Rossi’s Victory Lap on Empty

No Gas, Just Fumes

Many fans were probably wondering why Valentino Rossi was delivered to the podium in the back of a pick-up truck after winning the 2010 MotoGP season opener in Qatar. Their answer was quickly answered, though, as the nine-time world champions jokingly explained: "I ran out of fuel on the slow down lap, I think I used more than expected early on because I was sliding quite a lot, but it was very funny to come to Parc Ferme riding a scooter!"

But speculation remains…what if the Fiat Yamaha M1 ran out of gas after the white flag was waved (signifying one lap remaining) instead of the checkered flag? This brings into question just how much significance the amount of fuel has during a MotoGP race, how it’s regulated and how tracks and riders influence its use.

Significance is easy. Due to weight, less fuel equals faster lap times; think of how fast qualifying times are vs. actual race times. While qualifying, MotoGP pilots set their fastest lap near the end of the shorter qualifying sessions due to having maximum traction on warm tires that are worn less than a full race, and running less fuel; both combined with the energy the rider has due to less time on the track equals quicker lap times.

Regulations change with each new era in MotoGP. At the upstart of the 800cc era in 2007, bikes were restricted to a maximum of 21 liters of fuel during a race, which was a liter less than the 990cc era.

And many factors contribute to how these 21 liters are consumed, the most obvious being length of track, track layout, amount of turns, elevation changes and length of longer straight-aways. All these factors contribute to rider input: how soon the throttle is opened and how high the rpm reach (these bikes reach as high as 18,000 rpm).

Was Rossi riding on fumes during the end of the 22-lap race in Qatar? Did he push the bike too hard, as he said he was "sliding quite a bite"? Or was it just plain strategy from the team that dominated last year before taking the ’09 championship?

No matter what answers surface, the amount of fuel used is significant, and part of every team’s master plan to win races. But as designed for 2012, the MotoGP series will move to 1000cc bikes, allowing the use of 25 liters of fuel. But since these bikes will feature high displacement with naturally more horsepower, fuel may not be an issue, which may diminish the need for fuel conservation in every MotoGP team’s overall strategy.

One thing’s for sure, though…if Rossi’s still racing, his team will capitalize on these changes, and likely run the exact amount of fuel needed. But hopefully just enough for a burnout on a victory lap.