The diminutive men who populate the MotoGP podium might not look like gritty jocks to the casual observer, but pound for pound, MotoGP racers are among the toughest and most courageous athletes in any sport. The world’s best motorcycle racers are constantly pushing the limit—and, occasionally, exceeding that limit—resulting in spectacular crashes that batter bikes and bodies alike. Often these guys are back on the bike in days if not hours, and it’s not uncommon for them to even win races with broken bones, after an orthopedic surgeon has plated and screwed the offending appendage back together.
How do these guys do it? How do they overrule their inherent survival instincts and overcome pain and fear to get back on the bike and up to speed so quickly? I had the opportunity to pose these questions to three of the top riders in the Grand Prix paddock—Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa, who, combined, still weigh less than some NFL lineman—and this is what they shared.
“Injuries are just part of racing,” said the since-retired Stoner, 2007 and 2011 MotoGP champion. “You feel them, of course, but we have to get out there and get points. As long as you can get on the bike and ride, then you pretty much forget about everything else. I've got to do the best lap times I can and try to forget about [the pain].”
Jorge Lorenzo, 2010 and 2012 MotoGP champion, who has endured some of the most horrific crashes in recent memory and even lost part of a finger in a crash at the 2011 Australian Grand Prix, approaches the situation with humor. “Maybe we are not so clever,” Lorenzo said, drolly. “A clever man would see real risk after a big crash, and think about it more.” In addition to a thick skull, Lorenzo also credits basic quirks of human biology for his impressive post-crash performances. “When you put on your leathers and get on the bike, the adrenaline helps you forget the pain and makes you stronger.”
Perennial championship bridesmaid Dani Pedrosa isn't as self-deprecating as his compatriot Lorenzo, but he makes up for it by being direct: “I've had a lot of injuries, and I've learned that you have to go out for the points. We have to suffer sometimes. It’s our life. Sometimes it hurts, but we’re here for just a short time, so we have to do it.”
Even traction control and other modern electronic “rider aids” can’t completely protect riders from their machines. Lorenzo’s sky-shot highside at Laguna Seca in 2011 (see photo) was caused when his launch control circuit prevented his traction control system from activating, and many of Stoner's biggest get-offs were the result of electronics that weren't operating as expected. Given these risks and the potentially catastrophic con-sequences, I also asked the riders how they convinced themselves to trust in the electronics that monitor their machines.
“Especially the way some riders rely on [electronics], when they let go, it’s serious,” Stoner said. “I had a few scares [riding the Ducati], where all of the sudden it snapped to full power and switched off the electronics. But in general, most of the mistakes we make are rider error. We know that electronics just help; they don’t manage the situation.”
Stoner said one advantage of electronics is that they help the rider to better understand the circumstances of a crash, which can take away some of the mystery—and the fear—surrounding why a crash happens. Data logging can help a rider understand what caused the crash so he can change his riding or setup accordingly. “That’s one reason why it doesn't really scare us,” Stoner said. “Of course there’s a little bit of fear, but at the same time, you know the mistake you've made or if there’s a problem with the bike. You can improve it or not. You move on.”