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Grand Prix motorcycle racing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Grand Prix motorcycle racing refers to the premier category of motorcycle road racing, currently divided into three distinct classes: 125 cc, 250 cc and MotoGP (as of 2007, up to 800 cc). Grand prix motorcycles are purpose-built racing machines that are neither available for general purchase nor can be legitimately ridden on public roads; this contrasts with the various production categories of racing, such as World Superbike, that feature modified versions of road-going motorcycles available to the public.


A World Championship for motorcycle racing was first organized by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) in 1949. The commercial rights are owned by Dorna Sports

There have traditionally been several races at each event for various classes of motorcycles, based on engine size, and one class for sidecars. Classes for 50 cc, 80 cc, 125 cc, 250 cc, 350 cc, and 500 cc single seaters have existed over time, and 350 cc and 500 cc sidecars. Up through the 1950s and most of the 1960s, four-stroke engines dominated all classes. In the 1960s, two-stroke engines began to take root in the smaller classes. By the 1970s, two-strokes completely eclipsed the four-strokes. In 1979, Honda made an attempt to return the four-stroke to the top class with the NR500, but this project failed, and in 1983, even Honda was winning with a two-stroke 500. The 50 cc class was replaced by an 80 cc class, then the class was dropped entirely in the 1990s, after being dominated primarily by Spanish and Italian makes. The 350 cc class vanished in the 1980s. Sidecars were dropped from World Championship events in the 1990s (see superside), reducing the field to 125s, 250s, and 500s.

Yamaha YZR-M1 MotoGP bike
Yamaha YZR-M1 MotoGP bike

MotoGP, the premier class of GP motorcycle racing, has changed dramatically in recent years. From the mid-1970s until 2002 the top class of GP racing was restricted to four cylinders and 500 cc, regardless of whether the engine was a two-stroke or four-stroke. Consequently, all machines were two-strokes, due to the greater power output for a given engine capacity. Some twin-cylinder two-stroke 500s were seen, but though they typically attained higher corner speed and could qualify well, they lacked the power of the four-cylinder machines. In 2002, rule changes permitted manufacturers to choose between running two-strokes engines (500 cc or less) or four-strokes (990 cc or less). Manufacturers were also permitted to employ their choice of engine configuration. The new four-stroke machinery proved to have too many advantages over their two-stroke rivals, and, as a result, by 2003 no two-stroke machines remained in the MotoGP field. The 125 cc and 250 cc classes still consist exclusively of two-stroke machines. In 2007, the MotoGP class will have its maximum engine displacement capacity reduced to 800 cc.

The current racing calendar consists of 18 rounds in 16 different countries (Spain which hosts 3 rounds, Qatar, Turkey, China, France, Italy, Great Britain, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, San Marino, Portugal, Japan, Australia and Malaysia). Exclusive to the MotoGP class, there is also a USA round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The grid is composed of 3 columns (4 for the 125 cc class) and contains approximately 20 riders. Grid positions are decided in descending order of qualifying speed, the fastest on the 'pole' or first position. Races last approximately 45 minutes, each race a sprint from start to finish without pitting for fuel or tyres.

Tyre selection is critical, usually done by the individual rider based on bike 'feel' during practice, qualifying and the pre-race warm-up laps on the morning of the race, as well as the predicted weather. The typical compromise is between grip and longevity--the softer and 'grippier' the tyre, the more quickly it wears out; the harder and less grippy, the more likely the tyre is to last the entire race. Tyre choice often determines the winner. Special 'Q' or qualifying tyres of extreme softness and grip are typically used by riders during grid qualifying sessions, but they last typically no longer than one or two laps, though they may deliver higher qualifying speed. For wet conditions, special tyres ('wets') with full treads are used, but they suffer extreme wear if the track dries out.

In 2005, a flag-to-flag rule for MotoGP was introduced. Previously, if a race started dry and rain appeared, riders or officials could red-flag (stop) the race and begin again on wet tyres. Now, if it begins to rain there is no red flag, though riders can pit to change their tyres at their discretion (and if a white flag is waved by officials). This rule came into play for the first time at the 2006 Phillip Island (Australia) round, where all riders switched mid-race to their spare bikes shod with rain tyres.

