Deafening motorbikes speed past thousands of spectators at 320kph.
For the fans, watching it is like injecting pure adrenaline directly into the veins. For the riders, it is a habit.
It takes much more than MotoGP bikes roaring their way along the curves of the worldwide blacktopped circuits to make up a grand prix. It also needs the courageous riders who dominate these lions while teams and mechanics prepare them for the show.
“To be a world champion you have to sacrifice many things,” said Marc Marquez, who is this year’s MotoGP world champion. “You have to work hard and try to stay focused all the time.”
Helping him stay focused is his team and his dedicated family. For the rider’s safety, appropriate clothing designers and medical staff are responsible before and after their falls, while thousands of fans support the racers with rattling banners and blaring horns around the course.
The 20-year-old Spaniard from Cervera is the youngest among the 22 most talented riders on the planet to ride in MotoGP. It is the pinnacle of motorcycle racing comprising a nine-month, 18-round season, in 13 different countries, spanning four continents.
The length of the tracks on the various circuits throughout the season differs, ranging between three to six kilometers. So depending on the course, riders must complete a pre-decided number of laps, usually around 20, during the race, which typically lasts around 45 minutes. At the final race in Valencia this year, the track was 4,005 meters long, so the riders completed 30 rounds.
The races are intense. The 22 riders compete against each other at millimetric distances. They jostle one another, trying to take the lead and leaving everybody behind. Their main target is to pass the finish line first, which can leave milliseconds of time between the first two riders, and only two minutes with the rider in last place.
Participating in the MotoGP 2013 on a Honda HRC with his compatriot teammate Dani Pedrosa, is a first for Marquez. Still, MotoGP is neither a volleyball match nor a soccer tournament where teammates support each other. It is high core adrenaline. A continuous battle against one another.
This September’s race in Aragon, Spain, Marquez slightly touched his teammate, throwing the 28-year-old from his bike. Although, he reported only minor injuries, Pedrosa’s standing was hurt badly. He arrived third place in the championship.
“Usually, at the high level of competition you don’t help each other so much. The teammate is also a rival and he will always try to beat you,” said Pedrosa, who has been racing in MotoGP since 2006.
Since the starting line in Qatar, the first race of the season on April 10, Pedrosa, Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, from the Yamaha Factory Racing team, have battled against each other for the 2013 World Championship title.
This year, Marquez has stood on the podium 16 times making him the most consistent of all riders. He crashed once in Mugello, Italy, and was disqualified in Australia for not changing his tires on the lap he was told to by the race direction. Those lost points helped defending champion Lorenzo inch closer to the leader. The penultimate two races were extremely breath taking, especially the last one in Valencia, as it was decisive for the championship title.
At times these riders even risk their lives to get on the highest step of the podium. They jostle each other, then the second place riders try to edge ahead, but the leaders swerve to avoid the maneuvers. A slight touch at such an extreme speed – these machines can hit up to 320 kph – can bring death.
So, while steady arms and quick reflexes are key, their equipment can also make the difference between a scratch and a broken bone. Their elite leather suits are made of kangaroo skin, which is more resistant at impact, flexible and weighs less than cowhide. Some, like those produced by Dainese, even have an airbag system that blows up after an abrupt movement, protecting racers before they hit the ground.
Riders have approximately four suits per race weekend. They are kept in large trucks of the clothing producers, which are also one of their sponsors, where a small crew mend them and keep them clean of the gas fumes that mingle with sweat on these full body protectors, which can weigh six kilos.
When the suits aren’t enough, doctors and physiotherapists of the Clinica Mobile cure riders’ injuries with physiotherapy or operations and even prepare them with physiotherapeutic massages during the race weekend.
“It became an altar where the racer celebrates the magnificent ritual to rise from the fractures, the illnesses and wounds, to continue follow their dreams,” said Dr. Claudio Costa, founder of the Mobile Clinic.
Costa was brought up on the tracks. He has lived his whole life surrounded by the rumble of engines. As a child he followed his father, the inventor of the Imola racetrack in Italy, to the circuits. As he grew, he realized that there was no appropriate medical assistance for the riders, so he founded in 1977 his small hospital on wheels.
He says he would not leave his heroes behind for any reason at all. During the 18 weekends the Clinica Mobile is operational, it is packed with riders who get kinks out of their backs, burns treated and laser treatments for their muscles.
Costa was present the whole week with his Clinica Mobile at the Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo in Spain, this November, where the last race of the championship was held. More than 100,000 fans from all over the world had their eyes on Marquez. He was about to become the youngest rider ever to win the MotoGP world championship, unless Lorenzo could redeem his title.
It was a thrilling start, as the three battled each other for the lead. With nearly each corner, they vied for first position. At one point, Pedrosa was almost thrown off his bike after elbowing with Lorenzo.
After quietly observing the two jostle one another, Marquez made a smart move. Roughly halfway through the race, he let Lorenzo and Pedrosa overtake him. By doing so, he avoided a battle and the rise of falling. So although he past the finish line third, the 20-year-old still won his first ever world championship title.
The season ended with an improvised dance on the podium by Marquez, whose smile and warmth of a naturally charismatic young man will stay in the minds of everybody during the long winter break. However, now that his fame has increased tremendously, he says it is important for him to keep his feet on the ground. Or better, on his bike.
“For me everything is the same. To be a world champion is something special, but anyways, I will try to be the same guy.”