MotoGP requires blink-of-the-eye reactions, the heart of a racehorse, the physical capacity to wrestle a 200mph motorcycle with every available muscle sinew and an ability to focus that becomes the definition of ‘tunnel vision’. Aspiring Grand Prix athletes can first use the intensity of the Moto2 class to harness these facets (and develop those that are perhaps lacking) in readiness for the harshest test.
Identical 600cc engines with capabilities separated only by the differences in chassis technology and the might of the riders; Moto2 is a screaming bevy of action, and watching the motorcycles entering corners sideways is one of the defining sights of the Grand Prix contest.
In Jerez last weekend Lorenzo Baldassarri ripped through 45 degree track temperatures in the balmy Andaluz sunshine to master the short and demanding track for his second career Grand Prix victory. What was the cost for the 22 year old from the VR46 ranks? “It is so important to be fit and physically well trained,” #7 says. “When it is hot then it is especially harder, not for the muscles because they get strained in the same way, but for the cardio. If you are not prepared then it also affects your concentration and mentality because it is important to remain calm on the bike. A high heart rate makes it harder to do this.”
“I have to work more on my shoulders and back muscles for more stability,” added the tall Italian, who also set Pole Position at round four of nineteen. “My physical shape means my shoulders close-in and I need strength there for braking power.”
Moto2 riders might not cope with the 350kmph-plus speeds of MotoGP but their pace and momentum in corners – not to mention the frantic nature of the competition (that potent mix of ambition, youth and occasional abandon) – means a heavy workout. The criteria to excel (and it's a standard many excellent athletes and Grand Prix riders have struggled with) is high pitched. It’s something that individuals like SKY Racing Team VR46’s Pecco Bagnaia are swiftly understanding. The Italian was third in Jerez and heads the championship standings in just his second term.
“In VR46 we have a good programme with Carlo [Casabianca, trainer] and we have to follow this,” he says. “I was ready for Moto2 already in 2017 and even more so now because I have more feeling with the bike and the team. More experience helps me to understand the limits. This is a big difference.”
Former Moto3 World Champion Alex Marquez was disappointed to fall out of his home Grand Prix but the Marc VDS representative is undoubtedly one of the leading names of the Moto2 division as he steers his way through a fourth attempt. The 22 year old Catalan measures his heart rate while on the Kalex machine during tests and also takes into account how a Grand Prix – particularly one in front of his fans – means yet more physical and mental stress. “We are quite high with the heart rate and it is interesting because you are working hard but also need to be so focussed and concentrate,” he offers. “I used a monitor for a test and I was at maximum level after seven laps but for sure in the race it is different. When you’re on the grid the pulse will already be higher.”
Marquez’s attention in this area is part of a method.
“When you know where you are with your condition then you can make a plan for the week or the month with the trainer. You know that one day you’ll have to work between 140-160, the next day lower and perhaps the one after that even higher. You follow the plan to try and reduce that effort and force on the bike.”
“When we talk about exercise then there is not only one activity you can do,” he adds. “You can cycle but then you should also go to the gym. You cannot just work on your legs because on the bike you use everything. You need to work the whole body…perhaps swimming is the best fit.”
Racers hone their form to extract the limits of their technical package. There is also a ‘failsafe’ factor: tiredness can torture performance and the consequences can be deadly.
“When you’re tired it is harder to move the bike but there is also a delay in your actions: the body doesn't move as fast as you want it!” understates ‘Balda’. “It’s easier to make a mistake, especially somewhere hot like Malaysia. I train with VR46 so I am well supported for that.”
Most Moto2 Grand Prix stars will admit they could easily refasten the helmet strap and consider another race distance on the same day. Perhaps the relatively short career span compared to (typically) older and experienced riders in MotoGP means the toughest task comes with mental focus. Alex Marquez makes no bones about it. “You can train all you want but if your mind is not here and set on the track then you are f**ked. We see sometimes that a rider can be P1 at one race and the drops to P20 in another. I think this is more to do with the head. I think the mental side is 70% of it.”
“In pre-season tests it was very easy for me to ride but a race weekend can be completely different,” says Bagnaia; the youngest of the trio. “You have more stress and attention and it can be difficult to keep concentration and avoid tiredness. I think it will be easier for me this year but we’ll see…we’ll see if my preparation is right or not.”
“When you push to the maximum you don't think of anything,” he adds. “Your mind is clear. This is very important. To be at your max then you cannot think, just concentrate.”
“it is a dream of mine ever since I was on a pocketbike” (“we think Balda can be a very good MotoGP rider,” said VR46 honcho Valentino Rossi). One VR46 ‘star pupil’ who is already sampling the jump is 2017 Moto2 World Champ Franco Morbidelli. The Italian was satisfied with his best MotoGP outing so far after just four fixtures at Jerez.
“No doubt; I had to train more for MotoGP,” Morbido offers after taking ninth “but I would say heart rate still stays in a normal average, similar to something like running however when you are on a time attack I would say it really goes up. In Moto2 I was used to the bike and the tyres and I think I could have done another race right away. MotoGP is tougher though!”
Whoever said the path was easy?