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MotoGP is the premier class of motorcycle racing at Grand Prix level held on road circuits all over the world. It is the oldest established motor sport world championship. It is very colourful, full of drama, has so much action packed into each race. It is hugely popular all over the world, even in far flung places such as Alaska, Antarctica, The Falkland Islands, Iceland, Siberia and Tasmania. Millions of people watch as the gladiators of speed do battle.
A Grand Prix motorcycle is a prototype built racing machine that is generally unavailable to buy by the general public and cannot be ridden legally on public roads. Full of the latest technological advancements and sophisticated electronics which govern the engine and monitor hundreds of components, it has a powerful computer on board which stores all the information that can be downloaded to a computer in the pit box.
This information is analysed and adjustments made to the machine. Also the electronics can be modified so the bike delivers just the right amount of power for each turn. It has programs for the race start, anti-wheelie, traction control and power maps, which can be changed during the race. Riders can select different power maps as the race progresses, or the tyres degrade and for both wet and dry race conditions.
From 2018 all MotoGP teams have a text messaging system which can send an approved message to the riders during the race. This message is displayed on the rider's dash board and is also sent to race control automatically.
The championships are currently contested in three classes: MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3. All three classes use four‑stroke engines.
The MotoGP Class
MotoGP, the premier class of GP motorcycle racing, has changed dramatically in recent years.
From the mid-1970s through to 2001, the top class of GP racing allowed a 500cc engine with a maximum of four cylinders, regardless of whether the engine was a two‑stroke or four‑stroke. Consequently, all machines were two‑strokes, due to their greater power output for a given engine capacity. Some two and three cylinder two‑stroke 500s were seen. They had a minimum-weight advantage under the rules and typically attained higher corner speed so could qualify well, but they lacked the power of the four‑cylinder machines.
In 2002, rule changes were introduced to facilitate the phasing out of two‑strokes. The rules permitted manufacturers to choose between running two‑stroke engines of 500cc or less or four‑strokes of 990cc or less. Manufacturers were also permitted to use their choice of engine configuration. Despite the significantly increased costs involved in running the new four‑stroke machinery, given their extra 490cc capacity advantage, the four‑strokes were soon able to dominate over two‑stroke machines. As a result, by 2003 no two‑stroke machines remained in the MotoGP field. The 125cc and 250cc classes did consist exclusively of two‑stroke machines.
In 2007, the MotoGP class had its maximum engine displacement capacity reduced to 800cc for five years. For the 2012 season the capacity has increased again to 1,000cc.
As a result of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, MotoGP underwent changes in an effort to cut costs. Among them are reducing Friday practice sessions, banning active suspension, launch control and ceramic composite brakes, extending the lifespan of engines and reducing testing sessions, some of which have remained.
MotoGP class machines are not restricted to any specific engine configuration. However, the number of cylinders used by all the manufacturers are four.
On 11 December 2009, the Grand Prix Commission announced that the MotoGP class would switch to a 1,000cc motor limit starting in the 2012 season. Maximum displacement was limited to 1,000cc, maximum cylinders were limited to four, and maximum bore was capped at 81mm. From 2016, all teams use the same standard ECU, supplied by Magneti Marelli. This was for greater control over electronic costs so that non factory teams can be more competitive.
The factory teams can only have 20 litres of race fuel, five engine changes for the year and a ban on in‑season engine development, again to make it more competitive for non factory teams.
The Moto2 class
Moto2 is the 600cc four‑stroke class, launched in 2010 to replace the traditional 250cc two‑stroke class. Engines are supplied exclusively by Honda up to 2019. Only steel brake discs are allowed. However, there are no chassis limitations.
From 2019 engines will be supplied by Triumph with capacity increased to 675cc, tyres by Dunlop and electronics only from FIM sanctioned producers.
The Moto3 class
The 125cc class was replaced in 2012 by the Moto3 class. This class is restricted to single‑cylinder 250cc four‑stroke engines. Honda and KTM engines are main choice, KTM, Peugeot (basically a rebadged KTM) and Mahindra did supply engines and full race machines, Mahindra withdrew at the end of 2017. The minimum total weight for motorcycle and rider is 148kg (326lb). Riders in the Moto3 class cannot be older than 28 years, or 25 years for new contracted riders participating for the first time and wild‑cards.
The highest speed for a MotoGP motorcycle in 125cc category is 249.76km/h (155.19mph) by Valentino Rossi in 1996 for Aprilia and the top speed in the history of MotoGP is 351.2km/h (218.2mph) set by Andrea Dovizioso riding a Ducati during warm‑up at the 2016 Qatar Grand Prix.
World Championship Race Scoring
Current points system for all classes.
The starting grid is formed of three riders per row and has approximately 25 riders. Grid positions are decided in descending order of qualifying speed, with the fastest on the pole or first position. For MotoGP only: Qualifying takes place over two sessions based on the fastest riders during all three free practise sessions. The top ten go straight to Qualifying two, the others go into qualifying one with the top two going into Q2.
Races last approximately 45 minutes. Each race is started with the engines running and is a sprint from start to finish without pitting for fuel or tyres unless weather conditions change from the start.
In 2005, a flag-to-flag rule for MotoGP was introduced. Previously, if a race started dry and rain fell, officials could red‑flag (stop) the race and either restart or resume on 'wet' tyres. Now, when rain falls, a white flag is shown, indicating that riders can pit to swap the motorcycle on which they started the race for an identical one, as long as the tyres are different. Besides different tyres, the wet-weather bikes have steel brake discs and different brake pads instead of the carbon discs and pads used on 'dry' bikes. This is because the carbon brakes need to be very hot to function and the water cools them too much. The suspension is also 'softened' up somewhat for wet conditions.
When a rider crashes, track marshals up the track from the incident wave yellow flags, which prohibit passing in that area; one corner further up the track, a stationary yellow flag is shown. If a fallen rider cannot be moved safely from the track the race is usually red‑flagged and the race stopped. Motorcycle crashes are usually one of two types: lowside, when the bike loses either front or rear tyre grip and slides out on the "low" side, and the more dangerous highside, when the tyres don't completely slide out then grips the track surface again, flipping the bike over to the "high side", usually catapulting the rider over the top. Increased use of traction control has made highsides much less frequent. On occasion riders do crash into each other too!
According to estimates, leasing two top-level motorcycles for one rider costs about 3 to 3.5 million UK pounds for a racing season.
Hover your pointer over a rider to see his name. Click to go to the rider's profile page.
These are the top riders in the world. They travel along with their teams to compete in the annual FIM World Championship series. The championship is the third most popular spectator sport in the world. Perhaps most closely followed in Italy and Spain, home of many of the more successful riders early in the 21st century. From the 2011 season, 25 riders of eight nations participate in the premier class of the championship.
- Roland Potter