Riding Styles from CotA MotoGP
Turn 18, Circuit of the Americas. I’m shooting away during the morning warm-up when I spy David Emmett making a rare trackside appearance. Toward the end of the short session, he shouts over the sound of the passing MotoGP bikes, “Rider positions! This would make a good article!”
I figured it probably would, and I immediately thought that he would do a much better job of observing similarities and differences in a meaningful way than I would. I filed the idea away for his possible future request for images to help him do so. Alas, he’s a busy guy and the subject didn’t come up again until Mugello, but still nothing came of it, except that I decided to take another look at the shots from that morning. I still figured he’d say more intelligent things about what the images showed than I, but I started playing around with a couple to see what this subject might look like from a photographer’s perspective, rather than that of a motorcycle racing expert’s. I came up with the idea of superimposing riders one at a time over a reference rider, as shown above. That’s Scott Redding and Marc Marquez occupying the same space, a few moments apart, and each in his own riding style.
There are some challenges in coming up with good images to use for a comparison like this. The first concern is that you want to make sure each rider in the group is shown on a hot lap, as a comparison of out lap riding styles would be less interesting. The problem this creates is that riders don’t appear on hot laps at the same time in the various practice sessions. Some get up to speed quickly while others noodle around for a lap or two before assuming the position. For this reason, I do not have every rider from the 2015 CotA round included in this comparison. Some simply did not appear in the right place at the right time to be part of the exercise.
Then there is the problem of trying to show each rider in exactly the same spot on track. Riding styles are not static through a turn. Riders move around on the bike between the corner entry and exit. Even at 10 frames per second, my Nikon D4 didn’t catch each rider in exactly the same spot. I compensated for that as best I could, as described below.
There is also the complication of each rider’s line through a given corner having at least some variation. Some riders are closer to the curb than others, some riders slide the bike more, which changes the camera’s perspective and makes it more difficult to line that rider up with one who slides less.
In order to make worthwhile comparisons, I used the horizontal lines in the background as reference to make sure no photo has been rotated in such a way as to make one rider appear more leaned over than another. I also selected images where riders are close to the same position on track, relative to each other. Rider A might be a few feet farther into Turn 18 than Rider B, who is in turn a few feet farther along than Rider C. But they are all pretty much at the same area if not the same spot exactly.
Next I tried to select images that represented each rider’s style, when possible. If I had several passes through this turn, I compared the body positions to make sure the image I chose wasn’t unusual. This wasn’t always possible, however, as more than once I found I had only a single hot lap for a given rider.
Then I tried to line up elements of each bike was closely as possible given the small differences in lean angle, handlebar position, etc. At this point I saw that having a point of reference would come in handy, such as the air intake. As I started lining up Hondas from different teams, it occurred to me that a comparison of Honda riders would be a good place to start. After all, if riding styles are what you’re trying to compare, the bike should be the same in each case. Perhaps later on we’ll compare some different models, but for now, here are five Honda riders.
Particularly useful are the logos of the helmet manufacturers. As each is placed in the same location regardless of brand, these logos are good for noting the position of each rider’s head.
First, our reference rider, race winner Marc Marquez.
You may be wondering about his elbow not touching the tarmac. I have several series of Marquez’ passes through this section of track, and he seems to drag the right elbow earlier, closer to Turn 17, but through 18 as shown here he is lifting the bike up. He’s still leaned over quite a bit, however.
His body position is quite different from that of Scott Redding. Notice the sharp bend in Redding’s right wrist, similar to what we saw when Danilo Petrucci demonstrated a static lap of Losail. In order to get his upper body far enough over the right side of the bike and still have his hand on the throttle, Redding’s wrist is far from in line with his forearm, even more so than Marquez’. Each rider’s left hand grips are also different, Marquez keeping a solid grip on the left handlebar while Redding’s fingers have loosened to allow him to shift his body over to the right. Redding also appears to prefer more travel in the clutch lever.
With Redding superimposed over Marquez, these differences of position are quite interesting.
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