LEARNING CURVES

How Suzuki’s riders map the tracks

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LEARNING CURVES

Was it left under the bridge? Right at the big oak tree? If you’ve ever done a track day with your bike, or even just tried to remember driving directions without GPS, you’ll know there’s a certain skill to ‘mental mapping’ – and we probably all have that one friend who could get lost in their own back yard!

But for MotoGP’s elite, it’s all par for the course, and most of them could ride the 20 circuits on the calendar blindfolded if it weren’t for the obvious safety concerns! So how do they do it? Alex Rins and Joan Mir sat down with us to reveal their secrets…

 

“The key is firstly to put in the time” Alex says “I do many laps with the bicycle and the e-scooter. In fact, I’m one who prefers to cycle around, rather than running, especially if it’s a new track. It’s a good way to learn the corners, to check the curbs, understand where the run-off areas are.”


However, Joan prefers a slower pace and a shared approach when it comes to his pre-event laps:

“My favourite way is to do a lap with my mechanics, walking or sometimes with the e-scooter. I prefer to use the bicycle for training at home, because to bring it to the circuits just to do two laps doesn’t really make sense to me. The important thing is to be with your Crew Chief and your Electronics guy, and not alone, because we like to discuss everything about the track, and they benefit too because they don’t remember the circuits as easily as a rider can.”

 

As we know, no two tracks are created equal, and there are certain circuits that just ‘click’ for the riders, and others that are more difficult or daunting to learn. So, which have presented the biggest challenge for our boys in blue?

Joan opens up first: “The longest ones are the most difficult I think, like Silverstone and Austin. And also the wider tracks present more of a challenge when it comes to learning, because there are many different potential lines and you have to keep them all in mind.” Alex laughs as he remembers his rude awakening at an Italian classic: “For me, it was Mugello! When I arrived in Moto3 and I had to ride there, the first free practices I was super slow because it’s a very technical track. So that has to be one of the hardest to learn. The easiest one is probably Austria, it’s a fairly easy one, because in the end it’s three braking points and two corners! But on the other hand it can be difficult to go fast because everyone is close together and it’s not easy to improve your lap time. I guess every place has tricky parts and easier parts.” Even when the general layout is locked in, there’s bound to be corners that just make you take that extra breath, knowing it’s one you struggle with. It certainly happens to us mere mortals, whether we’re playing a racing game on console, or riding a tricky section of road… “I find that if there’s a corner that you immediately struggle with from FP1, it’s not easy to fix that” admits Joan. “Sometimes you can do it, and you do improve, but I feel like there are certain corners that just will never suit you. Whereas there are other corners that really feel good for your style and set-up and you don’t have to ‘work’ at them. The team help a lot because together we try to find the optimum set-up, and from my side I just try to think of how I can do it differently.” “Yeah, it’s similar for me” Alex confirms “The team help me too. I use videos, so I send someone from the team out to the corner or section with a video camera and they film there to help me see how I can do it in the best way.” And while we’re on the subject of games consoles, is it really true that riders learn tracks by sitting on the sofa and guiding a virtual bike around virtual tracks on the PlayStation?

LEARNING CURVES

“To be honest, I prefer to use YouTube and race footage from MotoGP.com than gaming” says Alex “I like to watch the videos, I do it even for circuits I already know, before every GP I re-watch the practices and the race from the previous year.” It's a different story for Joan: “It’s funny because I think some people don’t realise that we use the PlayStation as a tool, but it’s actually really useful. Certainly in my first year in Moto3 I was always checking the tracks with the PlayStation before the race. Now a bit less so!” If you’ve ever seen a rider sitting in his pitbox, eyes closed, arms and hands making various curving shapes, head moving gently from side to side, you could be forgiven for thinking the PlayStation had been replaced by a VR headset, but in fact, this is ‘track mapping’ at its finest! Joan’s response is matter of fact: “I do the mental lap before FP1, I like to visualise one lap and it reminds me how it goes. But I don’t do it again during the weekend, usually only on Friday morning. It’s easy for me to get into the zone and make that lap in my head, I think it’s something most racers are good at.” It’s equally as easy for Alex, but just a slightly bigger part of his routine: “I mostly do the lap in my head on Friday and again on Sunday before the GP. I try to imagine where I will go, what lines I’ll take - it gets some ideas in my head and it’s also like a refresher. I can visualise quite easily, my brain goes into ‘full focus’ mode as soon as I start, so it’s another thing that comes naturally. It’s funny because it doesn’t go out of your head, I still remember ‘old’ tracks like Indianapolis really well. I guess once it’s ‘locked in’ it just stays there. So now I have a lot of different circuits in my head, GP circuits, training circuits, everything is stored in my brain.” Joan adds: “That’s true! I still remember them pretty well. Brno is a good example, because it was a place I really enjoyed riding and I think the layout is one of the best. The tracks stay in my mind, and probably I’ll remember them for the next 20 years! My head is just full of race tracks…and nothing else!” He says with a laugh.

“I tend to check all those things on Wednesday, or Thursday, before the weekend starts. But it’s not something I noticeably ‘clock’. It’s a thing that naturally happens the more laps you do, sometimes I conciously use some markers, but I don’t actually think about it, my brain just does it automatically.” Reveals Alex Joan adds: “Interestingly, this is something that’s harder to learn! Learning the layouts of the circuits is fairly straight forward, but the reference points take longer than you realise to get into your mind. Eventually, you notice a tree or a mark on the ground. I don’t remember all the reference points for all the circuits even now, the tracks I’ve been to a lot like Valencia, yes. But some others I don’t remember if you ask me now, and I would need FP1 to remind me. Then it becomes like a reflex after several laps, you don’t think about the marker, you just do what you need to do.”

LEARNING CURVES
LEARNING CURVES