When a rider crashes, track marshalls wave a yellow flag, prohibiting passing in that area; one corner back, a stationary yellow flag is shown and passing in this area of the track is prohibited; if a fallen rider cannot be safely evacuated from the track, the race is red-flagged. Motorcycle crashes are usually one of two types: lowsides and highsides. A lowside is when the motorcycle falls onto the side closest to the ground mostly caused by the front tyre having lost grip, usually from cornering too sharply or using too much front brake; a highside is when a motorcycle flips in the opposite direction of the turn. Highsides occur from the back tyre losing grip, starting to spin and slide and then suddenly achieving grip which, in turn, catapults the rider off of the motorcycle into the air.

According to a recent estimate, leasing a top-level motorcycle for a rider is about 3 to 3.5 million dollars.[1]


The full list of current and historic motorcycle racers can be found at List of Grand Prix motorcycle racers.

The top riders travel the world to compete in the annual FIM World Championship series. The circuit is perhaps most closely followed in Italy and Spain, home of many of the more successful riders at the moment. However, over the last couple of years there has been an increase in the number of riders competing from the USA. This has resulted in the reintroduction in 2005 of the US Grand Prix (albeit just for the MotoGP class, not 125 cc & 250 cc), an event staged at Laguna Seca where American Nicky Hayden took his maiden MotoGP victory. Another American, Colin Edwards, gained second place in that race. In 2006, Hayden repeated his winning performance at Laguna Seca, despite serious difficulties with the track that--though repaved in June 2006, and incorporating improved safety features--exhibited serious problems with surface deterioration. Hayden went on to win the GP championship of 2006, with winner of the past 5 titles, Valentino Rossi, coming in second.

The premier class in past seasons has been dominated by Italian Valentino Rossi, winner of the 2001 to 2005 titles. In an effort to beat Valentino's amazing consecutive victories, other companies have signed younger riders on newly designed machines. Honda in particular have taken this approach, with their 2006 racing plans being specific about winning with 'next-generation' teams, signing Toni Elias, Marco Melandri, Dani Pedrosa, Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner, all of whom are under 25. Controversy has arisen over rider weight, since--most specifically--Dani Pedrosa is about forty pounds lighter than the average riders, giving him a marked advantage in terms of acceleration, corner speed, lower fuel consumption and reduced tyre wear. In context, racers in the 125 cc class are weighed with their machines vs. a minimum total weight.

The 2006 championship was the first in 14 years to be decided at the final race, with Valentino Rossi starting the race with an 8 point lead. Nicky Hayden finished 3rd with Valentino Rossi finishing 13th after crashing on lap 5 to give Nicky Hayden his maiden Championship title.

Challenges for the Designer

Cockpit of a GP-racing motorcycle
Cockpit of a GP-racing motorcycle

Like Formula One cars, grand prix motorcycles are made not only to be raced but to demonstrate the technical and design prowess of the manufacturer. As a result, MotoGP machines are generally made of lightweight and expensive materials such as titanium and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. They regularly feature technology not available to the general public.

Examples of this include sophisticated electronics, including telemetry, engine management systems and traction control, carbon disk brakes, and advanced engine technology such as those seen on Honda's V5 RC211V and Aprilia's RS3 Cube. The latter employs the Cosworth-designed pneumatic valve actuation system, used in Formula One cars. The latest addition to the MotoGP grids, the Ilmor/SRT X3 machine, seen at the Estoril (Portugal) and Valencia (Spain) events in 2006, reportedly uses a similar valve-actuation design, not surprising considering Ilmor Engineering's background in Formula One.

While MotoGP motorcycles are only raced at world championship level, the lighter and significantly less powerful 125 cc and 250 cc bikes are available at relatively reasonable cost. A basic production 125 cc bike costs about the same as a small car. These bikes are raced in national championships around the world as well as in the world championship, though their two-stroke technology is irrelevant in context with production machines. These two smaller classes are considered excellent training for future MotoGP riders.

One of the main challenges that confronts a MotoGP motorcycle rider and designer is how to translate the machine's enormous power - over 240 horsepower (179 kW), through a single tyre-contact patch roughly the size of a human hand. For comparison, Formula 1 cars produce up to 750 bhp (560 kW) from their 2.4 litre engines, but have 10 times the tyre-contact surface. Because of this difficulty, MotoGP is perhaps unique in modern motor sport in that teams will often deliberately detune their engines to allow their riders a chance to control them. In the two-stroke era, many of the 500 cc machines were not making more than the 180 to 190 bhp (135 to 140 kW) although their maximum potential power output was higher. In recent times this has begun to change with the advent of traction control. Part of the rider compromise, significantly affected by ECU (Engine Control Unit) technology, is that explosive torque at lower RPM may cause the rear tyre to spin unless modulated, causing riders to use higher RPM where torque changes are less severe. This consideration also affects gear selection for the individual circuit, which comprises an essential element in setup before and during practice and qualification.


