, but if you’re very close behind another rider the bike in front of you will experience greater air resistance. This is key for getting that extra push needed to overtake, as our motorbike isn’t fighting against this force. In this situation, we need to get behind our rival and use the engine at full power until we are able to overtake.
After leaving the back of the other bike at full throttle, the pilot that’s benefiting from the slipstream is going to go faster than usual. In these circumstances, it’s very important to be able to brake precisely to avoid going out of track in the next turn.