I recently had the opportunity to race the hot new RR 310 Cup Race bike in the first round of the championship at Kari. It was a wet weekend that was made all the more challenging by the fact that I was racing against a bunch of seriously high-level racers. But I won’t go into the story of what happened there and if you’re interested you can watch our video on the Autocar YouTube channel. Instead, we’ll begin after the racing was done, which is exactly when the idea for this blog came to me.
At the end of raceday, we found ourselves waiting for a typically late Jet Airways flight at the Coimbatore airport. I was physically finished and couldn’t wait to get home to the comfort of a hot shower and a familiar bed. Now I’m not exactly the model of prime health, but I still wondered why I was this tired. Some quick math revealed that I’d raced a distance of 55km and at an average speed of just under 100kph that day. And considering that I was trying to ride as fast as possible on a half-wet track, the extra nerves and tension only added to my fatigue.
Satisfied (and just a little smug) with the explanation I’d given myself, I returned to my phone to kill the time. A few minutes of dull scrolling later, up popped something of interest – an article on Peter Hickman’s incredible feat at this year’s Isle of Man TT. Hickman is now officially the fastest road racer in the world and his record lap average speed of 135.452mph (217.98kph) is the fastest of any current motorcycle racing circuit in the world. For a little perspective, today’s fastest MotoGP circuits don’t allow an average speed higher than 190kph.
That’s incredible on its own, but what really blows me away is the length of the race. The Senior TT is held over 6-laps of the Isle of Man circuit and with each lap being 60.7km long, we’re talking about a race distance 364.2km. That’s longer than the distance from Bengaluru to Chennai! It’s so long that the racers have to pit twice in the race to refuel and change rear tyres.
I can’t even begin… I am literally lost for words here.
Can you imagine the sheer physical prowess required to tame a 220-odd horsepower monster that wants to wheelie at close to 300kph every time the front wheel meets a small crest in the road. And to do so for that long a distance.. WOW! It sheds some light on why today’s racers have such intense training rituals – many MotoGP stars could easily compete in international triathlon events.
But the the real marvel here is the power of the human mind. The TT has no safety run-offs, no gravel traps and no air fences. As you well know, this race runs on narrow public roads lined by very real trees, lamp posts, hedges and houses. A mistake at the race track will probably have you walking away with scuffed leathers. At the TT, every mistake could be your last and the statistics are a very grim reminder of this – over 250 lives have been lost to the course since racing began here in 1907.
Nevertheless, the sentiment is consistent among most TT racers; they acknowledge the terrible risks involved, but they simply know no other way. To witness these riders shed the heavy mental burden of fear and lay it all on the line in the quest for glory is to witness a phenomenon.
There is no doubt in my mind – top racers are superhuman. How else would you describe what Marc Marquez is able to do on a GP bike, especially when he loses the front tyre? The last time I lost the front, I didn’t even realise it till my arms were off the bars and I was bracing for impact.
At the end of the day, you will go as fast as your mind allows you to. When your brain starts to scream that things are getting too quick, that’s the highest pace you can safely sustain. Any further and a crash is inevitably just around the corner. All of us are wired differently in this regard and some will naturally go faster than others and there’s scientific proof to back this up
This was proved by a fascinating experiment carried out a few years back by data analytics firm EMC and sensor manufacturer Freescale Semiconductor. They worked with safety apparel experts Alpinestars to cover 23-time winner and TT-legend, John McGuinness in over 50 sensors that measured all forms of body parameters as well as what his bike was doing. Auto journalist Adam Child who also races at the TT was similarly suited up as a control subject and both rider’s data was collected over the races at the 2015 TT.
The results were eye-opening. McGuinness displayed significantly lower body parameters and his heart rate rarely exceeded 120bpm, despite the sustained 300kph speeds. A lower heart rate means lower oxygen intake and thus less stress and fatigue on the bike. In essence, McGuinness’s brain was more efficiently able to filter out what Child’s perceived as potential dangers, thereby allowing him higher levels of focus on the task at hand. The results were obvious and the TT racer was able to brake later, lean further and accelerate harder out of the bends than the journalist, who mind you, is a seriously quick rider himself.
Ultimately, each of our brains works differently and I’m acutely aware that my survival instincts still kick in frustratingly early. While I’m at peace with the fact that I’m not racer fast, it’s something that I intend to improve upon slowly and safely with plenty of practice. But at the end of the day, like McGuinness’ autobiography is so aptly titled, you need to be ‘Built for speed’.