There is a kind of renaissance in motorsport in the US. Call it the “Move to Survive” effect, but Formula 1 isn’t the only show that’s getting a resurgence in TV audiences. Last season was the most popular in the history of IndyCar.

However, ask most of these new racing fans about MotoGP, and their enthusiasm quickly turns to anxiety. Who can blame them? Racers hit 220 mph on the straights, they drag their elbows along the pavement in corners, and all that separates them from serious injury is a little more than a millimeter of kangaroo skin.

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“Formula 1 and MotoGP come from a, shall we say, dangerous past,” Ducati Lenovo driver Jack Miller told Sportzshala at the Riviera San Marino and Rimini Grand Prix in Misano earlier this month. “At the end of the day, everything we do involves danger, whether it’s driving to work in the morning or cycling, whatever.”

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“Most of the time, as you can see, we can get up and leave, there are far fewer injuries than before. [big crash] the weekend, and now maybe one season — maybe.”

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What the sport used to be, as Miller hinted, like most racing series 30+ years ago, was dangerous. Over the past 30 years, seven riders in MotoGP and its support classes have died as a result of injuries sustained in crashes. In the 30 years prior, 59 people had died – almost a third of them occurred on the Isle of Man, a circuit located on public roads that last hosted the World Cup in 1976.

By comparison, in Formula One and its subsidiary series such as Formula Two and Formula Three, three drivers have died from crash injuries in the last 30 years.

When Madrid-based Dorna Sports became the organizer of the sport in 1991, they and the International Motorcyclist Federation (FIM) decided to increase safety. Street and temporary courses were soon removed from the calendar, runoff areas and gravel traps were installed or increased to minimize the chance of a fallen rider hitting walls, trees or other obstacles.

Today, Dorna and FIM use software developed in conjunction with the University of Padua that accurately calculates how much runoff space is needed on both tarmac and gravel to ensure a minimum safety standard at every corner of every race track. Improvements in tire grip, braking performance and aerodynamics ensure that these bikes are constantly evolving, growing faster and faster, and ensuring that the calculation is constantly changing, with tracks regularly needing more and more room to accelerate.

Now, the vast majority of crashes end with riders coming to a stop long before they hit anything but tarmac and gravel. What MotoGP and protective equipment suppliers like Alpinestars and Dainese have been trying to eradicate in the past decade is bruising and broken bones resulting from the falls themselves.

Nearly 20 years of research and development, most of which is still carried out on MotoGP race weekends with the world’s top riders, has led to the creation of leather suits that not only protect against severe traffic accidents, but also include systems airbags to soften the blow of most crashes. Early systems primarily protected the clavicles, fractures of which were once the scourge of the series, and injuries now all but eradicated now spread to the shoulders, chest and even hips.

At Alpinestars, six accelerometers, three sensors and a gyroscope work together to provide real-time data to an algorithm that interprets whether a rider’s movement is normal behavior, whether they are fighting for control of the bike, or whether an accident is approaching. will happen.

“Every crash, no matter how big or small, we upload the data, we upload our algorithm,” said Chris Hillard, communications manager for Alpinestars.

Speaking in Misano, an Alpinestars technician records every moment of the crash since that morning on a graph, noting sensor inputs that show when the rider lost control of the bike, when he was catapulted into the air, when his airbag deployed, when his foot touched the ground. and when the rest of his body collapsed too. In less than a tenth of a second, the system recognized that an accident was occurring and the airbag deployed.

Super slow motion MotoGP cameras captured this highside collision in which the rider vaulted over the top of six-time series champion Marc Marquez at the 2019 Malaysian Grand Prix. The footage below shows just how quickly it all happens: Marquez’s airbag deploys before his left hand has time to let go of the bike.

In 2018, the FIM made it mandatory for every rider in MotoGP and its support classes to wear such safety equipment at every practice, qualifying and race.

“You don’t think about it until it’s too late, and then when you’re flying through the air, this thing is already deployed,” Miller said of the airbags. “It might not be that much, but it’s strong (keeping fingers an inch or two apart) between you and the asphalt or whatever you’re about to land on. It certainly matters a lot.”

Last month, when MotoGP visited the Red Bull Ring in Austria, Team Suzuki Ecstar rider and 2020 world champion Joan Mir braved an almighty highside. The data uploaded by Dainese from Mir’s suit was shocking: he spent 1.02 seconds and nearly 64 feet in the air before hitting the ground at 41.9 mph with an 18 g impact.

He received “fractures and bone fragments” in his right ankle., missing the subsequent race in Misano. The world tried to return to the Aragon Grand Prix in Spain last weekend, but abandoned this attempt after Friday and Saturday practice.

“I think that after my highside experience in Austria, without [the airbag]”Of course, things could have been a lot worse,” Mir told Sportzshala. “Being able to walk away from that accident with just a broken ankle is something you can’t imagine in the past. Perhaps such an accident in the past was the end of your career.

Despite these achievements, much remains to be done. Riders are most vulnerable after a fall on the race track, in the path of those directly behind them, and that is where Dorna is focusing as safety technology continues to evolve in MotoGP: instant warning to riders of a fallen rider in front.

“I think the biggest problem we have right now, and unfortunately it’s a big problem, is road traffic protection, protecting the riders when the rider from behind runs over them or hits them,” said the chief sporting director. Dorna Carlos Espeleta. Sportzshala. “It’s really hard to deal with because you’re talking about a bike that can go 60 or 70 mph and crash into a rider on the ground.

“But if you think about airbags for leather suits, 20 years ago everyone would have said it was impossible.”

The world can attest that what seemed impossible in MotoGP 20 years ago has now become lifesaving technology that is as mundane as a helmet.