MotoGP Austin 2019 – The Pits

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This year, Nathan and I were given the opportunity to visit the pits for three of the factory race teams at the Austin round of MotoGP 2019: Ducati, Honda, and Yamaha. Come join us for a quick tour!

Photos by Nathan May.

Mission Winnow Ducati

Our visit to the Ducati pit was guided by Yuri De Cassan, the Sponsor Account and Hospitality Manager for Mission Winnow Ducati. Before we walked in, he gave us two rules: don’t interact with the riders, and no photos if the bikes were apart.

You can probably guess what state the bikes were in considering our lack of photos inside the pit. Though the bikes were just about ready to go, the fuel tanks and wheels were removed as MotoGP allows teams to manipulate those items right up until the bikes line up on the starting grid. You probably know that the tires are heated in advance (teams use specialized equipment instead of off-the-rack tire warmers), but did you know that the teams are allowed to chill the fuel down a maximum of 15°C cooler than air temperature? On race day, the temperature in Austin was 75°F, or 23.9°C. That means teams were allowed to pour in fuel that had been brought down to 48°F. Cold fuel is denser than warmer fuel, which means you get more fuel molecules in the combustion chamber and more power. But this isn’t specifically pit-related so I’m going to move on – if you’re interested in more details I’d suggest you check out this article on Cycle World.

The pit was walled off internally, with a narrow viewing area on one side and a cutout in the wall for visitors to peek through. Yuri let us know that each rider has five team members dedicated to them, in addition to a crew of six specialty engineers that work on both bikes together. The latter group includes, among others, a data analyst, aerodynamic specialist, chassis engineer, and engine specialist. The experience felt something like a zoo, especially as Yuri mentioned the people we were looking at. Think of a zoo keeper saying “and over there, we’ve got a silverback gorilla,” but in this case it was “here’s the Chief Engineer with the tire specialist, deciding which compound will go on each bike.” Despite my zoo comment, the pit was anything but – it was incredibly organized and almost spotlessly clean. What I struck by was how quiet the pit was. All the preparation had already been done, so it was just a matter of waiting for the start time. Some of the crew was watching the Moto2 race on the TV.

Mr. De Cassan also noted the minor differences between the two factory bikes as the aerodynamics are customized in a wind tunnel for each rider. In addition, the ergonomics and electronics are tailored for Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci. As a specific example, Yuri noted that Andrea specifically prefers to have a high level of engine braking tuned in.

Because we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the pit, this is the closest shot I can offer you. I know it’s not great, but it’s all I’ve got.

Apparently I missed the “Ducati is #1” memo.

Repsol Honda

Over in the Repsol Honda pit, the bikes were all buttoned up so we were allowed to take some photos. I asked Nathan to take the above photo because I thought it would be a good feature photo for my coverage of the race – I assumed Marquez would continue his absurd winning streak at MotoGP, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The crowns of a championship pit crew.

Here’s the front facing camera on Marquez’s bike. Unfortunately, he would crash out on lap 9 of 20 – Ducati fans were very excited about that.

Speaking of cameras – I learned that each bike has four cameras: one up front facing forward, one up front facing the rider, one in the rear facing the rider’s back, and one in the rear showing what’s behind the bike.

After just a few minutes, we were escorted out. Our time in the Honda pits was short but sweet – it was surreal to be within inches of Marquez’s bike.

Monster Energy Yamaha

Trying my hardest to make Yamaha employees roll their eyes.

Monster Energy Yamaha gave us the most time inside their pit area, and the Yamaha representative shared a few tidbits of knowledge with us. One person is specifically in charge of running the fuel, tires, and pit board. I also learned that tires are stored at 90° F, so I figured I had enough information to try and steal his job, but that didn’t work.

All the manufacturers have their transportation logistics handled by the same company – it takes two jumbo jets to carry everything. When I’m at an event like this, I’m mostly obsessed about the bikes and the riders, and it’s easy to take the supporting staff for granted. But everything has a lot of thought put into it, such as the structure that supports the lights for the weekend. It’s made of carbon fiber.

Typically, crates full of pit components arrive on either Monday or Tuesday, while the race team arrives on Wednesday. there’s a 12-person crew for the racers (6 people for Rossi, 6 for Viñales). It takes them 6 hours to set everything up, and the most time consuming part is the lighting setup. One person is entirely responsible just for laying out the carpet!

While it takes 6 hours to set everything up, it takes about 3.5 hours to pack it all up. Then the cycle starts all over again…

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