WorldSBK: Too hot to handle
I feel my temperature rising
It’s burning through to my soul
Elvis wasn’t singing about WorldSBK racing at Jerez this weekend when he covered Burning Love almost 50 years ago, but he might as well have been. During the course of this weekend’s races the rider’s will face an incredible challenge due to the conditions.
With air temperatures hovering close to 40°C in recent weeks the difficultly is in keeping a cool head and avoiding your core temperature be rising at an alarming degree. The moment that the body temperature starts to rise, even for an elite athlete, they are running on borrowed time. When a critical point is reached the body transitions into survival mode, and suddenly the typically razor-sharp racing brain takes a back seat to surviving until the end of the race.
To combat this we’ll see riders keeping cool with air blown into their faces while they sit in the shade with cold towels wrapped around their necks and wearing ice jackets. The aim of the game is to get your body temperature as low as possible before going into battle and then hope that you’re body can deal with the heat when the action gets underway.
The heat may not burn through your soul at Jerez like Elvis fears but it will certainly burn through the skin. In conditions like those riders will face this weekend they’ll struggle to deal with the heat. During last weekend’s MotoGP race Pol Espargaro put it best by saying:
“I was cooking! I’ve never felt anything like this. My hands have never been burning like this in my life. After 14 laps I was completely cooked. I was just riding to try and finish in front of the guy behind. I was trying to breathe on the straights because I couldn’t take in the air. I’ve never felt this before, even when I was injured. It was super hard.”
During the race the biggest threat is traffic. If you’re stuck in the middle of the pack, and riding in the slipstream of the bike in front, the heat rises incredibly fast. It can be as much as 10°C hotter when you’re in the bubble. Without “fresh” air the body has no chance to recover. Lungs will be burning and even being able to catch your breath will be tough for riders. It becomes a battle of survival rather than a battle of speed.
Jerez in mid-summer is no joke. Last week, track temperatures soared to over 60°C in places and almost turned the asphalt into a skating rink at times. The greasy, slick surface became treacherous, and on Sunday we saw lots of crashes. For WorldSBK, using Pirelli tyres, it will be interesting to see how riders manage the race. Will they be aggressive and try and split the pack or will someone hit the front in a bid to control the pace?
The key to any race in conditions like this is to manage your approach and try to be smooth. Spinning up the rear tyre – especially through Turns 4, 5, and 11 – will see the tyre temperature soar and a rider left scrambling for grip. Some riders are traditionally very strong at this and last year the home hero Alvaro Bautista was the master, as he lapped half a second faster than the chasing pack.
His lightweight frame made the difference. With less load being pushed through the rubber and a complementary riding style, it added up to two race wins for the former MotoGP rider. Braking early on corner entry, he didn’t over load the front tyre and his slow entry allowed him to focus on maximising his exit speed. This style works fantastically if he’s out in front but is tough to make work in the middle of the pack where he’s likely to be this weekend.
When you’re racing in the pack,the physical toll on the rider increases, but that also goes for the tyre. With no fresh air to cool the tyre, the internal pressure rises too. As this happens the grip falls away in a cycle. You need to make your moves when opportunities present themselves.
You also need to make sure that you get the most out of your single-lap pace and qualify well. Being on the front two rows of the grid becomes crucial. Avoiding the pack at any cost is imperative.
Jerez in July will be a test unlike any we’ve seen in WorldSBK but the action this weekend should be thrilling once again.