Honda Racing Report
Rain has played a huge role in many Motorcycle World Championships, a perfect example being the 2000 season won by Kenny Roberts Junior when it rained at practically every Grand Prix.
In addition, the World Championship visits countries such as England, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Japan amongst others, where climatic uncertainty threatens the three days of testing and racing.
The onset of rain is always a variable which clearly affects the course of the race and there are many measures which, as Repsol Honda 125cc rider Marc Márquez breaks down, allow riders to tackle riding in the wet with less chance of ending up on the ground.
On a rainy day, the set up of the bike changes completely, starting with the engine.
Mark Márquez says: "An oilier carburation than usual is added to achieve a less abrupt and aggressive throttle response than normal, due to the fact that it is easier for the rear wheel to skid in the wet. Also, to achieve the optimum temperature for running the engine - which is 60 ºC -, a close eye is kept on the radiator."
In low temperatures, sometimes basic but very effective tricks make it possible to achieve this ideal range. Marquez says, "the mechanics use duct tape to cover the radiator air inlet and avoid the engine getting too cold."
Another trick is to allow the rider to regulate the temperature himself without having to do a pit stop, "one of the tapes is fixed with a pulley, fixed onto the front-wheel shock absorber, which I can pull while running."
In the suspension box, the softening of the reactions of the Derbi RSA is also sought, configuring "the softest adjustments which allow the bike to be most flexible. The tires are a softer-option too which allows better grip at a lower running temperature (60ºC instead of the 80 ºC or 100 ºC which they reach in the dry), without wearing so much as when the asphalt is much hotter." The tires used are also grooved to allow the water to clear and stop the wheel from slipping.
With respect to clothing and protection gear, Marc explains that "the equipment would change in these conditions. The helmet visor, for example, instead of being dark to prevent the sun dazzling the rider, is completely transparent to improve visibility in rainy conditions." Also, the inside has a demister, a second layer of plastic to stop the humidity steaming up and obscuring the rider's vision. The visor also has a rubber outer layer which stops the water from getting inside the helmet.
The knee sliders used to touch the knee down on the asphalt and get a reference without tearing the race suit, "are changed for thicker ones, because, when it rains, the bike inclines less and therefore it is possible to get a reference earlier than with the conventional knee slider." Over the race suit, a rain suit is worn, a transparent plastic cover which has to be very tight fitting over the leather to avoid it inflating with the effects of the air and speed. It is composed of two parts, one for the upper body and some trousers.
Marc Marquez says: "Usually it is only worn in extreme cases when there is a lot of rain and its function is to stop the water getting into the race suit and the leather absorbing it, becoming heavier and making riding more uncomfortable."
When it rains, riding style also changes and "has to be much more precise. You have to concentrate much more because the slightest mistake could cost you a fall." Braking starts earlier than usual and, on exiting the turns, the throttle has to be opened up very gently as it is easy to skid. At each circuit it is important to pay attention to the type of asphalt as the level of grip varies on each track. Marquez explains, "at the beginning you have to go very slowly, at least for the first few laps to check the level of grip on the track."
This season, however, the weather is being good to the World Motorcycle Championships which has only seen one day of rain. Just in case the conditions change, they are prepared in the Marc Márquez box and trust in the talent of the Repsol rider who confesses, "I don't like the rain much but I usually do well in it."