In steamy Sepang your worst enemy is always the heat, and there is no secret formula to truly fight it efficiently. A quick glance at the Clinica Mobile in the circuit gives you a clue as to some of the struggles of a race where the asphalt can reach 60ºC, and relative humidity hits 80%. Gastroenteritis, colds, congestion, and fainting are just some of the common problems that afflict most of the paddock members, especially the riders, at one time or another. How do the riders prepare to take on such extreme conditions?
Malaysia is the final in a three-race-in-a-row run, where changes in food ingredients, weather conditions, schedules and latitude all take their toll. “For me the worst thing about these trips is sleeping. It is more difficult for me to adapt my sleeping patterns than anything else”, explains Alex Rins, who suffers more from the effects of jet-lag than the weather, “although lucky, between these three races there is little variation in time zones, only two or three hours". For Joan Mir, however, this small variation is something to consider; "It seems silly, but you have to go to bed two or three hours earlier and also wake up earlier, it’s a disruption to your routine” says the Mallorcan.
But, of the three consecutive races overseas, the hardest test in the marathon comes in Sepang. The risks of falling sick are very high. To combat this eventuality, these athletes are extraordinarily meticulous and careful with their routines. "We carry a medicine cabinet, just in case," reveals Rins, whose secret to not falling ill is known as ‘the coat’. "I always cover my neck to escape the potential cold from the A/C in hotels and cars." Quick thermal variations of 14-15 degrees can cause many issues “you’re really at risk of feeling ill, that can ruin the weekend."
Quick thermal variations of 14-15 degrees can cause many issues “you’re really at risk of feeling ill, that can ruin the weekend."
The only weapon to combat the high temperatures and humidity is hydration. "We usually drink between 4 and 5 litres of fluids a day so as not to lose the electrolytes, and that’s crucial when we go on the bike to avoid dizziness and lack of concentration," says Mir. His teammate agrees with this approach: “I drink a lot of water with salts and isotonic drinks, about four litres per day in order to be well hydrated."
Eating is more complicated, due to high body temperatures and the effort exerted, the riders often lose their appetite. “It’s sometimes hard, but you have to eat so you don't run out of batteries," Mir adds.
Hydration is vitally important for all the team members. Consistent and constant fluid intake and manual cooling is important. But there are no miraculous remedies, simply water, icy towels, and huge fans that help to make the air slightly less dense in the pit box.
On top of the motorcycle the heat can become unbearable. The helmet and the leathers, - which weigh about 10 kilos - the gloves, the boots, and the heat that rises from the engine means that inferno the rider feels on his skin exceeds 60ºC. "You only feel some freshness under braking, but it lasts just fractions of seconds," says the #36 rider, who reveals that, in Moto3, ”it was much worse, you were endlessly in a group and stuck behind the fairing."
On top of the motorcycle the heat can become unbearable. The helmet and the leathers, - which weigh about 10 kilos - the gloves, the boots, and the heat that rises from the engine means that inferno the rider feels on his skin exceeds 60ºC
The motorcycle is like a rolling furnace; the heat generated by the motor combined with that rising from the asphalt generates a sort of ‘cooking’ effect on the rider, and they can feel a burning sensation on their legs. "There are components that can work up to 120° C, and sometimes that temperature is surpassed here in Sepang," says Alex Rins’ Crew Chief, José Manuel Cazeaux.
That's why motorcycle cooling is essential. Normally we want to reduce the air cooling the engine, and that's why pieces of duct tape are used on the radiator at some races. Each piece of tape allows you to gain about 5 degrees or lose it,” explains Claudio Rainato, team engineer. In Sepang, water and oil temperatures increase dramatically, so the radiator is left completely exposed. "We do not put any tape on the radiators so they can work at maximum efficiency," adds Rainato.
And even with all that the engine suffers a considerable loss of power, although it is only noticeable in the graphs that are measured by the data analysts. "We as riders don't notice that loss so much," says Rins. But the numbers do not lie. Cazeaux says: "the engine yields 3-4% less than in a normal race, although it is true that it is still a MotoGP bike and has a lot of power regardless."