Even before the bikes hit the track at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC), organisers have had to overcome stiff challenges ahead of India’s inaugural MotoGP race, scheduled to be held here from September 22-24.
These hiccups include concerns in the paddock regarding safety on a track originally meant for Formula One racing, as well as logistical issues, chief among them being visa delays that resulted in some riders and staff members of teams missing their flights and arriving as late as Thursday, just a day prior to the first practice session.
Since the announcement of the race this year, at the track where an F1 race was held between 2011 and 2013, safety concerns have swirled over the readiness of the venue, particularly regarding the proximity of the barriers to certain high-speed corners. The homologation of the track – a process administered by the sport’s governing body, FIM, to certify the circuit’s compliance with safety standards – was completed only on Thursday. But after the riders’ arrival, on time or delayed, to the track, some of those concerns have been eased.
Dorna Sports, the commercial rights holders of the MotoGP, outsourced the organisation of the Indian Grand Prix to domestic promoter Fairstreet Sports. Amit Sandill, Director of Racing at Fairstreet, explains some of the changes made to the track to prepare it for high-speed two-wheeler racing.
“We have reduced the amount of asphalt run-off, and increased the gravel. That makes it safer for bikes. We have also introduced new barriers, and air fences at critical corners,” Sandill told The Indian Express. The debris fence at the penultimate corner, which could be a problem area for riders given how close it was to the track, has also been moved back and a gravel trap has been introduced there.
“The primary concern is always rider safety. When a bike crashes, there are two units, the vehicle and the rider, as opposed to when a car crashes, when the driver is inside so it is only one unit. That makes the safety conditions more challenging,” Sandill said, adding that no riders have shared any concerns with him yet.
Riders at ease
Francesco Bagnaia, the reigning MotoGP champion, told a press conference that after seeing the track in person and walking around it for two laps, he feels more at ease.
“I think the layout is interesting and different,” he said. “It will be interesting to ride tomorrow, considering that in some parts of the track, the run-off areas look a bit short. But speaking with the Safety Commission, they tried to explain everything and I think we should be okay.”
Tech3’s Pol Espargaro said on Thursday that some of the riders may have been too harsh in their earlier criticism. “Honestly, I think we were a little bit too hard before coming here to see what (it) really was. I think it is much better than what we all expected,” he was quoted as saying by motorsport.com. “About the safety, for sure there are some things that can be improved. But I believe in all the tracks in the world, there are places we would like to improve.”
Practice to be the real test
While initial reactions about the track have largely been positive, many riders have suggested that they will only get a fair idea once they are given a chance to test it in the first free practice session on Friday, as some areas on the track continue to cause a tinge of anxiety.
There has been talk about the MotoGP top-speed record being broken at the BIC this weekend, given its over one kilometre-long back straight. But some riders have pointed to how close the fence is to the next corner, at Turn 4, and how it may be an issue given the speeds they will be at.
After small patches of rain on Thursday, six-time MotoGP champion and Honda rider Marc Marquez said that while he is confident about the safety of the track in dry conditions, it remains to be seen how it holds up when wet.
“I don’t think there are too many tracks in the world that are perfect,” Sandiill said about these specific concerns. “There will always be some corners where they will have to be careful, that one (Turn 4) is one of them. This track has not been used for a long time, not at this level at least. We’ll have to wait and see. My feedback from local riders is that it should hold up well in the wet.”