The following shows the key specifcations issues for each class. It was also introduced for the 2005 year, that under rule 2.10.5: 'No fuel on the motorcycle may be more than fifteen °C (15 °C) below ambient temperature. The use of any device on the motorcycle to artificially decrease the temperature of the fuel below ambient temperature is forbidden. No motorcyle may include such a device.' This stops an artificial "boost" gained by increasing fuel density by cooling it.


125 cc and 250 cc Classes

125 cc KTM Grand Prix motorcycle
125 cc KTM Grand Prix motorcycle

125 cc machines are restricted to a single cylinder and a minimum weight of 80 kilograms and the 250 cc machines to two cylinders and a minimum of 100 kilograms. From 2005 onwards, all riders in the 125 cc class could not be older than 28 years or 25 years for new contracted riders participating for the first time and wild-cards.

MotoGP Class

New specifications for each racing class are formed as the FIM sees fit. At the beginning of the new MotoGP era in 2002, 500 cc two-stroke or 990 cc four-stroke bikes were specified to race. The enormous power advantage of the larger displacement four-stroke engine over the two-stroke eliminated all two-strokes from competition; the following season no two-stroke bikes were racing.

MotoGP class motorcycles are not restricted to any specific engine configuration. Rather, the motorcycle's minimum weight is restricted depending on the number of cylinders. This is because an engine with more cylinders for a given capacity is capable of producing more power more easily. The greater the number of cylinders for a given capacity translates to less capacity per cylinder. As a result, the piston for the resulting smaller cylinder is also smaller, weighing less. Less recriprocating mass (such as pistons) require less energy to move and this aids to the engine being capable of achieving higher revolutions per minute and, hence, greater power. For this reason, the weight limit is increased as a form of handicap. In 2004 motorcycles were entered with three-, four-and five-cylinder configurations. A six-cylinder engine was proposed by the Blata, but did not reach the MotoGP grids.

The FIM has become concerned, much as the FIA in Formula One, at the advances in design and engineering that result in higher speeds all around the race track since 2002. The current MotoGP speed record of 347.4 km/h (215.864 mph) was set by Loris Capirossi on a Ducati Desmosedici GP4 at IRTA Tests in Catalunya in 2004. By way of comparison, the current Formula One speed record of 369.9 km/h (229.8 mph) was set by Antonio Pizzonia of the BMW Williams F1 team, at Monza in 2004. To ensure safety, they have agreed upon a set of regulation changes to reduce motorcycle speeds. These include changes in weight, fuel capacity and eventually from 2007 a reduction in engine capacity to a maximum of 800 cc.


  • In 2005, fuel tank capacity was reduced by 2 litres to 24 litres
  • In 2006, fuel tank capacity was reduced by a further 2 litres to 22 litres
  • From 2007 onwards and for a minimum period of five years, FIM has regulated in MotoGP class that two-stroke bikes will no longer be allowed, and engines will be limited to 800 cc four-strokes. The maximum fuel capacity will be 21 litres.



Video Games

Several MotoGP video games have been released on several different home gaming consoles. The Xbox 360 and PS2 versions are the most notable.

  • MotoGP 2006: Ultimate Racing Technology for Xbox 360, released by THQ on June 12, 2006 (US)
  • MotoGP 4 for PS2, released by Namco on September 15, 2005 (JP) and June 20, 2006 (US)
  • Moto GP for the PSP, released on September 26, 2006 (US) by Namco Bandai Games.


  1. ^ THE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO MOTOGP: How to increase costs and decrease speed (Part II) Moto GP News 3 January 2006. "The move to four strokes meant that Japanese R & D departments could finally get back to blue sky engineering, building racing prototypes for the sole purpose of racing. It meant that costs of leased machines increased exponentially too. When the new rules were first adopted teams were told to expect modest increases in lease costs of 25% to 33%. Add a zero and you have the real increase…the days of the $800,000 to 1.2 million dollar lease have given way to a price tag of somewhere between 3 and 3.5 million (depending upon the level of machine and the amount of spares and maintenance included) for a couple of RC211V for a single rider. "


External links

  • Official MotoGP website rider info, results, and archives
  • Faster documentary on MotoGP
  • The Doctor, The Tornado, & The Kentucky Kid follow-up documentary on the 2005 US MotoGP race
  • Crash.Net News, interviews, radio and pictures for MotoGP, WSBK, BSB and more



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