Crashing: We All Fall Down

Road Atlanta’s turn 10A/10B was the site of 21 crashes in the 2018 MotoAmerica Series, including Roger Hayden’s in the second Superbike race. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Motorcycles tip over and fall down. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that they have two wheels, but it happens. Racing motorcycles also fall over. Even with the best riders in the world riding them. Last year, MotoAmerica racers crashed 389 times over the course of nine race weekends (not counting the MotoAmerica round at Circuit of The Americas because that’s a Superbike-only weekend) for an average of 43 crashes a weekend over five classes. In 2017, that number was 259 so we’re getting better at it. Still, that number’s not bad considering MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez crashed 27 times last year with the MotoGP series riders hitting terra firma a total of 1077 crashes over 18 race weekends and three classes.

So which racetrack on the MotoAmerica calendar had the most crashes? In 2018, it was New Jersey Motorsports Park. In fairness, many of the 62 crashes were likely caused in part by horrendous weather and nearly constant rain. In 2017, VIRginia International Raceway led the way with 51 crashes. Again, it was a weekend that featured iffy weather conditions.

We’ve taken a look at the crash statistics for the past two seasons at each of the rounds of the MotoAmerica season and put the question to KWR’s Kyle Wyman on why racers crash where they do.

Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta

In 2018, Road Atlanta featured several wet sessions and wet races. Thus, the crash count was nearly double of the previous year (48 crashes in 2018, 27 in 2017). The majority of the crashes during a rainy 2018 opening round were in turn 10. And with its 21 downed bikes, it led the way as the most crashed-in corner over the past two seasons. Turn 10 is the slow left-right chicane after the high-speed run down from turn seven.

“Typically, people crash in the least important corners and those are the slowest corners, the corners with the least diminishing returns,” Wyman said. “It’s easy to go fast in fast corners, but it’s harder in slow corners because the radius is tight. And people crash.”

In the mostly dry 2017 event at Road Atlanta, it was turn three that caught out the most riders.

“That’s not surprising,” Wyman said. “It’s technical and it’s blind. I bet a lot of those crashes were in the morning because it’s cold and there’s dew. It’s also the first left hander in a long time and the first time on the left side of the tire with any significance since turn five on the previous lap. The tire gets cold and bad things can happen.”

VIRginia International Raceway

VIR led all of the MotoAmerica racetracks in crashes in 2017 with 51 get-offs. Yes, it was mostly a wet weekend of racing. In 2018, that number dropped to 36. And, yes, it was a dry weekend. What is consistent about VIR is that the majority of the crashes in both years were in the same corner – turn one, the right-hander at the end of the front straight.

“I attribute that to a super-fast braking zone,” Wyman said. “It’s easy to get sucked in – even if you’re one of the guys at the front end of the Superbike grid. If you get sucked in, you have to decide if you’re going to keep the brakes on and try to make the corner and maybe crash or run off and maybe crash.”

Road America

 Road America’s crash total was up in 2018 over 2017 – 45 crashes this past season to 26 in 2017. The corner with the most crashes on the four-mile Road America course was turn five, a slow left after the long backstraight.

“It’s one of the slowest corners so that’s not a surprise,” Wyman said. “It’s also the first time on the left side of the tire since turn 17 or whatever from the previous lap.”

In 2017, turn 12 produced the same amount of crashes as turn five.

“That’s Canada Corner and it’s kind of like turn one at VIR in that it’s fast and it’s a hard-braking zone so it’s easy to get sucked in. Again, it’s one of those where you have to make it or cut your losses. It’s usually shaded there as well.”

Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca

 There were 46 crashes at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 2017 and there were 46 crashes there in 2018. The guilty corner? Turn two in 2018 and turn 11 in 2017, though turn two was a close second in 2017 as well.

“Turn two is downhill and it’s off-camber so it’s pretty easy to unload the front tire there,” Wyman said. “I’m sure if you looked at their numbers, World Superbike would be the same as far as the corner they crash the most in.”

Utah Motorsports Campus

 Although MotoAmerica is using the shorter course for its fifth round in 2019, we’re still going to take a look at the crash statistic from the past two seasons – when the Outer Track was used. There were 38 crashes at UMC in 2018, and 24 in 2017. In 2018 the corner that caught the most racers out was turn six; in 2017 it was turn one.

“Turn five has a lot of camber and you go into turn six thinking that it’s a right-handed version of turn five,” Wyman explained. “But it’s flat and it can catch you out. You can also make it so your bike is working good in turn five, but not so good in turn six. And vice versa.”

Sonoma Raceway

 Wyman was surprised when told that most of the crashes at Sonoma Raceway in both 2017 (29 crashes and 7 in turn six) and 2018 (25 crashes and 11 in turn six) were in the turn six Carousel.

“I guess I could see it, but I thought it would be either turn seven at the end of the dragstrip, the turn 11 chicane or the last corner,” Wyman said. “It is a bit bumpy going into six and the bike gets out of shape, but it still surprises me that it led the way in crashes.”

Pittsburgh International Race Complex

 There were 49 crashes at Pitt Race in 2018 – 13 more than in 2017. The corner that caught them out also changed. In 2017, the nasty little corner that saw eight crashes was turn one. In 2018, there were eight crashes in turn three.

“These are two corners that follow straightaways,” Wyman said. “Turn one has a blind entrance and it’s off camber. Again, it’s a corner that’s easy to get sucked in. Turn three surprises me. Maybe it was a pileup in one of the races or something.”

New Jersey Motorsports Park

 New Jersey Motorsports Park is a tad slippery in the rain. In 2018 there was plenty of precipitation for the MotoAmerica weekend and plenty of crashes. How about a season-leading 62 crashes? That’s over double of the prior season. Eighteen of those crashes in 2018 came in turn five. Again, no surprise there, Wyman says. And he should know. Three of his five crashes during the season came at NJMP – though not in turn five.

“There’s something about the surface in turn five,” Wyman said. “You touch the gas and there’s no grip. I’ve crashed a lot there in the rain and basically NJMP just doesn’t have a lot of grip in the wet. It’s old pavement and it gets slippery. Even when you’re tip-toeing around, it’s easy to get caught out.

“Turn three is a right, left, right chicane and we see a lot of crashes there at track days as well. It’s also one of those corners where it’s the first time you’ve been on the left side of the tire in a while. It’s so slow and it’s easy to crash there. You’re breathing the throttle there and nothing’s really loaded so the bike is in a neutral state. It’s a tricky corner in the dry. In the wet, it’s really difficult.”

Barber Motorsports Park

 The crash total for Barber Motorsports Park the last two seasons has been consistent – 41 crashes in 2017 and 40 crashes in 2018. What’s also been consistent is the corner in which they crash the most – turn six, Charlotte’s Web. There were 11 crashes there in 2018 and seven in 2017.

“It’s downhill, off-camber and it’s a hard-braking zone,” Wyman said. “It’s easy to get in there too deep so it’s one of those corners where there are a lot of crashes no matter the level of the riders.”

So, there you have it. Track day riders crash, those taking riding schools crash, and the top MotoAmerica Superbike riders crash. And the MotoGP World Champion crashes more than anyone. Crashing is an equal opportunity ordeal and the slower the corner the more likely the crashes. Throw in a bit of hard braking and it gets tougher. Off-camber, tougher still. Rain, slow off-camber corners with hard braking… pull up a chair, this is gonna get good.