The Chang International Circuit at Buriram is the most recent newcomer to the MotoGP World Championship and the track is a 4.5km long layout with 12 turns. Designed by German architect Hermann Tilke, the circuit is located around 410km northeast of the country’s capital, Bangkok, and it is totally new to the MotoGP class. For this reason, the test on 16-18 February will be the first chance for the team to gain knowledge of the track, and get prepared for the race which will be held here on October 7th.

Being at a completely new circuit is an interesting challenge for the team, as engineers, technicians, and riders approach the test in a different way than a test on an already known track. Let’s learn how to go about this…

“I haven’t the faintest idea about what to expect from the Chang circuit. I watched some videos of the Superbike race here to have a first idea on the layout, but the only real way to know the layout is to ride with the MotoGP machine and use the early laps to watch and understand”. Andrea Iannone is an instinctive rider and this answer reflect his attitude…

“The engineers have worked on paper and for sure in their work this approach helps, but for me it is more a matter of feeling the track with my own hands and body. The objective of this first test here is basically to understand and learn, and that’s what I’ll do. The only thing we can really call preparation is the physical training: the weather here is hot and humid, comparable to Malaysia if not even worse, so being in good physical shape is crucial for effective riding and that way I can be fit to focus on technical matters, more than struggling with the riding conditions”.

On the other side of the garage there is just a drop more rationality involved for Alex Rins: “As MotoGP riders we want to try to be at the best of our performance from the very beginning, so I couldn’t wait to see the track with my own eyes. When I was at home I tried to study a little on videos and technical data, but immediately when I arrived I took some laps with the scooter to check if my feelings were correct. It seems like a mix between the straights of Austria and the technical parts of Argentina. I will really enjoy riding it for the first time with the GSX-RR, it will be like the first steps on the moon.”

“The first and most relevant thing in a brand new circuit is the rider,” says Marco Rigamonti, Andrea Iannone’s Crew Chief, “as he has to become acquainted with the layout and understand how to ride it. The speed of adaptation depends on the rider’s skills, but normally the first day is spent refining the lines between corners and finding the most effective way to be fast according to the machine’s characteristics with the layout. Then we can start working on improving the setup and the configuration of the bike. Basically this test will not be a development test as in Sepang, for example, because the priority here is to know the track and do the needed things to prepare for the race. I would say that if in Sepang the mix between testing new bike items and finalising a race configuration was 70% vs 30%, here in Buriram it is the opposite: we will focus 70% of our time with basic configurations to improve the riders feelings and only 30% with new items.

It will be like the first steps on the moon

But getting to a new track requires efficiency from the very beginning, which means having a base setup from which to start. The first step for this is the gear ratios, as explained by José Manuel Cazeaux, Crew Chief of Alex Rins: “The starting point is to determine the gear ratio of the sixth gear, to exploit all the potential in the straight. Combined with the primary ratio it cannot be too short, otherwise the rider will reach the rev limiter too soon and lose top speed, or too long, otherwise the engine cannot deploy its full power. To do this we make a maths calculation combining the information we have available, such as the straight length, the data from Superbike teams who have already been here, and other parameters. Once we have determined the sixth gear we then have other formulas that help us to redefine the other gears, according to the circuit layout such as the corner radius. Starting with the most correct gear ratio is important because to change the gearbox takes time for the mechanics. This is why for example in the first runs – if not the whole first day – we usually make comparisons with the gearbox until we have found the best compromise. Getting the best compromise also takes into account the rider’s adaptation, as different lines and riding styles on the track can have an influence on the appreciation of shorter or longer gears.”

The work already started at home for the electronics engineers, who are in charge of the electronic maps for the GSX-RRs. “We have watched some videos on YouTube and used Google Maps and Google Earth to get an idea of the layout and get some basic information such as length of the different straights, radius of the corners, banking, elevation” explains Claudio Rainato, Andrea Iannone’s Electonics Engineer. “This allows us to have a first idea on a possible base setting of the electronics to start with. Then as soon as we arrived here we went out to the track for a walk to take in two important aspects: the eye sight, that according to our experience allows us to better understand the circuit characteristics, and the instrumental acquisition with technological things like GPS and electronic level. After we collected this information we put it into our computers and they will be matched with the data acquisition that will arrive from the machines in the early runs of the first day. After the data is matched up we will have a clear idea of the circuit layout and we can start working on it with our software.”

Another aspect of the electronic configuration for the first runs is the map selection, as explained by Yuta Shimabukuro, Alex Rins’ Electronic Engineer: “As we don’t perfectly know the track we have to learn as quickly as possible how it is. The electronics in MotoGP is very sophisticated and can manage many parameters meter by meter during every single lap, but this works only when you have a very accurate model of the layout. The rider takes the first runs just to acquire data, so we start from a base setting that is derived from an average. In these first laps we equip the machine with a map that is someway comparable with a sort of ‘street bike philosophy’: it must be good enough for anything. Then as we get more and more information we start to act in ‘MotoGP mode’ and customise the map with adjustments sector by sector.”

The rider takes the first runs just to acquire data

But the riders and the team have also to ‘live’ at the circuit for 5 full days of work, meaning that they need the facilities fully functioning and also a nice hospitality area where they can have some good food and take a rest. “When we are so far from home my approach is to cook some local food in order to make my team-mates curious! But also to include in the menu some European meals, for all of those who like the taste of their homes”. Michele Quarenghi – Team Suzuki ECSTAR’s cook – is a very experienced chef in the paddock and really takes care of the people in the team. “The hardest part when we are in a new location is to find the best food supplier that can assure us good quality and healthy food. When in Europe we have our own hospitality unit and most of the food is shipped by trusted suppliers. Also my many years of experience have allowed me to learn the best places to go shopping near every single circuit, but here everything is completely new. To go exploring is a nice thing, but we also have to be sure that all the people can find something they like.”

“Getting to Buriram is not easy at all and it’s a very long way from Europe!”. That is the first thought of Mitia Dotta, Team Logistics Manager, who has to organise the travels of around 40 people. “When you arrive at Bangkok airport you’re not still there, there is another 1 hour and something flight or a 5 hour drive to Buriram. It’s a pretty long travel for all the European staff, I’d say it’s comparable to Argentina.”
Roberto Brivio, Logistics Manager for the team, explained:The facilities are a lot better than expected; before arriving here we had no idea of what we would find apart from some information we got from the Superbike teams, so we had to configure the box and the offices relying only on the paper plans, but the organisation of the circuit is good and we can find facilities that are comparable to European tracks.” He worked during the whole winter to organise the shipping of all the necessary equipment, and is now fixing all the team’s facilities in the paddock.

So, as we can see, there are many different elements which must come together when arriving at a new circuit, and a lot of extra hard work is required from each and every team member. Nevertheless, there is always a certain thrill around arriving in a new location and discovering all its quirks and qualities. We look forward to seeing what Buriram and Chang International Circuit has to offer us, both in this three-day test, and during October’s debut race weekend.