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What role do pit boards play in MotoGP™?

What role do pit boards play in MotoGP™?

After the confusion of the San Marino GP chatted to a number of team managers to find out the importance of the pit board.

Pit boards have always had an important role to play in grand prix motorcycle racing. This importance only grew with the introduction of flag-to-flag races with them now taking on the additional strategic role of telling the riders when to pit. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than at Misano, one of the most chaotic races in the history of the World Championship.

“All communication,” says LCR Honda’s Team Manager Lucio Cecchinello, “is done through the board. In a normal dry race you are telling the rider where he is in terms of position, the gap to the rider in front and behind, how many laps remain in the race and the lap time. In the case of a flag-to-flag race we also give two further bits of information. The assurance that we are ready with the second bike ‘PIT OK’, and if there if there is an obvious disadvantage we tell them to come in with ‘IN’.

The rider therefore, ultimately has the final decision when to come in. In cases like Misano, where the riders who had pitted a second time for slicks were considerably faster than the leaders on wets, we told them to come in. We all saw what happened to Loris Baz who was able to finish fourth after being the first to come back in for slicks.”

Fausto Gresini, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini Team Manager, thinks it also comes down to taking risks: “The pit wall is crucial to strategies, but on Sunday it was those who took the risks that benefitted. It is always come down to the riders, as he is the only one out there on track. We have a duty as a team to try and figure out what he is doing on the fly and make sure we are ready. Last Sunday for example, was my mistake. I brought the riders in too late, if I had done it sooner we could have got a much better result.”

Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Team Manager Davide Brivio adds that there are other factors to consider: “If you get to the end of the season and you have a rider who is fighting for the title, his board has to keep him completely updated on what his rival is doing. We are a new team so if I have to be honest we were not well prepared for Misano but these conditions rarely happen, maybe once or twice a year. We work closely with the rider to define strategies not only for races but also in practice and qualifying."

So how does it all work? Brivio explains: “It all depends on the team. In our case the race engineer of crew chief is the person who looks after the rider. They are like a coach in football or basketball in as much as they are the closest person to the rider, and give the orders, discusses and change tactics and much more. In exceptional cases however the Team Manager will get involved if the rider is ignoring the notice or if it is important enough.

“Its different to Formula 1 for example, where drivers follow the orders they are given. We can only offer information that can help a rider. For instance, we can signal that an opponent is running stronger because they have pitted. But if there is a corner on the other side of the circuit that is still wet and the rider doesn’t think it is safe for slicks, the choice is his.  On two wheels, while the rider can get information from the pit board, it is down to him to interpret that information and make his own choice.”

So does the team ever intervene? Brivio reveals: “Yes, but we have a slight problem as we do not have ship-to-shore radios as in Formula 1. That means by the time the rider actually enters the pits it may be one or two laps too late. He has to pass the finish line, see the board and complete another lap before he can actually come in. Those one or two laps can make the difference between winning or losing.”

Cecchinello adding: “The reason we don’t use a radio is not only down to cost, but also the fact that it would be a dangerous distraction to the rider. Unlike a Formula 1 driver, a MotoGP rider is constantly moving around the bike in an extremely physical way. Any distraction whatsoever can be very dangerous.”

MotoGP, 2015

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